Eastern white pine seedling

PLANTING WITH CHILDREN

If at all possible, we urge you to plant these marvelous seeds and seedlings with your children, your grandchildren, borrowed neighbor children and young people at outdoor and wilderness tripping camps. It’s increasingly easy for kids to assume that everything comes from a factory, or that “someone else” will take care of our future needs for a healthy planet, replenishment of raw materials, clean air, clean water, and natural places to go for relaxation and recreation that are not “built” environments. It might just be that the hands-on experience of planting several trees – making holes in the ground, placing seeds or seedlings in the dirt, covering them and hoping they will grow – will impart some “ownership” to kids doing this with you. They are the ones who can most affect the future for everyone, and so a sense of “ownership” in trees, in forests, in the idea that you CAN grow your own, in wilderness, in “effort in equals result out” could have major impact. This is also a wonderful and rare opportunity for older and younger generations to talk, to discuss what might be important to both groups. We hope the planting experience with kids produces trees AND great conversations.

WHERE TO PLANT WHITE PINE

• First of all, do believe that ANYONE can successfully plant trees! It doesn’t take any special skill – just some time, a bit of effort and common sense. Believe also that planting trees can be both fun while doing it and immensely rewarding as time goes on and they grow and grow and grow. I have sugar maples that are 40’ tall, white spruce that are 50’ tall and red pine (planted just 8 years ago) that are already 16’ tall. I planted every one of them by hand, and the satisfaction every time I see them is huge. The maples are now giving us sap each spring that we boil down and make into maple syrup. How fun is that?

• White pine grow best among other trees where the overhead canopy density is roughly 40 – 60%. However, they will grow very slowly in deep shade – they need an “opening” in the upper story to let sun down and to grow up through. They do adequately-to-quite-well in direct open sun if you are reforesting a clearing or a burned area.

• White pine are okay being somewhat solitary, unlike red pine which like to be in groups. Plant whites at least 30’ apart which is minimum spacing for mature trees. Or plant more densely and plan to thin out the weaker trees later on. Try to avoid creating a tree “monoculture” where all trees are the same and thus much easier for disease and deer to attack. There is always some disease, pest or predator working away at every species of tree somewhere. It’s really important to have diversity of species in any woods so that one organism cannot wipe out the entire forest. Plant whites – but also plant other native northern species in the same area so your forest is “multi-cultural”.

• Some folks plant a small triangle of seeds or seedlings – about 12″ – 15” apart – instead of just one. The idea is that one might not germinate or take root, one might grow poorly, and one will be the best. Plan to thin the triangle when it becomes obvious which tree is the strongest.

• Seeds, seedlings and potted trees MUST be planted in “mineral soil” – what the pros call “dirt”, and the sandier the better. Most northern forest floors have a top layer of “duff” – often 2″ – 5” of a lightweight blend of pine needles, molding leaves, dust, twigs, etc. Under that is either rock or dirt. Pick spots where the dirt is deep and wide enough to contain a full root system ten to twenty years out. Conifer roots grow outward at least to their “drip line”– where water would drip off the tree’s outermost branch tips. This sideways growth gives the tree lateral stability against wind and heavy snow or ice. They do not have “tap roots” (hardwoods do) that grow downward since they’d hit bedrock in most northern places.

• In order for mature trees to be a most effective seed-scattering source, they should be planted 100’ or more apart in order to cover more area. In the wild, try to avoid planting at campsites, on portages or along shorelines. By moving away from these easily reached sites and well into the woods you get the new trees to places of greater shelter and greater reseeding effectiveness.

• Make sure the dirt area chosen has natural access to moisture. If the dirt you clear or dig is bone dry today, it is likely to be so in the future. Plant in relatively or potentially moist soil. Whites like sandy, moderately moist soil best, so avoid moisture extremes like low, wet areas or dry hilltops.

• Plant a safe distance (a mature tree-length) away from cabins, buildings, tent sites, etc. Tall whites are often hit by lightning (which often jumps sideways too) and they can do awesome damage when they are blown over.

