When the temperatures start to get colder outside and the leaves fall from the deciduous trees in the late fall, you might look around and feel saddened by the bare branches only to see a spot of green standing out on a wintery day. It’s a pine tree!
Pine trees are hardy and easy to grow, so there are many choices for places to plant them, as they do well in many different types of environments.
You can plant pine trees indoors or outdoors, in containers or in the ground!
Read on for all the info you need to choose a pine tree, choose the best place to plant it, and plant it well so it will grow healthy and strong for years to come.
To get started, let’s take a look at some different types of pine trees and the purposes they might serve.
The Difference Between Pine, Fir, And Spruce Trees
Before you get ready to choose a pine tree, you might want to make sure it is actually a pine tree. It is easy to mistake fir or spruce trees for pines, or you might think that firs and spruces are types of pine trees.
But, in fact, pine trees are in a different group from fir trees, which are in a different group from spruce trees; all three belong in their own category.
To tell these three kinds of trees apart, you can start with the needles, as pine, spruce, and fir trees actually all have different types of needles.
Here are some specific characteristics of different kinds of conifers, including pine trees, spruce trees, and fir trees.
Characteristics Of Pine Trees
Pine needles can be distinguished first by their shape, as they are slender. Pine tree needles are also gathered into groups of three or five, and the group is wrapped up at the base like a little pine needle bouquet.
The cones of pine trees appear in clusters. They also have very large scales in comparison to other conifers.
Pine trees can be found all over the globe, which means you can easily find one to add to your own tree collection.
These evergreen trees are, just as their name suggests, always green, and they make a great addition to yards that are in need of some life and color throughout the winter months.
Here’s the full pine tree timeline if you’d like a better understanding of how they grow.
Characteristics Of Spruce Trees
The first defining feature of a spruce tree is also its needles.
Spruce needles, unlike those of a pine tree, is not gathered into groups but rather each needle attaches to the branch of the spruce tree on its own via a pulvinus, which looks sort of like a peg.
Spruce trees have branches that have some space between them, especially when compared to the branch density of a fir tree.
They also have rather short needles that are pointy on the ends.
Characteristics Of Fir Trees
The needs of the fir tree are, like the pine and spruce, the easiest way to distinguish this tree from others that seem similar at first glance.
Fir needles are not in groups like pine needles, but they differ from spruce needles in that they do not attach to the branch with pegs.
As a result, the branches of a fir tree feel smooth when the needles fall, unlike spruce trees, which, because of the left-behind pegs, have bumpy branches when needles fall.
Fir Trees Look Most Like Christmas Trees
While you might think of pine trees when you think about Christmas trees, it is actually fir trees that perhaps look the most like the iconic shape of a traditional Christmas tree.
This means they are very wide at the bottom and narrow as the branches move up the trunk. The branches are grouped very closely together, and they turn up.
Another distinguishing feature of the fir tree is that crushed fir needles have a bit of a citrus smell, so that might be one particularly fun feature during the holidays!
If you’ve ever wanted to grow your own Christmas Tree, start with our article on the 10 fastest growing Christmas trees!
A Quick Reference For The Differences Between Pines, Firs, And Spruces
To quickly glance at some information to tell pines, firs, and spruces apart from each other, you can use the table below.
Though they are evergreen trees, all of them lose needles at some point.The timeframe in which they do that is one distinguishing feature that varies between pines, firs, and spruces.
|Slender, clustered in groups of 2, 3, or 5
|Sharp, pointed, square
|Groups attach to branch with pegs
|Needles attach individually with pegs
|Needles attach individually without pegs
|Needles drop after 1-3 years
|Needles drop after 2 – 4 years
|Needles drop after 4 – 10 years
Now you can tell these types of conifers apart, so you can decide what type of tree you want to plant. If you are interested in planting a spruce tree, make sure to check out our article 5 Best Places To Plant A Spruce Tree (And How To Do It).
Next we will examine some different types of not just conifers but, specifically, pine trees, as there are a lot of different types of pine trees to choose from when you get ready to plant one in your yard.
Get To Know The Different Types Of Pine Trees
Just as there are different types of conifers, there are also different types of pine trees. You should consider the various types before choosing one for your home, as they can vary greatly in size, shape, and purpose. Some are used for decoration and some for lumber.
Some are mostly found in large forests, while some are used frequently for indoor purposes like as Christmas trees.
Whatever the purpose that best suits you, here are some common types of pine trees to consider and some to avoid.
The Scots pine, or Scottish pine tree, is formally called pinus sylvestris. Sometimes grown as Christmas trees, these majestic pine trees are, as their name indicates, very common in the country of Scotland. The Scots pine is, in fact, Scotland’s national tree.
Scots pines were brought to America from Europe during the early colonial period. Now, they grow in many areas of the United States and southern parts of Canada. The tree’s natural origins are in Scotland and Scandinavia.
