White pines are a common tree in the mountains. They have a couple of interesting features and are a native tree so let’s talk about white pines, some of their benefits and drawbacks.
The scientific name for white pines is Pinus strobus L. They can be found from southern Canada, down along the Appalachian Mountains to North Georgia and Alabama. They are the biggest native conifer in Eastern North America. They can grow up to 150 feet tall and have a trunk that is 40 inches in diameter. The canopy can grow to 40 feet wide. They’re capable of growing 2 feet in a year. They are able to tolerate a variety of soil textures. Pines like soils that have a low pH. That’s one of the reasons why we have many pines. It also means that if you clear an area that had lots of pines in it, you’ll most likely need to add lime to that soil before most things will grow well.
They are suited to USDA zones 3-8. They used to be used for ships’ masts, and were a major export from Colonial America.
The cones from white pines are 4 to 8 inches long. The needles come in clusters of five. The needles are 2.5 to 5 inches long, making them medium sized for pines. The easiest way to tell what is a white pine that I’ve found is from the color of the needles. They have a greenish, white color to them.
White pines have a very nice Christmas tree shape to them. Some people grow them for this purpose. I suppose you could grow one in your front yard and have a giant Christmas tree in 20 years. They also have ornamental use. If they are planted densely, you can shear them and turn them into a hedge. There is a number of wildlife species that eat the seeds including squirrels, deer, mice, and songbirds. White pines are commonly used as windbreaks and screens. I have seen some old stands of white pines planted along property lines or along a bank for erosion control.
Large white pines can be problematic during the wintertime. The needles can hold a lot of precipitation that can freeze. This can lead to limbs breaking off. Therefore, it’s best to plant them in places where there is no threat of them falling onto structures or vehicles.
The white pine weevil is a major pest of white pines. They will usually feed on trees that are 20 feet tall or less. They will chew on the current year’s terminal leader, killing the current year’s growth. Usually the tree is able to keep growing by sending up another branch to become the terminal leader. However, this will result in a forked tree. Dying terminal leaders will have a shepherd’s crook shape to them. Trees grown in partial shade are less affected by the white pine weevil.
White pines can be a great addition to a landscape. If you have questions about white pines contact you County Extension Office or email me at Jacob.Williams@uga.edu.