When to prune mugo pine?

Pruning Mugo Pines: Do Mugo Pines Need To Be Pruned

Do mugo pines need to be pruned? While mugo pine pruning is not necessary for the plant to develop a strong branch structure, many gardeners trim their trees to make them shorter and more compact. For more information on pruning mugo pines, read on.

Do Mugo Pine Need to Be Pruned?

There are two main reasons for pruning mugo pine: to limit the tree’s size and to shape the tree. If you do not want to do either of these things, there is no need to prune your mugo pine.

Mugo pine is a small, pyramidal shrub that can grow between 4 and 10 feet (1.2-3 m.) tall. If yours looks like it will be on

the taller side and you want it shorter, you’ll need to prune it to keep it small.

How to Prune a Mugo Pine

The principal rule when it comes to mugo pine pruning is this: do not prune in the fall. Pines do not produce new buds from old growth. That means that the tree will stop growing from any pruning points if you cut branches out of season. Instead, prune mugo pine in spring and only trim the new growth. Tender new growth on mugo pines appears as “candles” on the branch tips.

To keep the mugo pine from getting too tall, cut the mugo pine candles in half in springtime. This reduces the size the new growth will achieve in the season. Done annually, this keeps the mugo pine to a reasonable size. It also makes the shrub/tree’s canopy thicker. If it gets too thick, you may want to remove some exterior candles.

Pruning Mugo Pine to Shape

The ideal shape for mugo pine is smooth and rounded. If your mugo pine had holes in its canopy, you can correct them by shape pruning. Pruning mugo pines to shape involves not pruning candles in areas where more growth is required. Figure out which candles can grow to fill in a canopy hole, then skip these when you are pruning.

How to Prune Mugo Pines

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To Prune or Not to Prune, That is the Question

Google keeps sending people to my blog for answers on when to prune a mugho or mugo pine. I know I’ve mentioned it in posts, but now it is time to inform everyone of the best time and the proper way to prune a Pinus mugo mugo

An excellent variety of Mugo Pine, ‘Valley Cushion’

Don’t trim or prune your pine in the fall. That is the short answer. Pines will stop growing from the points at which you prune off their branches (they do not produce new buds from old wood) if you do it out of season. The right season is when the new candle growth begins in the spring.

The right way and time to prune a Mugo is when the new growth (candles) sprout out .You simply spruce them up (couldn’t resist the pun) by cutting the candles in half. Some people say “pinch growth by two thirds”, but I let them get a bit longer and slice them in half with the pruners (secateurs).

The main thing is to cut back just the new growth at this time.

Prune a Mugo Pine in the Spring

If you prune in this way it gives the most natural looking trim. I would keep up with it regularly, since mugos often get bigger than their reputation for being dwarf would indicate.

I have two shrubs at this property and had several at my city home years ago. There is a lot of variation in the compactness and ultimate size of pine shrubs labeled “Mugho” or “Mugo”.

They all look so nice and compact when you get the little ones at the nursery, but they grow into sizes that can overwhelm foundation plantings if you let them. The expert reason given:

Mugo Pine’s incredible, yet frustrating, variation is primarily the result of its large native range. Plants with large territories tend to have greater nature/variation than plants with small ranges because they must be flexible enough to adapt to different climactic conditions to survive. Mugo pine’s native range is western Europe, eastern Europe, southern Europe, and western Asia. Such a broad range requires a chameleon-like ability to adapt to different situations, which is why specimens of every size, shape and description can be found. Although there are many kinds of cultivated and naturally growing types, all are commonly known as mugo pine.

So there you go- if you happen to have one that grows larger, you can use the pruning technique of halving the candles each year, or so, to control the size. If I were to go shopping for mugo pine shrubs today I would look for the P. mugo cultivars “Mops”, “Sherwood Compact” and “Slowmound”… as advised by Anne Pink.

The mugo pine is located behind the hydrangea

These pages may interest you:

Foundation Faux Pas

What a mugo will look like if you forget to prune

Prune your mugo

The previous post (2004) on pruning mugo pines.

Tags: Mugho Pine, prune,mugo pine

Mugo Pine, Swiss Mountain Pine

Pinus Mugo

Mugo Pines are dwarf trees, and they keep their shape well with yearly attention in the spring. These aromatic, evergreen, dwarf trees highlight my foundation planting.

Although not as popular as they once were, they are still widely used in home landscaping and there are many cultivars to choose from. Its unpredictable growth (see my post picturing the larger one- more than twice the size of its partner that I planted at the same time, bought at the same nursery, ‘Time To Prune The Mugo‘) is the reason that some home owners hesitate to use them, especially around the foundation like I have.

Pruning A Mugo Pine

The right way and time to prune a mugo is when the new growth (candles) sprout out in mid spring; it doesn’t take very much time to trim them, then. This is the biggest question I get on the blog: when and how should I prune a mugo pine?

