Pine Tree Growing and Planting Guide

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When you imagine a pine tree, what comes to mind?

Other than the generic evergreen needles and distinct smell that is often imitated by car air fresheners, some people think of a tree with a viscous and amber-colored sap. Other people think about the cones that fall from their limbs. Still other people remember the Christmas season because of its symbol of the yuletide season.

If you thought about any of that, you would be entirely correct – pine trees evoke so many thoughts and feelings within us. They also have other uses, such as being used to make bats or used as softwood lumbar. Or even as food in the form of pine nuts that are added to salads for their rich buttery flavor.

Today, we’re going to help you learn how to plant and care for pine trees. First, we’ll cover some general information, but make sure to keep reading for our care guide and growing tips.

Pine trees require proper maintenance through a guide to remain healthy

General Information

Pine trees are resinous conifers.  Surprisingly, some members of this genus are shrubs.  These evergreen trees have needles whose hue can range from a deep green to a light bluish-green tint and remain in color year-round. 

Among the over 120 accounted species, all of them have scale-like bark.  The scaly bark’s consistency across the different species ranges from thick and substantial to thin and flaky.  Most pine trees tend towards a thicker and more substantial scale make-up. 

The branches grow out from the base in a tight spiral.  Although evidence shows the spiral growth habit, the branches appear to be growing out from the same point in a ring.  Depending on the species, it can grow anywhere from 10 feet to 260 feet tall.

Two Major Groups

There are two major groups that different pine trees fall under. They are distinguished based on the characteristics of their cones, seeds, and leaves.


Species of pine in the Strobus subgenus grow with five needles per fascicle and typically have softer wood than the second subgenus.  Because there is one fibrovascular bundle within the needles in this subgenus, Strobus is also called haploxylon.

The cones belonging to the pines of the Strobus subgenus are long and slender.  The pine cones appear very broad when open and the scales on the cones have a rounded apex. 

Pines found in North America within this subgenus include, but are not limited to:

  • Eastern White
  • Northern White
  • White
  • Weymouth
  • Soft
Bird taking sitting on a branch of a tree that is growing robustly


Pines that fall within this subgenus have 2 to 3 needles per fascicle and have harder wood than trees in Strobus.  This subgenus is also called diploxylon because of its two fibrovascular bundles.

The cones developing on pine trees in this subgenus have thicker scales that are more rigid and tend to open soon after they mature.

Pine trees found in North America within this subgenus include, but are not limited to:

  • Jefferey
  • Ponderosa
  • Longleaf
  • Short-leaf
  • Slash
  • Loblolly

Care Guide

Pine trees are low maintenance plants and can functionally work within your landscape to act as privacy screens or windbreaks for a patio or garden.


Most pine trees are drought tolerant and require a small amount of water to thrive.  This means that, in most climates, you’ll receive enough water through the environment.

The only time that you must water mature trees is during dry winters and extreme drought.  If you run into these conditions, you must saturate the soil thoroughly once a month to mimic rain and snow in winter.

During drought conditions, give about 1 to 3 inches of water once a week.  Watering deeply and infrequently promotes the growth of deeper roots.

A simple way to prevent the roots from experiencing stress is to spread a layer of mulch around the base.  The mulch will help the soil to retain moisture.  It will also inhibit weed’s ability to sprout and compete with your tree.

Young healthy trees growing in a row


For saplings that are young and unestablished as well as mature and established ones, slow-release fertilizer is your best bet.  For these saplings, a slow-release chemical will support healthy and strong growth.  For mature pines, a slow-release fertilizer will ensure that the trees remain healthy and flourishing. 

A quick-release fertilizer will likely harm young, developing roots.  While mature trees could handle the stress that a quick-release chemical can cause to its roots, it’s still not an advisable course of action. 

Starting in the second year of growth, 2 to 4 pounds of a well balanced slow-release fertilizer (think an NPK ratio of 10-10-10 or 10-5-10) per 100 square feet of application area. 

