Pines are ideal for the harsh Prairie landscape, providing shelter, privacy and wildlife habitat, as well as colour, form and texture for 12 months of the year, a distinct advantage in a part of the country where the snow season almost always exceeds the grow season.
While a few pines are native to the Prairies, most have been introduced from Europe, Asia or other parts of North America. To ensure that your pine is hardy, seedlings should be selected from genetic stock growing in the coldest part of their natural range. Fortunately, most local nurseries and garden centres sell hardy stock.
Pines flourish in well-drained soil in full sun. Once established, most are moderately drought-tolerant. Unlike the needles of firs or spruces, which are carried singly, pine needles grow in bundles of two, three or five, held together by a sheath at their base.
Pines serve a number of roles in our landscapes. For example, Swiss stone (Pinus cembra), limber (P. flexilis), Scots (P. sylvestris) and Eastern white pines (P. strobus) are useful as specimen trees or, where space permits, in groupings or tree-shrub borders. Scots pine is also used in shelter belts, to attract wildlife and in xeriscape plantings. Depending on their size, mugo pines (P. mugo) are ideal in mixed or shrub borders, en masse, as foundation plantings and in rock gardens, while bristlecone (P. aristata) requires a sheltered location in which a small evergreen can be appreciated.
Most pines go through life with few, if any, serious problems. The sapsucker woodpecker occasionally drills rigidly geometrical rows of holes in their trunks, which can cause structural damage and weaken the tree. However, it’s illegal to harm these birds, as they’re protected by federal legislation. Try discouraging them with noisemakers and streamers.
Deer have been known to browse on pines, and especially love the soft needles of the more expensive and slow-growing Swiss stone. Repellents such as blood meal may work for a while, but when it’s very cold and deer are hungry, repellent won’t stop them.
On a much smaller note, the tiny, waxy, white secretions of pine scale protect the larvae that suck sap from the needles. In severe infestations, needles turn yellow. Eggs, laid in August, overwinter under the scale and hatch the following spring. Ladybugs and parasitic wasps are among the pine scale’s natural predators. Spray dormant oil on pine needles in the early spring to counter overwintering scale.
Photos, from top: 'Eastern White Pine' and 'Mugo Pine'