• Avoid planting where other whites already show blister rust or weevil signs (see “Aftercare” section) or any obvious stress. Rust infection is most likely in small forest openings, topographic depressions and at bases of slopes. Avoid areas with large deer populations unless you plan to use bud caps, fencing or other deer deterrents each fall (see “Aftercare”).

• Plant a nursery. You may want to take a cleared area and plant rows of seeds or seedlings maybe only 12” – 24” apart. Let them grow for 2 – 4 or more years and transplant the small trees to sites needing them. Have the new holes already dug and the soil wet. Lift each new tree with a spade (never by the trunk or stem). Get almost all of the roots and the dirt it has been growing in. Carry the tree in the shovel to the new hole and set it in with the trunk at the same soil level as it was at its old site. Make sure there are no air pockets in the dirt around the roots and tamp the dirt down. Ideally transplants should get a lot of water for several weeks if possible, though many will survive on their own.

• Record the sites where you planted, the soil and moisture conditions, methods used and subsequent weather. Compare sites, methods and weather next year to see what worked best in your location(s).

• Don’t expect “instant” trees. Seeds planted in spring might be tiny “puff balls” of needles by late fall. Both seeds and seedlings will grow very slowly the first several years – only inches per year as they acclimatize to their new surroundings. By year 6 – 8 or so they will start adding a foot a year – then a foot and a half. Seeds planted from August on may show tiny shoots or nothing at all the first year. Seeds planted from October on won’t even germinate until the next spring.

• Please source your seeds and seedlings as close to the place you will plant them as possible. Specifically ask commercial providers where their stock comes from. This both helps ensure that your trees will grow well in that climate, soil and location, and will prevent introduction of new species or specie variations not native to that region. To reforest in the best possible “native species” fashion, collect white pine cones from trees already in your chosen area, dry the seeds and then plant those seeds very close to the same place, just as nature might have done.

Note: Most seeds will keep for a year or more if they are dry (in a double plastic bag) and in the dark and cold of your refrigerator.

• Plant freely on your own private property. Do be sure to ask permission when planting at your neighbor’s, in common areas, in fields and forests and everywhere it seems white pine should be. Contact the US Forest Service District Silviculturist or reforestation expert in your area for help finding the best places to plant. Contact information for northern Minnesota:

NOTE: Do NOT plant anything in any part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Voyageurs National Park. Both sites have firm rules against any such human intervention in natural processes. However, we have been encouraged by the Superior National Forest to plant appropriate species anywhere within the Superior National Forest EXCEPT in the part which is the BWCAW.

AFTERCARE – Will Reduce Mortality

It may seem strange that it helps to “garden the forest” but, if you are near your planted trees, here are several things you can do to help them reach that vital “maturity” stage where they are producing cones and seeds themselves:

• “Release” them often. Twice or thrice a summer, use clippers to prune back other competing brush, weeds and treelets. Ideally, keep your new white pines in a freed circle 2’ – 3’ in diameter – some experts say more like 9’ – 10’. Clip branches immediately overhead as well to let sunlight and air in.

• “Prune Up” the bottom branches of each tree once it reaches maybe a foot or more tall. Leave at least two-thirds of the tree volume intact, but get every single bottom branch because blister rust thrives in small, damp areas and those low branches touching or near the ground or duff collect and retain rain and dew long after the higher branches have dried. Move the clipped branches away from the trunk so they don’t keep moisture right there, but you do not need to fully remove or burn your prunings. Clip each branch just outside its raised “bud collar” ring with a clean cut straight up and down.

• Blister Rust will cause brown needles and raised, sometimes oozy blisters on branches and eventually on the trunk. Prune diseased branches immediately and well inboard (12” or more) of any disease signs. Pruned branches do not need to be removed from the area nor your clippers sterilized. The cranberry/gooseberry family (“ribes”) of bushes serves as the “vector” for the blister rust virus, so the likelihood of white pine surviving in an area of many such bushes is not good and most experts consider removing the vector to be impossible. Plant elsewhere.

