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Native spruce pine excels in landscape
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
As we get closer to the holiday season, we hear words like fir, Scotch pine and spruce mentioned in association with Christmas trees. But I want you also to think about spruce as one of the most beautiful native pines for the landscape.
I dare not get in any kind of argument with a forester, urban or otherwise, about pines. To me, however, the spruce pine Pinus glabra named in 1765 by John Bartram in Savannah, Ga., is the most beautiful of all pines available to homeowners for the landscape. The bark is a very attractive, reddish gray-brown that is smooth on young trees and grooved and "spruce-like" on older trees.
The spruce pine is native to the lower halves of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia as well as very small areas of Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina; these are the U.S. Department of Agriculture's hardiness zones 8 and 9.
Folks at North Carolina State University say it is also well suited to zone 7, which includes the rest of Mississippi. Steve Dicke, a forester with MSU's Extension Service, agrees and said that while the spruce pine is not well suited to the timber industry, it has the branch flexibility to withstand ice storms.
It is easy to spot this pine because of its unique look. The needles are short, dark green and twisted in bundles of two. Its dense growth gives it the appearance of belonging in the Rockies or Cascade Mountains. In the landscape, it is superior as a screen for privacy or a windbreak. It's an excellent background for beds of azaleas or small trees like the redbud.
Though they can reach 50-plus feet, they are most often seen 20 to 30 feet tall with multiple branches extending almost as wide. The small cones remain on the trees for three to four years, and as typical with other pines, they feed birds and animals and provide good cover for nesting.
To be perfectly honest, your basic local garden center usually doesn't stock the spruce pine, but they are found at garden centers that sell a lot of natives. What this means is if the native garden centers can get them, everyone else can, too.
Once you locate yours, choose a site in full sun to partial shade. Set out nursery-grown plants in the spring into well-drained, moist, fertile soil. Dig the hole three to five times as wide as the rootball, but no deeper. The top of the rootball should be even with the soil profile.
When planting in midsummer, form a 4-inch berm outside the rootball area. This berm should be able to hold five gallons of water. After planting, water deeply and apply mulch. Remove the berm after the first year.
Even though the spruce pine is rugged and native, it will appreciate supplemental irrigation. Irrigate deeply, giving 2 inches of water a week during dry periods. Maintain a layer of mulch around the base.
If you have lamented that you can't grow the white pine in your particular area, search out the spruce pine. I know you will like it, maybe even better than the white pine you always wanted.