  • The tip growth is called a “candle” due to its appearance; these light gold, slim spikes should be pinched or clipped back about two-thirds each year.
  • Please don’t cut back into old wood or remove parts of a growing branch- it may not regenerate.
  • Use regular pruning shears, the tip growth is soft. Cut about halfway down the candle

Variable In Size

This popular evergreen is wildly variable in expected size. Their native range is western Europe, eastern Europe, southern Europe, and western Asia, which creates this incredible variation. From a well behaved dwarf to a form more in keeping with its tree status, I like the mugo pine no less for its indeterminate height at maturity.

If you must keep your plantings in bounds, such as near a pathway, either choose another evergreen or shop for a named variety that will give you the dimensions you need. A cloned one like ‘Sherwood Compact‘ may be the one you seek.

Mugo Pine Look

A globular shape with branches reaching out in a cupped direction, the needles are 1-2 inches long in fasicles (bundles) of two. Some of the variants are more dome shaped with a low spreading form. Bright medium green foliage, with small, dark gray-brown pinecones, provides a good looking evergreen accent.

Grows from 5′ to 20′ high, and of equal spread. The branchlets grow fairly compactly which gives the bush a nice full shape for garden use.

Named varieties excellent for your home landscape are ‘Mops’, ‘Gnom’, ‘Compacta’, ‘Slow Mound’, and ‘Sherwood Compact’.

Corleys Mat Carsten Winter Gold Sherwood Compacta

Cultivation Facts

How To Grow Pinus Mugo

Hardy to zone 2, the Mugo likes loose, organic, moist soil… but is not picky. I’ve grown it both clay and clay loam soil.

This shrub does have some pest problems at times, including Pine sawfly and Pine needle scale. Description of more pest problems at this page, ‘bonsai mugo pine’.

mugo pine highlights tulips

Feed them in spring to early summer with an organic fertilizer. I don’t specifically feed my mugos, but keep them well mulched, and they get the benefit of whatever fertilizer, such as bone meal, that I use for bulbs in their vicinity. They do spread, so space bulbs and other plants accordingly- four to six feet from the center of the pines. ( I’ve had to move bulbs from beneath several times over the years.)

If you need to transplant them, late August to early fall is the best time of year to move pines.

Fun Facts about this Shrub

Mugo pines are a favorite for bonsai.
They are a natural choice for a Japanese or Oriental style garden.

Mugho Pine
The closeup picture at top is by Josh Jackson
The tulips and mugo picture, copyright to Ilona Erwin.

Big Tuna Mugo Pine

Big Tuna Mugo Pine

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 15 feet

Spread: 12 feet


Hardiness Zone: 3a

Other Names: Mugho Pine, Swiss Mountain Pine


A rugged and hardy strongly oval large shrub or small tree, wide spreading and dense, excellent for form and texture in home landscapes, allow enough room for its full mature size; needs full sun

Ornamental Features

Big Tuna Mugo Pine has dark green foliage. The needles remain dark green throughout the winter. Neither the flowers nor the fruit are ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Big Tuna Mugo Pine is a dense multi-stemmed evergreen shrub with a distinctive and refined pyramidal form. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage.

This is a relatively low maintenance shrub. When pruning is necessary, it is recommended to only trim back the new growth of the current season, other than to remove any dieback. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Big Tuna Mugo Pine is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Accent
  • Hedges/Screening

Planting & Growing

Big Tuna Mugo Pine will grow to be about 15 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 12 feet. It has a low canopy, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 70 years or more.

This shrub should only be grown in full sunlight. It prefers dry to average moisture levels with very well-drained soil, and will often die in standing water. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for xeriscaping or the moisture-conserving landscape. It is not particular as to soil type or pH, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.

I am frequently reminded by my friends, living in much more harsh climates than we enjoy in the Pacific Northwest, that they have a much more limited pallet of dwarf conifers to choose from for their gardens. Those folks must endure hotter and more humid summers and far more colder winters with sub-freezing temperatures, that I can only imagine. Here in my corner of the world, I am able to grow almost any but the most tropical conifers. When a friend from Plentywood, MT asked me for advice for their new landscape, I must admit it was a real challenge to find an assortment of plants that would create a pleasing garden, with year-round interest, in their very harsh climate.

This young specimen of ‘Big Tuna’ is six to eight years old and stands nearly 36 inches tall.

One of the most hardy conifer “families” that I know of are the mugo pines. These tough plants are native to the high elevation mountains of Europe and have endured cold temperatures and freezing winds for thousands of years. There are many wonderful dwarf selections of these extremely hardy pines available to local gardeners through independent garden centers.

Many of the quality cultivars of mugo pine, which are commonly available, grow as low, mounding plants with dark green foliage. There are some whose color changes to shades of gold through the winter months, and they all have different growth rates from the tiniest miniatures to larger, more open growers. One in particular stands out from the crowd due to its upright, oval shape.

I remember hearing Jean Iseli and Don Howse talking about the day they were walking through a field of Pinus mugo seedlings. This field was probably 10-12 years old and there were thousands in a wild assortment of shapes and sizes of these young conifers. The two men were looking for special characteristics – extraordinary form, shape, growth rate, needle size, color — anything that they believed would make the plant worthy of reproducing and bringing into production at the nursery. As they were walking along, Jean came across one small tree and exclaimed, “That’s one big tuna!” They tagged the plant and continued on their way. That following winter the plant began to be propagated and was given the name, Pinus mugo ‘Big Tuna’. Personally, at the time, I was very skeptical about the name, but the plant is extraordinary! It is definitely one of my favorite mugos, and if I had a top-ten list of conifers, it might even be on that list.