• White Pine Weevil: The weevil lays its eggs in the leader shoot of the white pine where the larvae hatch and grow in late spring and early summer. Their presence is obvious because the leader shoot needles turn brown. Immediately remove the leader a good foot below the last browned needles and BURN IT at once to kill the larvae. Soon a nearby side branch will begin growing upwards and become the new leader shoot. That tree will survive.

• Deer Browse Damage: If deer nibble off the leader shoot and bud, prune the leader with a clean cut if it is damaged. A side branch will soon grow upwards to become the new leader. If this happens again, think hard about bud caps or other deterrents (see below).

• “Bud Caps”: Once a tree is about 6” tall you can apply bud caps in late September to keep deer from browsing off the top leader bud. Any kind of office-type paper 2.3” x 4.3” or so works fine. You can cut an 8.5” x 14” sheet in half the long way and then each strip into 6 sections. Fold the paper around the leader, putting your index finger in the fold and over the bud from the top. The bud should be 1/2″ below the cap’s top. Use any office stapler to hold the cap in place by catching several needles in the staple but leaving room for bud growth. Remove the caps each spring. Once the tree’s leader is over 5’ tall, caps are no longer needed.

• See Rajala, Jack: “Bringing Back The White Pine”, THE definitive book on planting and caring for these wonderful trees. Out of print but available in many area libraries. An article on Jack Rajala appears in the 2008 Spring edition of the Quetico Superior Foundation’s newsletter Wilderness News and is reprinted on our web site (https://queticosuperior.org/blog/a-man-of-the-trees).

March 4, 1955 : White Pine Designated as Michigan’s State Tree

Historical map of eastern white pine’s original distribution.

Young and mature eastern white pine trees; photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli on Flickr (use permitted with attribution).

Michigan designated the towering eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) as the official state tree in March 4, 1955 as a symbol of Michigan’s rich logging history.

Starting in the 1860s and for the next 40 years, Michigan was synonymous with pine lumbering, a dangerous and lucrative business. A vast belt of white pine grew across the Lower Peninsula and parts of the Upper Peninsula — towering cathedrals of Pinus strobus that could grow as tall as 175 feet, with stumps 8 feet in diameter. In addition, Michigan was blessed with a network of rivers and creeks to transport the timbered logs to mills.

A few old growth forests, or virgin stands remain in Michigan : Estivant Pines, Huron Mountains, Porcupine Mountains State Park, and Sylvania Wilderness Area in the Upper Peninsula; and Hartwick Pines State Park in the Lower Peninsula.

For the full article, see Bill Loomis, “Shanty boys, river hogs and the forests of Michigan”, Detroit News, April 8, 2012.

For more information, see Theodore J. Karamanski, Deep woods frontier : a history of logging in northern Michigan. Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 1989.

Pinus Strobus wikipedia entry

For a related entry see June 3,1856 : Congress Passes Land Grant Law Which Leads to Demise of Michigan’s Virgin Forests

For those who like historical fiction, consider reading Barkskins by Annie Proulx. Plot: In the late seventeenth century two young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a native woman and their descendants live trapped between two cultures. But Duquet runs away, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Annie Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse. The larger story “Barkskins” has to tell is about arrogant white Christian men coming to subdue the “evil” wilderness, raping the land and culturally annihilating the Native Americans as they march along. It is a novel about human infestation, about greed, about virgin landscapes filled suddenly with “insufferable whiteman stink.” And part of that story includes harvesting the white pine forests of Michigan.

Central to “Barkskins,” Annie Proulx’s new novel, is the Duke family, whose operations take down the great forests from Canada to New England and on to Michigan, heedless of waste. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Pine Trees for Sale Online

Growing Pine Trees

The Eastern White Pine grows almost everywhere in the eastern United States into the midwest. It is hardy in USDA zones 3 – 8, which covers a huge portion of the United States. It isn’t picky about soil and will grow in sandy soils and heavy clay soils equally well. It is also practically maintenance-free. The only major maintenance is limbing-up after several years of growth.

