How to Grow Ponderosa Pine

Ponderosa pine trees lining dirt pathway in wooded area

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

In This Article

The ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is one of the most common pines in North America. It is often used in large gardens because of its stature and ability to add some dazzling green color for winter interest, where snow is often forecast. Between its conical form, the beautiful three-needled branches, or its scaly cinnamon bark that exudes pine essence when crushed, this tree is the epitome of a pine tree as it exists in our collective imagination.

Growing at its best in the mountainous country west of the Mississippi River, the ponderosa pine can grow to colossal heights in the wild. However, it will top off at a still intimidating height of 60 feet or so when grown in cultivation. This keeps all but those with those huge properties from considering adding it to their garden. Luckily, numerous cultivars have come on the market with different forms and sizes that help you if you are limited in the space department.

Common Name Ponderosa pine
Botanical Name Pinus ponderosa
Family Name Pinaceae
 Plant Type Coniferous tree
 Mature Size 60 to 125 ft. tall, 25 to 30 ft. wide
 Sun Exposure Full sun
 Soil Type Well-drained sandy to gravely loams
 Soil pH Acidic
 Bloom Time Non-Flowering
 Flower Color Non-Flowering
 Hardiness Zones 3-7, USDA
 Native Area Western North America

Ponderosa Pine Care

If you are considering planting a ponderosa pine (other than a smaller cultivar), the biggest secret to its success and your happiness will be making sure it is the right tree for you and planning to put it in the right place in your landscape. More problems can be avoided by just figuring out those two things before you even buy your plant.

It really all comes down to location—the plant's native locale and the locale you plan to plant it in. Consider the conditions in the tree's native range and think about how close your local conditions match those; if they are pretty close, then it is a match.

Next, think about where you might put a tree that could grow to 125 feet tall. You should think about the possible mature size, both in terms of width and height, and examine structures, paths, and wires for any interference or damage the tree might cause in the future.

One thing weekend landscape designers often overlook are sightlines and vistas during landscape design. This is both an aesthetic consideration and a practical one. If you plant a five-foot tree this year that does not block your lake view, it very well may block it in ten years. The cute little pine tree on your corner now might obstruct traffic in your driveway later.

Ponderosa pine tree branch with long thin needles and green pinecone hanging

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Ponderosa pine tree trunk and branches with brown scaly bark covered in moss

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Ponderosa pine tree branch with long bright green needles in sunlight

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

This is not a tree that can tolerate the shade. It demands full sun to thrive, and you will notice significant issues if it does not get the light it needs.

Soil

The ponderosa pine will do great in soil that is a mix of gravel, sand, and loam that provides good drainage and falls around 6.0 to 7.0 ph. If this is not the soil you have, you should not stress too much. As long as your soil is not soaking wet and not too acidic or very alkaline, you probably will not run into too many issues. This species is pretty forgiving as soils go and will tolerate basic soils much better than most pines.

Water

Ponderosa pines are notorious for their root ball drying out soon after being planted if not given enough water. Because of this tendency, supplemental watering is not really an option and should be done for at least two years and a year longer for each caliper inch over two inches in diameter. Ten gallons per inch of trunk diameter at knee height is the standard rule to follow.

After this set period of time, you can start tapering the watering off. Compared to other trees in the genus Pinus, Pinus ponderosa has great drought tolerance.

Temperature and Humidity

You will find that the ponderosa pine performs best in cool, dry conditions and does not favor hot, humid conditions well at all. Though the USDA range for the tree is 3-7, consider that the areas in these zones that the tree inhabits are often mountainous, and the conditions may not always be favorable in a broad sense. Some cultivars may be more suited for different conditions; new cultivars are always being brought into the trade.

Fertilizer

Normally this species would not need any supplemental fertilizer. If it seems like your newly planted tree is getting off to a slow start, you may want to test your soil and check for any deficiencies. This will determine if you need to add amendments or supplemental nutrients to your soil to boost your tree. Adding fertilizer should only be done during the initial year or two in a slow-release evergreen-specific fertilizer. A few brands specifically formulate the NPK according to the needs of evergreens and place them in a slow-release granular spike form.

Types of Ponderosa Pine

The ponderosa pine is a terrific tree, but it might be too much tree for some people to handle. Luckily, many great new cultivars are being developed to fit people's needs, whether for different forms, sizes, or growth rates. Here are some popular cultivars to take a look at:

  • Pinus ponderosa 'Pondy': A dwarf ponderosa pine with a globose form with needles that are a bit smaller than those of the species. It will grow to about five feet after ten years of growth.
  • Pinus ponderosa 'The Sphinx':  A pyramidal, dwarf selection of ponderosa pine with tight, uniform branching that grows to about three and a half feet wide and tall at ten years.
  • Pinus ponderosa 'Peňáz': If you have a little more room and like different, this cultivar is for you. 'Peňáz' is a monstrous form of species with very sparse branching, extremely thick branches, and longer and darker needles than others in the species.