If you pine for the spicy aroma of evergreens in your life--and not just at Christmas or from a household cleaner--you may want to add them to your home landscape for year-round enjoyment.
Although many pine species grow on mountains and thrive in cold, snowy or rainy climates, several varieties grow successfully in Orange County. The secret is selecting the right type and providing adequate water and fertilizer while the tree is young.
"One of the best things about adding a pine to a landscape is the scent," says James Barry, an environmental consultant based in Orange. Barry also teaches arboriculture at Fullerton College.
Another benefit from pines: their visual drama.
"Their ambience is different from other trees," he says.
Pines need full sun and well-draining soil. They prefer acidic soil and, because most soil and water in Orange County tends to be alkaline, fertilizer and iron supplement added periodically during the first few years of growth are crucial for the overall health of the tree.
Barry recommends applying iron sulfate in the fall. In spring, he uses an all purpose landscape fertilizer (Best Super Iron) with a 9-9-9NPK formulation (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), which also contains 11% iron. Using a steel rod, he digs holes eight inches deep, three feet apart, in an eight-foot ring surrounding the tree drip line. He pours one-quarter pound of fertilizer into each hole. Quantity is adjusted for tree size, because mature trees require more.
Regular watering is crucial for pines while they mature.
"Often pines suffer from summer heat and drought and show it by browning needles and needle drop," Barry said.
Pines need deep watering, to a depth of at least two feet, once a month. If they're stressed by drought, heat or smog, they become susceptible to attacks by bark beetles or mites.
Because many pine species are affected by polluted air, it's best to avoid those that suffer in smog. One of the worst is Monterey pine, which is popular as a living Christmas tree sold in containers.
"There's not enough rainfall and humidity here, and they really don't do well in our climate," Barry says.
He added that it's very hard to grow containerized pines year after year because the temperatures rise so high in hot, dry months that the roots are affected. He recommends planting in the ground.
Nati Panpoja, superintendent of Sunnyslope Nursery in Orange, which specializes in growing and selling trees, agrees that the crucial time for pines is when they are young.
"Pines can be really easy to grow," he says. "They need to be staked when they're young, but as they mature, they don't need much care."
Pines do need to be sheared and shaped. Barry recommends such treatment during the cooler months, November through February, which is convenient for the gardener who wants pine branches for holiday decorations. "If pines are pruned in summer, they suffer from stress compounded by the heat and dry air."
A note of caution: Pines are very flammable, as are the dry needles. Barry recommends planting them away from structures, preferably on the perimeter of the landscape. They are also fairly shallow rooted, so the roots can be invasive.
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James Barry and Nati Panpoja recommend the following pines for Orange County:
* P. eldarica--Mondell pine. Top choice for Orange County. Tolerates heat and smog, medium growth rate. Reaches 50 feet.
* P. canariensis--Canary Island pine. Fast growing, to 60 feet. Popular because it needs less pruning and shaping than most other varieties.
* P. halepensis--Aleppo pine. Moderate growth rate, to 40 feet. Needs considerable pruning to shape.
* P. monophylla--Singleleaf pinon pine. Very slow growing to 20 feet. Popular for bonsai or rock gardens. Added benefit is it produces edible pine nuts.
* P. pinea--Italian stone pine. Moderate growth rate, to 50 to 60 feet. Used more as street trees or on large landscapes as it will outgrow a small garden.
Nurseries that specialize in trees are a good place to investigate varieties.
Another good place to view pines and other conifers (cedar, cypress, fir and spruce) is in the Conifer Garden at the Fullerton Arboretum, 1900 Association Road, Fullerton. It's open from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily. Call (714) 773-3579 for information.