Unlike some evergreen plants, Eastern White Pine has few pest and disease problems. If you’ve had problems with Leyland Cypress in your yard, this plant is a great replacement. Possibly the best feature of this evergreen is that deer don’t favor the taste. What’s the point in planting a beautiful evergreen if you have to cover it up with burlap or deer netting every winter? Eastern White Pine does just fine without those ugly protections.

Uses for Eastern White Pines

Because of its ease of care and maintenance, Eastern White Pine is a perfect choice for any homeowner who needs a fast-growing evergreen tree for privacy. Arborvitae Green Giant can be used as a screening buffer for privacy, or as a bold focal point when planted as a specimen due to the bright green coloring of the foliage.

Eastern White Pine trees make a great windbreak, standing up to the strongest of winter winds. Wind breaks are a perfect way to reduce your heating bills in the winter time by blocking the cold winds that sneak into the house and create a chilly environment. They can also be used to block the low setting sun which tends due to the low angle in the evenings heat up the outer walls of homes and comes through the windows and raises the temperature in a room quickly.

How to Create a Privacy Windbreak with Pine Trees

When creating a wind break or privacy hedge its important to know how far apart to space your plants. Eastern White Pine trees can be planted as close as 10 feet apart and as far apart as 15 to 18 feet. How soon you want privacy is the major concern when deciding how close to plant you newly purchased trees. Obviously planting them closer together will reach the privacy goal faster.

How to Create a Privacy Hedge Sound Buffer with Pine Trees

An even better method of creating a privacy hedge which can also act as a sound buffer is to plant in a staggered row. Basically you plant one row of trees and then plant another row 6 to 8 feet in front of the first row filling in the gaps between the plants. This method creates instant privacy and will virtually eliminate unwanted sounds once it fills in.

History and Origin of Eastern White Pine

For hundreds of years, people have recognized the importance and value of white pine. The Haudenosaunee Indians chose the white pine as their tree of peace, symbolizing an important union between five different tribes.

Since the seventeenth century, the English have been obsessed with these trees, realizing the multitude of uses of the strong, relatively long-lasting evergreens. Needing a constant, reliable source of lumber the colonists began using white pine trees to build their homes, furniture, and because of the height and diameter of white pine trees, they were perfect for ship-building.

It wasn’t long before England’s King George caught on to the value of white pine trees. Because the king wanted to maintain England’s dominance, he needed the best ships for his British Royal Navy fleet. England had long since depleted its own forests for ship-building, so King George decided that he had the rights to the white pine forests in America.

The king created a group of surveyors and gave them the task of designating trees to be reserved for the king’s use only. King George’s surveyors marked the biggest and best trees for the king to be used for masts for his ships. Initially, colonists ignored these designations. Problems grew as the colonists continued to cut down these trees. England began instituting stricter enforcement to reserve certain trees. Eventually, fights broke out between colonists and English surveyors. The Pine Tree Riot of 1772 was an important precursor to the Revolutionary War, fueling some of the rebellion and the fight for independence. Colonists even flew a red flag that had a green pine tree on it as a symbol of their independence.

Eastern white pine

Tree & Plant Care

Prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil in sun, although young trees tolerate light shade.
​Avoid planting in open, windy sites.
Very cold tolerant.

Disease, pests, and problems

Susceptible to chlorosis symptoms in high pH soils.
Sensitive to salt and air pollution.
Intolerant of wet or heavy clay soils.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 9
Native to Eastern U.S., Newfoundland to Georgia

Bark color and texture

Mature bark is dark grayish-brown with broad ridges and deep furrows.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color

Evergreen eedles arranged in clusters of 5; densely crowded near the ends of horizontal branches.
Thin, soft, 3 to 6 inches long, medium green. Needles remain on the tree for two to three years before dropping in the fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male pollen cones are in whorled clusters at the tips of branches. Female flowers are yellow and in pairs near male flower cones.

