5 Reasons Why Your Pine Tree Isn’t Growing (& How To Fix)

Healthy green trees in a forest of old spruce, fir and pine trees in wilderness of a national park.

Growing a tree to full maturity is one of the hardest things to do. They are sensitive, they have lots of care requirements, and most of all, so many things that are out of your control can impact them, such as diseases or storms. 

In truth, pine trees generally thrive in acidic, dry, and well-drained soil. When they receive plenty of sunlight, pine trees often grow 12-24in per year. If your pine tree isn’t growing, it’s most likely due to insufficient sunlight, water, nutrients. Additionally, low acidic soil can cause pine trees to grow slowly.

Read on to learn more about what trees need to grow, reasons why your pine tree may not be growing, and ways to help your tree grow better/faster than it currently is. 

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Basics of Pine Trees

To understand problems surrounding your pine tree’s growth, it is crucial to know what pine trees are and what environments they prefer to grow in. 

Basics of All Plants/Trees

In general, all plants need a few simple things to survive: water, sunlight, nutrients, and carbon dioxide. While there are a few stipulations to this, the majority of trees and plants require these. 

In the event that your tree is lacking in one of these necessities, it can easily die or start to weaken/slow in growth. Each need is different and thus will show differently in your trees and plants. 

Growth Requirements of Pine Trees

Top of the pine trees against blue sky. Sunny day

First off, pine trees normally prefer dry soils. This is often exhibited by dry, sandy, and well-draining soils. There are a few species of pine trees that can (or prefer) to grow in more moist soils; however, for the most part, it is rare.

While pine trees are pretty tolerant of soil pH, most sources agree that they prefer more acidic soils. This makes sense, as in natural pine forests, the heavy abundance of fallen needles is acidic and maintains the perfect soil environment for pine growth. 

Pine trees also normally prefer lots and lots of sun. For this reason, they are often the first trees to grow in an empty site and rarely start growing in already cultivated areas. 

As for other environmental factors such as wind, fires, etc., pines are usually actually very well suited to deal with these, so you shouldn’t have to worry. For example, most pine species technically depend on some fire/damage to thrive.

In fact, some pines start off new growth with extra thick and sturdy bark in preparation for fires/storms. 

Assessing Your Pine Tree To Find Why It Isn’t Growing

In the process of helping your tree grow and get through natural problems, it is important that you can assess its health and find specific problems that may be affecting it. 

While we will get onto specific causes for slow pine growth, there are a few main things that can hint at your tree having real problems.

In short, if your tree has brown/yellowing needles, has falling needles, or has any dropping/dying tissue, it heavily shows that your pine tree is sick or dying. 

In most cases, all of these symptoms point to that your tree could be sick could be lacking nutrients, could be in a not stable environment, or could simply be dying due to other underlying factors. 

5 Reasons Why Your Pine Tree Isn’t Growing 

Moving on to real reasons, there are clear and definite factors that can affect the health and growth of your pine tree. Below are listed a few main examples, how they impact your tree, and what factors lead to healthy growth. 

Insufficient Sunlight Limits Pine Tree Growth

As previously mentioned, light is a very important factor for plant growth in general, not to mention large pine growth. Light is needed by plants to simply survive in general, being one of the most important factors of life.

For the most part, when pine trees experience too much shade (or conversely too little sun), the needles can begin to lighten, turn yellow, grow soft, or even start to fall off (especially from the bottom of the tree). 

To simplify, plants take light energy in and convert it into sugars and chemical energy that they can use to maintain life and complete cellular activities. With inadequate light conditions, plants will not have enough energy to complete these activities, and in the worst cases, they can eventually begin to slow down growth or die. 

Improper Watering Stunts Pine Tree Growth

Green fir tree branch with drops of water in the forest with sun rays.

As with all plants, pine trees also require water, and it may seem obvious, but most pines require a decent amount of water when compared to plants (especially when they are big).

As mentioned, pines normally need a steady (and often heavy) amount of water, especially during the dry months. After infancy (in which they require more water), most pines simply want an 18-20 inch soaking area that gets about 1-2 inches of water per week (although this is not standard for all pines). 