If you have larger pine trees growing out in an open area, you can apply 2 pounds of a well-balanced slow-release chemical for every inch of the tree’s diameter. 


Pines benefit the most from well-drained sandy soil where nutrients are readily available.  They prefer dry soil that is slightly acidic. 

Some pines grow well in wet areas like the Loblolly Pine and the Lodgepole pine, but they are rare. 

Pines can make a wonderful decoration in a yard


Pine trees require full sunlight to reach their optimal growth potential.  This leads them to colonize areas that have been disturbed and left open so that they can absorb the maximum sun’s rays.  There are some species that do well in partial sunlight, but these are few.  Express classify most pine species as shade intolerant.


Pine trees are not made to be shaped and pruned often or with reckless abandon.  For the best results, never prune more than ⅓ of a year’s fresh growth off.  There will be occasions where some thinning and cleaning of the crown will be necessary to provide the pine with more air circulation or remove damage caused by a storm or high winds. 

These trees can develop inordinately long growth points in their midsections, and sometimes you must do some pruning to prevent or amend structural defects.  Fast-growing species will only generate growth towards the ends of their branches, and aggressively pruning them will cause irreparable damage.

Branches, needles, and cones need to be pruned correctly

Growing Tips

Storing Seedlings

Dormant seedlings can be stored for up to 10 weeks in cold storage (32℉ to 40℉). 

If cold storage isn’t an option, store the seedlings in a cool, shaded area (35℉ to 40℉) for up to a month. 

There is also an outdoor storage technique called “heeling-in.”   In this method, you remove the seedlings from the package and place the seedlings’ roots into a dug furrow and cover it up with dirt and mulch.  Water the seedlings weekly for up to 10 weeks of outdoor storage. 

Site Preparation


This method of preparing your site comprises the physical removal of any vegetation that could compete with your new pine trees.  For smaller sites, this is removing sod and weeds from a spot with a diameter of 3 feet around each area a new tree is planted. 

For larger sites, use a plow to cultivate planting strips that are 3 feet wide where the rows of trees are placed in the ground.  Leaving vegetation between the rows will help to prevent erosion. 


The chemical method comprises using herbicides to control and kill back any competing vegetation.  This is done by spot treating herbicides around each seedling’s planting site or rows. 

This will take a combination of herbicides that focus on killing grassy, narrow-leafed, and broadleaf weeds.  Allow yourself enough time to eliminate the competing vegetation before you plant your trees.

Seedlings and saplings will need more waterings

Planting the Seedlings

For well-drained plant sites, plant the root collars 2 to 3 inches below the soil’s surface.  The one exception to this depth is the longleaf pine, as its root collar should be planted at the soil surface level or just below it. 

For poorly drained sites, plant the root collars one inch below the surface level of the soil.

For seedlings in a container, plant the seedlings deep enough to cover the entirety of the container in the dirt.  This should prevent wicking from drying the plug.

Fill the planting hole properly and ensure that you have good root to soil contact.  You can test this by lightly pulling on the tops of the seedlings to see how well they are held within the hole. 

Try to prevent areas of loose dirt or organic matter which accumulate close to rotting stumps.  You also must ensure that the bottom of the hole is closed.

Perform regular maintenance on the planting site by checking the condition of the seedlings, soil consistency, and depth.

Surround pine sapling with dirt.

After Planting

Proactive weed control during the first 3 or 4 growing seasons increases the viability of the seedlings, their survival, and growth.  Do this in a diameter of 3 to 4 feet around each planting site.

For smaller-scale endeavors, you can control weeds with mechanical equipment.  You can also employ mulch, weed barrier fabric, and herbicidal applications. 

For large-scale operations, weed control is best undertaken with a plow or a tiller pulled behind your tractor.  However, after two years of growth, you must switch to herbicidal treatments because the roots have grown to where the cultivating equipment can severely damage them. 

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About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants.

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Susan Lauer

Great info, thanks!