"Whoever plants a tree plants a hope." -- Lucy Larcom, Plant a Tree
Tips on Planting and Maintenance of Pine Trees
Pinus edulis -- Pearson Creek
Pinus sabiniana -- Pearson Creek
- Site Preparation
- Remove grass and weeds. The generally best method is a
preliminary spraying with a root-killing herbicide such as
Glyphosate (Roundup, Rascal, Tumbleweed) followed a week or more
later by mechanical removal.
- Loosen the soil by spading or tilling.
- Ascertain adequate drainage. If in doubt, fill a test hole
with water about one foot deep -- it should drain easily within
12 hours. If drainage is inadequate, install land drains if
feasable. Otherwise consider another site or select a species
that tolerates wet soil, e.g. P. serotina or palustris.
- Consider soil amendments only in extremely bad soils, such
as adding milled sphagnum or other organic matter to heavy clay
loam soils. Do not add fertilizers.
- Handling the Seedlings
- Bareroot seedlings: Plant only in the dormant season (e.g.
November or March/April). Keep the roots damp, not immersed in
water. If a well developed root system (as with some transplants)
exists, then carefully arrange the root, separating major
branches with loose soil.
- Biodegradable container-grown seedlings: Can be planted
during the growing season, but best to avoid July/August unless
extra shade and water will be provided. Plant either in the
container or, somewhat better, gingerly remove the container and
carefully cover the exposed soil-root mass with loose soil.
- Pot-grown seedlings: Can be planted during the growing
season if adequate water. Check the roots to see if they are pot
bound, i.e. with roots circling around the inside of the
container. If so, straighten the circling roots and stretch them
out into extensions added (dug) to the main hole. Or carefully
make incisions into or attempt to untangle a densely tangled root
- Burlap-balled trees: Can be planted during the growing
season if adequate water. Burlap may be left around the root ball
but, if manageable, the tree will usually get a faster start at
root growth if the burlap is carefully removed.
- Dig the hole larger than the root mass and then refill the
bottom of the hole with top soil (so that there is about a few inches
of top soil under the root ball in the case of burlap-balled
trees, less with smaller seedlings). Fill the hole, the best
(top) soil going in closest to the roots. Planting depth should
be nearly the same as the nursery planting depth, but sometimes,
as in very wet sites an inch or so higher than the nursery level.
Never deeper than the nursery or pot level -- it is better to plant
too high than too low. A mildly
concave final planting site may facilitate the collection of
water runoff and is indicated if adequate water is a concern;
otherwise the planting site should end up flat or somewhat convex
to allow for further settling. Tamp the soil with a shovel handle
or similar (1 -2" diameter) rod gently and repeatedly as
filling progresses. Don't stomp with your feet. Heavy &/or
wet soils will need less tamping.
- Stake if necessary to maintain the tree in a stable upright
position. Common sense will tell you. Most pine seedlings do not
require this support.
- Mulch: The best (cheapest, most available, most effective)
mulch is wood chips which can be obtained from tree trimmers in
your area. Ask if they have been trimming black walnut trees -- you don't want those chips due to the (jugulan) inhibitor.
Leaves (they tend to blow away) and store-bought mulches are
second best but can be very satisfactory. Mulch abundantly; it
helps with weed control and water evaporative loss. Mulch
- Sun screen: Baby pine trees, like other babies, are
susceptible to sunburn and dehydration. Even the most xerophyllic
desert species of pines appreciate afternoon shade when the they
are seedlings. The best (easiest and most durable) way is to
erect a sunscreen in the form of painted (lasts longer) 2' x 3'
plywood on the west side of the tree so that it is in the shade
by 2 -4 p.m. Other methods,
such as cheeze-cloth or other screens are much less practical.
Afternoon shade can also be accomplished by site selection (in
the shade of a larger tree or building).
- Water: Obviously the need to water depends on multiple
factors such as the weather, soil, shade, mulch. Use common
sense. Test the soil around the tree for wetness and act
- Protection from animals: The simple sun screen described
above is surprisingly effective in discouraging rabbits and deer,
but sometimes more drastic measures such as chicken-wire
enclosures or plastic tube shelters are needed. Repellent sprays
(the best is probably the ammonium fatty acid type) can help but
there is no smell that can stop a hungry deer. Irish Spring soap
is ridiculously expensive for washing AND for hanging on trees as
- Pruning: Occasionally you will need to assist a pine tree
in selecting a new leader when two or more exist. Also pruning
may be necessary to clear the interior tangle of branches of pine
trees which have been sheared (best is to never buy such a tree)
or to raise the branch level when a clear basal trunk is desired
for esthetic or ventilation (helps control some types of
needlecast) reasons. Pruning of dead branches probably helps
ventilation and is esthetically satisfying.
In most cases we also do routine under-pruning each winter to keep
the foliage well away from the ground (helps with chemical weed control,
needlecast disease and fire resistance).
Return to Homepage