Landscaping with pine trees

Allen D. Owings, Gill, Daniel J.  |  12/5/2008 10:30:36 PM

Sustainable Landscape News Distributed 12/05/08

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists

Pines are one of our many great native tree species. They, along with baldcypress, southern magnolias and oaks, are typically associated with Louisiana. Native pine species include loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana), longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), spruce pine (Pinus glabra) and slash pine (Pinus elliottii).

Pine trees in southeastern Louisiana suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The effects still linger. Add to this tragedy the loss of pine trees this year in the Baton Rouge area with Hurricane Gustav and in southwestern Louisiana with hurricanes Rita and Ike, and many of us are reluctant to include pine trees in our landscape plans. Besides a loss to our landscapes, the destruction of so many pines is having a major long-term negative economic impact on Louisiana’s forestry industry.

Even though the pines damaged homes during the storms, we should not totally exclude the trees from our landscapes. We still can use them successfully by selecting the proper species and locations. For example, plant smaller-growing trees (under 15 feet tall) around the house. Plant taller trees a safe distance from the house or other structures.

The best pine tree for landscape use in southern Louisiana is the spruce pine. It has a slow-to-moderate growth rate and matures at a size that works in medium-to-large landscapes. It also is much more adapted to adverse or varying soil moisture and pH conditions than other pine species. Spruce pines can tolerate neutral-to-slightly alkaline soils and also can grow better in poorly draining soils that have some clay – although their growth certainly will be slower than if they were planted in more ideal, silty, acidic soil.

Taller species that also are suitable for the landscape and somewhat tolerant of adverse growing conditions are the shortleaf and Virginia pines. They reach average heights of 25-50 feet with and average spread of 20-30 feet. Virginia pine is best suited for southern Louisiana while the shortleaf pine performs better in northern Louisiana.

Loblolly, slash and longleaf pines are more upright-growing and are considerably larger than the other species. The longleaf pine stays in a “grasslike” growing stage for several years before upright growth commences.

Pine tree selection is limited at garden centers, but generally you can find the spruce and loblolly kinds. Seedlings are available every year (normally, from December to March) from the tree seedling sales office at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Although container-grown plants can be placed in the landscape during the spring and summer, it is best to plant them in the fall or winter for best success.

Give pine trees a chance in your landscape if room allows. They are great for perimeter landscaping efforts, and the soil conditions required for most pines match those of common ornamental shrubs such as gardenias, hydrangeas, camellias, sasanquas and azaleas.

Spruce pines are featured in the LaHouse landscape plantings in Baton Rouge. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. Highway 30) across the street from the new LSU baseball stadium. Go online to and for more information.


Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Allen D. Owings at (985) 543-4125 or
John Young at (225) 578-2415 or (225) 578-2222 or
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or

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