This brilliant old specimen is the mother of all ‘Big Tuna’s. Standing nearly 15 feet tall and close to 40 years old, this ‘Big Tuna’ is showing the added value of seasonal color. Sprinkled in among the foliage are pinkish-orange pollen cones. Later, dark burgundy seed cones will become visible to the discerning eye.

Pinus mugo ‘Big Tuna’ is a dwarf, but it might be considered to be within the intermediate growth rate as designed by the American Conifer Society. When young, it shows great vigor and will advance with 6-8 inches of new growth per year. As the tree matures, that rate seems to moderate and the tree will form a large oval shape, somewhat taller than wide. The original mother of all ‘Big Tuna’s was planted in the Iseli Nursery main office landscape back in the mid-1980s and is a beautiful specimen today. I estimate that the tree is close to 15 feet tall and nearly 12 feet wide at its broadest point, about midway up the tree. Discovered in a group of seedlings planted in (or prior to) 1976, this excellent specimen is nearly forty years old!

‘Big Tuna’ is a great specimen, not only for those folks living in our colder climates, but also for those of us gardening in more temperate areas of the world. I can image a row of ‘Big Tuna’s making a formidable hedge in time. Its uniform shape and compact habit would make it useful in a formal landscape in place of plants that may require annual shearing to maintain their tidy form.

Versatile, compact, unique shape, reliable and extremely cold hardy. I suggest that you go out and catch a ‘Big Tuna’ for your garden!

Conifer Lover

Dwarf Mugo Bonsai Care

Download these instructions

General Background:

The Dwarf Mugo Pine is native to the high elevations of the mountain regions of Central and Southern Europe. It was first introduced into Denmark in 1798 and became widely grown in Europe commercially since 1860. It has been used to stabilize coastal sand dune areas in Europe. This slow growing plant is easy to grow and easy to care for making it a great choice for any bonsai enthusiast.

Trees Features:

The Dwarf Mugo Pine, or Pinus mugus ‘Mops’ has small dark green needles which grow slowly and are very easy to maintain. Being an evergreen, this bonsai looks great throughout the year. This bonsai will provide an experience that is perfect for beginners because it is a very low-maintenance bonsai with a hearty constitution.


This bonsai will enjoy living outdoors with adequate protection from extreme heat and cold. If left outdoors, though it tolerates freezing temperatures well, ample root protection should be provided; and if brought inside, attention must be paid to humidity requirements and protection from the dry conditions of indoor heating should be provided.


Mugo pine trees can be grown outdoors in partial shade to full sun. When indoors they will do well in bright light, but can also tolerate diffused light from a southern facing window.


The drought tolerance of the Mugo Pine will be especially appreciated in warmer climates and by the frequent traveler. Since their roots grow close to the surface, it is a good idea to offer a layer of mulch around Mugo pine bonsai, to keep the roots cool and moist. It is also important to provide a good draining soil to prevent root rot. This bonsai is, as aforementioned, a drought tolerant plant, and this, combined with their tolerance of partial shade, makes them adaptable and helps account for how popular these plants are when growing bonsai.


This bonsai will do well to have a monthly feeding regime of a diluted organic fertilizer specific to evergreens.

Pruning / Training:

Initial pruning should be carried out at the same time as repotting. Subsequent pruning can be carried out when wiring in the fall. Pinch by shortening new shoots, also called candles, by two thirds in the spring, before the needles open. You will want to pinch the candles in two stages, pinching the most vigorous candles first and a week later pinching the weaker candles. In the fall, reduce the number of buds on each branch to two to encourage ramification. In the fall, you will want to thin the needles by removing any needles that are too long or that are growing downward. It is best to thin more at the peak of the tree and less as you work down the tree. This will allow light to reach the lower branches and will slow the growth of the apex. Wiring should be done in late fall or early winter, and the wire removed 6-8 months later at most checking monthly to ensure that the wire doesn’t damage the bark. This tree looks best when a natural shape is kept.

Insects / Pests:

Mugo pine trees are virtually maintenance-free and are extremely resistant to insects and disease.


Plant seeds in the fall in moist soil. This process takes quite a long time, but is the most successful way to propagate.


Repot In early spring or late summer, every 2-3 years for young specimens and every 3-5 years for older ones. All Pines need deep, well drained soil, so plant in a fairly deep container filled with half coarse sand, half soil. Pines and other conifers grow in association with a symbiotic fungus that has a white web-like appearance, which grows in the root ball of the tree. If this fungus is not present, the tree may die. For this reason, pines and other conifers should never be bare-rooted, and its roots should not be over trimmed.

Additional Comments:

Be sure to keep the foliage of this bonsai free from dust to ensure proper cell growth.

DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Bonsai Outlet. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. Happy bonsai gardening.

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