Without enough water, most plants will tend to droop, go flaccid, or die. With pines (as the trunk is sturdy and solid), the needles will most likely droop/go flaccid, start to yellow, or in even worse cases, they could fall off altogether. 

Soil Conditions Can Accelerate or Stunt Pine Tree Growth

In general, pines don’t have specific and absolute requirements for the soil they live in. However, it is clear with research that in certain soils, their growth and health can be greatly improved. 

With plants, the soil has many purposes that help them survive and thrive. To start, the soil is simply an anchor to which plants hold onto the earth, meaning with the incorrect soil, trees and plants could easily fall over or be unsteady. In addition, the soil determines the properties of water retention and nutrient retention, meaning it could either very much help or hinder your pines. 

In general, while pines like water, they normally like their soil to be fairly well draining and loose. This means that for soil characteristics, you want yours to be more sandy, loose, and free-draining as compared to the average soil. 

Failing to have the right soil affects other aspects of need like nutrients and water, meaning the effects on your tree can vary. In most cases, nutrient or water issues can cause yellowing, drooping, or falling off needles. 

Pine Trees Need Low pH (High Acidic) Soil to Grow

Having to do more with soil, pine trees normally prefer lower pH soils. In common terms, this means they like acidic soil. 

In the wild (in their natural pine forest habitats). The pH of the soil is naturally kept low by the presence of falling needles, and however, in common home gardens where we like to prune and keep the ground clean, they can often lack this presence of acidic mulch. 

Lack of Nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium) Limit Pine Growth

All plants require some form of nutrients. Most (if not all) require the presence of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are commonly found in all-purpose fertilizers. 

Through the natural processes of forests and decomposition, these are usually constantly added and taken from the soil; however, in-home gardens, their levels often become stagnate or depleted, leading to deficiencies.

Common deficiencies lead to yellowing, browning, or falling of needles. In most cases, it is very hard to over-fertilize an area (although it is possible), so it never hurts to try to address this problem first. 

How To Fix Your Pine Tree’s Growth (By Cause)

Black austrian pine (pinus nigra j. F. Arnold), young plant
Black Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra J.F. Arnold.)

As shown, there are many different factors and problems that can feed into your pine tree being sick or not growing properly. While there are some general solutions, most people find it best to assess each case individually to get the best results.

With this, each problem does, in fact, have specific solutions that could help it (among other related problems).

Continue to see how to fix each problem specifically and how each problem can relate and impact one another.

Fixing Light Conditions to Improve Pine Tree Growth

To begin, it is fairly easy to assess the conditions of light that your pine tree is receiving. To easily assess, you can simply monitor your tree over the course of a normal day and check how long it is receiving full sunlight. 

In the event that your pine receives 6-8+ hours of sunlight, it should be meeting all of its needs. On the other hand, in the event that it is receiving less light than that, it could be having sunlight deficiency issues. 

If your tree is not getting enough sunlight, there aren’t too many things that you can do to help. Unless there are physical movable objects or larger trimmable trees, you most likely can’t uproot and move your tree to a better area. 

Luckily, unless your tree is absolutely not receiving light, low light conditions should only slow growth at worst. 

Fixing Water Conditions to Improve Pine Tree Growth

Water is a fairly easy factor to assess as well. In the case that you are watering, you should know how much water your tree is getting. However, if you aren’t watering your pine tree, you should monitor it for a few days to see how much average rain it gets per week. 

If your pine tree receives 1-2 inches per week, it should be fine. However, if it is receiving more or less, it could be having water issues. If your pine tree is receiving too much water and you can control it, you should reduce the amount of water that you give it. 

If your pine tree is not receiving enough water, there are a few things that you can do. To start, you can simply manually water your tree (or increase the amount of water that you are giving it). Another thing you can do is to mulch/compost the tree to retain water in the area. 

Fixing and Improving Pine Tree Soil Conditions

Soil conditions are a little harder to assess. Luckily, there are a few ways you can naturally find the composition of your soil. The darker, more dense/rich soil is more nutrient-dense/better. 