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) photo: John Hagstrom Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Long and slender, up tp 8 inches, cylindrical brown cones with obvious white resin tips.
Cones remain on the tree for 2 years.

Cultivars and their differences

“These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.”

Blue Shag Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Blue Shag’): A dwarf variety growing only 2 to 3 feet high.

Dwarf Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Nana’ ): A compact or dwarf cultivar, 3-5 feet wide and tall.

Fastigiate Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Fastigiata’ ): This narrow, upright cultivar grows 30-50 feet tall and 10-20 feet wide.

Weeping Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’ ): Typically 15 to 20 feet high and 12 to 15 foot wide. Blue green needles cascade from twisting, weeping branches. This weeping form may require some training to produce a leader that will affect the ultimate height and spread of the plant.

White Pine

Only five evergreens are native to Iowa. They are eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), redcedar, balsam fir, common juniper and yew. Evergreen or conifer trees differ from hardwoods or deciduous trees in that the leaves are needle like and the reproductive organs are borne in cones instead of flowers.

Habitat: Found growing on sandy or rocky steep wooded slopes. Can be found in the eastern half of Iowa but mainly in the extreme northeast.


White Pine Tree – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Hardiness: Zones 5 through 7

Growth Rate: Moderate to Rapid

Mature Shape: Pyramidal

Height: 50-80 feet

Width: 40-50 feet

Site Requirements: White pines grow best in well-drained upland soils, but are adaptable. They have intermediate shade tolerance.

Leaves: Alternate, simple, double-toothed with unequal leaf bases

Flowering Dates: May – June

Seed Dispersal Dates: August – September

Seed Bearing Age: 5-10 years

Seed Bearing Frequency: Every 3 to 10 years

Seed Stratification: Prechill for 2 months at 34°F to 40°F.


White Pine Fruit – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

White pine is easy to identify. Its leaves or needles occur in bundles or fascicles of five, 3-5 inches long, bluish green, with fine white lines or stomata. The cones are 3-6 inches long, gradually tapering, with cone scales without prickles and light tan to whitish in color on outer edge of the scales. The terminal buds are ovoid in shape, about 3/8 of an inch long, tapering to an abrupt slender tip, and have light brown scales. The bark on young trees is smooth and light gray, becoming dark gray to black with flat plates separated by shallow fissures on older trees.

The fine-textured leaves and the asymmetric shape of older trees make white pine one of the easiest conifers to identify from a distance. Its curve upper branches have a pronounced upward shape, and the length of its limbs often varies considerably from one whorl to the next. Most pines will overwinter with 2-3 years of needles, white pine looses all but the current years needles in the early fall.

White pine is native to northeast Iowa, plus isolated native stands in Hardin, and Muscatine counties. Even though it is not native in most of Iowa, it is a common tree in Iowa’s landscape because it has been planted extensively for ornamental purposes, Christmas trees, wildlife habitat, windbreaks and timber production.

Naturally, it grows on bluffs, ridges and wooded slopes on soils with good internal drainage. Plantings do best on well drained soils, with moderately good moisture holding capacity, and soils that are slightly acidic. Plantings on dry, exposed, calcareous soils will often fail. On good sites, white pine will grow 50-90 feet in height; as a young tree growth rate is moderately fast (2-3 feet per year), decreasing with age.

White pine was the species the lumber industry was founded upon in the Northeastern United States. It was the leader in the lumber markets and still demands an important place in todays market. The wood of white pine is light, soft, and easily worked. It shrinks and swells very little, making it ideal for doors and sashes. It is also used for boxes, crates, toys, and many other items.

Diseases that Can Affect White Pine

  • Seasonal Needle Loss
  • Diplodia Tip Blight and Canker
  • Dothistroma Needle Blight
  • Pine Wilt
  • Sooty Mold

Insects that Can Affect White Pine

  • Zimmerman Pine Moth
  • Pine Seed Bug
  • Conifer Spider Mites
  • Pine Bark Adelgid
  • European Pine Sawfly


White Pine Twig, Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University


White Pine Leaves – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

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