Spring has sprung, which means the weather is warming, plants and trees are blooming, and new growth has begun. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, we’re surrounded with conifers, such as pine trees, which stay green year-round, bringing such beauty to our forests and our yards.
Pine trees are known for their majestic size and presence. A pine tree’s average height reaches from 50 to 100 feet tall, and with springtime upon us, our pine trees will also be showing new growth. When pine trees grow tall, they also grow in width. With such massive sizes, pine trees are difficult to keep as decorative trees when maintaining a home landscape. This leads us to ask the question, is it possible to control pine tree height? The answer is yes and no.
How to Prune a Pine Tree
Best Time of Year to Prune? Spring is the perfect season to trim pine trees. Though pruning a pine tree won’t stop its growth, it will slow the rate of growth, and you can control how it grows, creating a more compact growth pattern. You don’t want to prune a pine tree in the fall or winter months. Pruning during the late summer through fall seasons doesn’t leave enough time for the cut points to heal prior to the cold winter months, leaving the tree exposed to pests and diseases.
It’s best to remove damaged branches right away, and you can remove damaged branches completely during any season; though, if possible, it’s best to wait for the springtime.
Best Pruning Technique. To prune your pine trees, simply pinch back the new growth, called candles, seen in the spring. It’s best to do this by hand. If you use pruning shears to cut the new growth, you could end up cutting into the needles of the trees, leaving them to turn brown. Cut the candle in the middle of the growth. Pine trees have terminal buds on each branch, and so pruning pine tree branches isn’t a good idea, as that will cut off the terminal bud, thus rendering the branch unable to grow, and the branch will die, leaving the needles to brown and fall off and never regrow.
Pruning the new growth by breaking the candle halfway will cause the growth to slow. Yearly candle trimming will slow the tree’s rate of growth, but it won’t stop it, and as the tree gets larger, it gets more difficult to prune the new growth each spring.
Is Tree Topping Effective?
Tree topping is a controversial topic amongst arborists. From the University of Idaho: “Topping is the removal of all branches of a mature tree above an arbitrary height, leaving unnatural, grotesque stubs.” They explain that cutting off the central stem leaves the tree vulnerable to disease, infestation, and sun-scald. Topping also “removes the most productive portion of the crown of the tree. The result is that the tree becomes a hazard to itself, neighboring trees, and your property.” It also increases their vulnerability during heavy winds or stormy weather.
Topped trees often lose their natural pyramid shape, thus leaving them in an unattractive shape. The tree is often not able to produce the required food, leaving it less viable after topping.
Some still use tree topping as a means to control the height of their trees, but many cities advise against it, both for the sake of aesthetics and for the health of the trees. In some areas, you could face a fine or become accountable for mandatory replanting if you top a tree, particularly if it’s publicly owned.
If you have acquired property with older trees that have grown too large for their space or have let too much time go by and are left with pine trees that are too big, call in the experts, such as those at Mr. Tree, to advise you of the best next steps. Some trees will be able to be maintained, while it may be best to remove others to make room for a smaller variety of trees that will better fit the available space.
Choose Your Variety of Pine Wisely
Since controlling pine tree height is difficult, it’s best to be choosey when you’re picking the variety of pine trees to plant, based on its size at maturity. Most plant tags at nurseries will show the mature height of the pine tree. If you’re unsure of which pine tree may fit your needs best, an arborist can help you find the right tree for your yard.
The key to picking the perfect pine tree for your space is to consider one of the dwarf pine tree varieties available. Most pine trees are much too large for the average home garden. The American Conifer Society suggests homeowners choose a dwarf pine cultivated variety, known as a cultivar. Cultivars are varieties of pines that have a slower growth rate, making them the perfect pine species for a residential garden.
Dwarf mugo (pronounced “MEW-go”) pines are one of the most commonly seen cultivars, and they’re found in many nurseries across the country. Dwarf mugo pines are known for their durability and beauty. There’re approximately 80 varieties of dwarf mugo pines, some more ordinary and others with varying colors such as a golden mugo pine, with beautiful golden yellow needles, or the Oregon jade mugo pine, which is common in nurseries in the Pacific Northwest. There are many dwarf varieties to choose from to find the perfect fit for your yard.
If you have some pine trees that have grown too large for their space, consider calling a tree specialist before taking pruning shears to the trees yourself. If you have further questions about managing the height of your pine trees, feel free to give us a call. We’re always happy to help.
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“Can I Control the Height of My Pine Tree?” photos used with permission.
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