Scots pine is a good pick for a yard with a lot of space, as these trees can grow to be about sixty feet tall and as many as forty feet wide.
If you’re looking for an iconic and majestic tree, and you have a lot of room, the Scots pine can be a statement piece that lasts for a very long time, as these trees live for as long as a staggering 700 years.
Eastern White Pine
The Eastern white pine tree is very popular in North America. It is used not only to look at but also for lumber.
These pine trees are very hardy and they grow very quickly, so you might consider this tree if you are in a hurry to provide some shade or privacy in your yard.
But keep in mind that the Eastern white pine grows to be very large; it can grow to be up to 150 feet, which is super huge, so you might not want to plant that in your yard.
But to plant something smaller that is similar, you might consider the next tree on our list.
Western White Pine
This tree, very similar to the Eastern white pine, differs in that it is much larger than an Eastern white pine, so this tree might be better suited to your yard if you do not have a lot of space for your new tree.
The Western white pine only grows to a maximum height of about 100 feet.
That is still super tall, of course, but it might work in your yard if you have a lot of space or can plant far from your house.
This is a tricky one to grow in a yard, especially near your house, as it is the tallest of all pine trees. Some sugar pines grow to be as tall as 250 feet.
The cones of this tree are so big that they can sometimes be two feet long.
For these reasons, it is very uncommon to see a sugar pine in someone’s yard, but if you have a large plot of land and are looking to fill your forest, this might be a good choice to plant a number of.
If you are looking to plant a pretty tree that does well in yards and gardens, look no further than the red pine.
This tree is tall, but it still works well in yards. Red pine trees live for a very long time, and they have red bark, which is how they earned their name.
This tree is well-suited to dry climates, so this is one to consider if you live in a part of the country that does not get much rain or snow.
If you want to grow a pine tree that might one day end up decorated in your living room at Christmas time, consider the Virginia pine, which is often used for just that purpose.
Confusingly, another name for the Virginia pine is “spruce pine.”
The Virginia pine is a classic pine tree with an iconic look, so if you are hoping for a quintessential pine tree in your yard, this might be the right tree for you to plant.
So, Where Should You Plant A Pine Tree?
Now that you have considered some types of pine trees and have decided on which one to add to your yard, it’s time to consider where exactly you are going to plant it.
It is best to think about this and make plans before you purchase your pine sapling, to give you enough time to make the best decision while keeping your young tree healthy.
1. Planting Your Pine Tree As Part Of A Collection Of Trees
Pine trees have been found to produce more needles when they are closer to other trees, which may be because they need more needles to compete with other trees for light. But this is not necessarily a good case for planting them close together.
You are likely better off with trees that do not have to compete with other trees, so space your pine tree accordingly from other pines or any other type of tree.
Aim to plant your pine tree at least 8 feet away from other trees. If you are planting multiple pine trees at once, see our below tips for planting your pine trees in a tree line.
2. Planting A Pine Tree In Full Sun
It seems that pine trees don’t gather as many nutrients in the summer as they do in other months.
This is probably different from what you are used to with other trees in your yard, but remember that, no matter the time of year, all trees need sunlight.
Pine trees, like many other types of trees, love full sunlight, so it is advantageous to plant your pine tree somewhere that gets a lot of sun all day long, especially in the morning.
If you have a spot that receives sun all day long from sunrise to sunset, that is even better. Try to find a good space for your tree that allows it to soak up the sun’s rays all day long.
Here’s a bit more info on why pine trees LOVE full sun.
3. Planting A Pine Tree As A Shade Tree
You might think of shade trees as the more leafy variety like oak trees or maple trees, but pine trees can actually provide a great deal of shade, and they can do so all year long, unlike other types of trees that lose their leaves every fall.
To use a pine tree as a shade tree, first, consider the area of your yard or house that you want to shade.
You can scout this in advance of planting by simply observing your yard throughout the day to see where the sun falls and where the shade is needed.
Choose to do this on a sunny day, as any level of cloudiness could obscure the exact amount of sun or shade you are trying to achieve.
4. Planting A Pine Tree To Use As A Christmas Tree
This is a great idea if you enjoy having a live Christmas tree each year and you have a lot of space to start your own mini Christmas tree farm.
This method requires a lot of space, as you need to space your pine trees about 8 feet apart and, depending on how many years of Christmas trees you want to plant, you need to plant several trees.
A pine tree takes about 25 years to mature enough to be used for lumber, but you can use a pine tree as a Christmas tree as soon as it reaches the height you are trying to achieve.
Make sure to head on over to our article for 21 other ways to use pine trees!
Timing Is Everything!
If, for example, you want to grow pine trees to work as Christmas trees in your house with 9-foot ceilings, you probably want a pine tree that is about 8 feet tall. After all, you need room for the star!
This means that you will be able to harvest your first Christmas tree, depending on how big your sapling is, in about six years or even less.