If you truly think that soil could be your issue, you can also get someone to perform a soil test on your property, which can measure nutrient levels, toxin levels, among other things. This will let you know if your pine tree is growing on the proper soil.

To put it simply, to improve your soil (in the case that it is dying/nutrient-poor), you can add fertilizer of your choice, or even better, homemade compost. 

If you’re interested in how pine trees survive soil conditions during the cold, you can read more about how most trees survive the winter here.

Fixing pH Conditions In Pine Trees

pH is another factor that can be fairly hard to test, as it is unseeable and more scientific in nature than the other factors. For this, you will most likely have to buy a home pH testing kit or enlist someone else to test for you. 

On average, pine trees prefer more acidic soils, so if your tree is neutral or basic, its issues could be pH-related. In order to lower the pH to optimal levels, you can either spread the fallen pine needles over the area or purchase specific soil buffers/pH-loving composts.

I know, leaving the pine tree needles on the ground? Not the ideal look for your lawn. However, it’s a natural process for the growth of your pine tree.

Fixing Nutrient Conditions In Pine Trees (Promoting Acidic Soil)

Similar to soil and pH conditions, nutrient conditions must be tested. 

In the event that your tree is deficient in any nutrient (which is fairly common in home gardens), you can simply spread homemade compost over it or purchase a quality fertilizer to lay over the area.

One high-quality pine tree fertilizer is Scotts Evergreen Flowering Tree & Shrub Continuous Release Plant Food. It contains nitrogen, phosphate, and sulfur and promotes evergreen growth in acidic soils. Perfect for your pine tree.

To add, it can also be used for other acidic loving plants as well – not just your pine tree!

Applying Fixes to Your Pine Tree

For the most part, with plant/tree issues, the causes and solutions can be pretty vague. In addition to this, they often bleed into each other and can even impact each other as well.

As with most things, you should take assessing and applying solutions to your problem slowly, as if you alter one factor, it can (and will most likely) impact another, which could hinder your pine tree.

In addition to this, most of these solutions can also simply speed up the growth of your pine tree. This means that even in the case that your tree is healthy, applying these fixes could simply speed up its growth.

Additional Factors Affecting Pine Tree Growth

In addition to the main factors, there are a few other things that could be affecting your tree (in the event that all other factors are in healthy conditions).

To start, diseases and pests can often affect pine trees. To assess these, you can simply do an outside scan of the tree, looking for any marks, pests, bugs, etc. If there are some, you can look into pesticides or fungicides that will help your tree.

Another factor that can impact your tree is the weather, such as storms and wind. This is a lesser aspect, but it can cause things like branch damage or swaying limbs. 

Temperature and climate can also affect your pine trees. Although they do not drop leaves like other deciduous trees, they do have season changes over winter and summer.

This means that if your climate begins to change, or they experience harsh weather conditions, they could alter too early, causing other problems like bark changes or slow growth.

Did you know that pine trees are one of the only trees that keep their leaves all year round?

That’s A Wrap!

In the end, pine trees can be pretty fickle to raise, especially when they are young. There are many factors that can affect their growth, like light, nutrients, water, soil, etc. 

There are a few ways that you can (and should) monitor these that can point you to specific solutions, such as changes in the environment or watering. In the end, each tree is different and will have unique needs, so always have fun and connect with your specific tree! 

References:

Andreu, L., Gutierrez, E., Macias, M., Ribas, M., Bosch, O., & Camarero, J. J. (2007). Climate increases regional tree‐growth variability in Iberian pine forests. Global Change Biology13(4), 804-815.

Wright, R. D., Jackson, B. E., Browder, J. F., & Latimer, J. G. (2008). Growth of chrysanthemum in a pine tree substrate requires additional fertilizer. HortTechnology18(1), 111-115.

Jackson, B. E., Wright, R. D., & Barnes, M. C. (2008). Pine tree substrate, nitrogen rate, particle size, and peat amendment affect poinsettia growth and substrate physical properties. HortScience43(7), 2155-2161.

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