And once you cut down one of your precious trees and bring it inside, keep its branches looking fresh throughout the season with a helpful product like Perfect Plants Christmas Tree Saver, which is like plant food for trees that have already been cut.
5. Planting Pine Trees As A Treeline Fence
Pine trees can work great as treelines for property privacy, but this usually works best on very large pieces of property.
If you are trying to achieve even dense coverage, make sure to plant your trees several feet apart so they don’t have to compete with each other for sunlight and nutrients.
You can plant the trees in a straight line or you can stagger them a bit back and forth; it just depends on how you want your treeline to look.
6. Planting A Pine Tree In A Container
If none of these seem like good options for your yard, but you still want to grow a pine tree, you can certainly grow one, or at least start to grow one, in a container.
This is a good option for people who are not sure where their pine tree’s permanent home may be, or for people who are planning to move in the next several years and would like to take their pine tree with them.
To plant a tree in a container (and this applies to any tree, not just a pine tree), you should start with a container that is significantly larger than the root ball of the tree.
For more information, read our article on the best soils and care tips for a container pine tree!
Things To Keep In Mind When Moving The Tree
Moving trees puts them at risk for shock, and you want to give your tree as much time as possible to acclimate to the container as it matures before you have to move it.
When you plant a tree in a container, you give yourself the benefit of being able to move the tree around (you can achieve this most easily by putting the container on a rolling plant stand) or being able to control the amount of light and water the tree receives.
Planting a container tree is very similar to planting a tree in the ground. The basic steps are to cover the root ball with dirt, water the tree thoroughly, and make sure it is set up for the right amount of light and the right temperature.
Some Fun Ways To Use A Pine Tree That Is In A Container
Pine trees are very decorative, and they stay that way mostly year-round, so they have myriad uses.
Many people like to use container pine trees as outdoor Christmas trees to decorate their front porches in the winter, complete with lights, bows, and even ornaments.
You can also use container pine trees as decor for a patio or gazebo outdoors.
Container trees are particularly easy to shape into desired looks, so you can make them look like topiaries or Christmas trees, depending on the aesthetic you want to achieve.
How To Successfully Plant A Pine Tree
Planting a pine tree is not very different from planting any other type of tree.
Here, we break down the steps so you can feel confident that you have set your tree up for success from day one, plus if you are looking for more tips, make sure to head on over to our article about sunlight and planting tips for pine trees!
Digging The Hole For Your Pine Tree
Once you have chosen the right location for your pine tree, the first step in planting it is to dig the hole you will plant the tree.
Clear away any debris, weeds, rocks, etc., and then dig a hole that is about twice the size of the root ball of your new pine tree.
Don’t use fertilizer when you first plant your tree. Give it a year or so to adjust to its new home.
But, once it starts to mature, you can fertilize it periodically with a product specifically made for evergreen trees, like Scotts Evergreen, Flowering Tree, and Shrub Continuous Release Plant Food.
Once you have dug the hole, it’s time to actually plant the tree.
Planting The Pine Tree
Gently place the pine tree in the hole you have dug, testing that the hole is deep enough to cover the whole root ball but not much deeper.
Replace the soil without packing it in at first.
Once you have covered the root ball so that the soil is even with the surrounding ground, pat gently until the dirt is packed in. Then replace more dirt as needed.
Water And Mulch For Your New Pine Tree
Once the tree is planted, water it thoroughly with a garden hose, it is so important to water your pine tree, and to keep watering it throughout the winter! For more information on why and how to do this, head on over to our article about watering your pine tree in the winter!
Once the ground is well saturated, you can place mulch, which will help the soil around your pine tree retain moisture.
Now you are ready to enjoy your new pine tree!
Some Closing Tips On Growing Pine Trees
Keep in mind that needles, though they are evergreen, do sometimes change color and naturally fall from the trees. This is completely normal and even a way to enjoy fall colors from trees that are not deciduous.
The best time of year to plant a pine tree is in the fall, so try to get your tree in the ground sometime in October or maybe early November.
This way, you avoid planting the tree in the hot summer months when it will have to withstand extreme conditions of heat, sun, and potentially dryness, and you avoid planting it in the frigid cold of the winter. Fall is ideal.
Lastly, remember that, if you live in a very dry climate, you may still need to water your tree yourself and not rely entirely upon rain.
That’s A Wrap!
Now you are ready to choose a pine tree, choose a spot to plant it, and plant your tree that you can enjoy for years to come.
Enjoy your new evergreen addition to your yard!
Fife, D. N., & Nambiar, E. K. S. (1982). Accumulation and retranslocation of mineral nutrients in developing needles in relation to seasonal growth of young radiata pine trees. Annals of Botany, 50(6), 817-829.
Nilsson, U., & Albrektson, A. (1993). Productivity of needles and allocation of growth in young Scots pine trees of different competitive status. Forest Ecology and Management, 62(1-4), 173-187.
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