most asked-about: japanese umbrella pine

japanese umbrella pine 3
MOST WEEKS I GET AT LEAST ONE COMMENT OR EMAIL–sometimes many more–about my beloved Japanese umbrella pine, one of two plants that traveled with my belongings in the moving van when I first bought this house as a fixer-upper weekend project 25 years ago. That’s it at the axis of the photo above, behind my house. Thanks to the magic of search engines, gardeners in far-reaching spots read about my big old plant, and wonder if I can help them with theirs. When I hear the troubles people are having, I shudder: How in the world did I get so lucky, and what if I hadn’t?

I knew nothing at all when I heaved the then-very-rare, chest-high young Sciadopitys verticillata out of the ground in the borough of Queens in New York City, and plopped it unceremoniously into a bushel basket for the trip several hours north. I picked a spot for it when there was nothing but one giant rhododendron alone in the middle of the yard behind the house, connected to nothing. I made the umbrella pine its companion, and hoped they would get along.

There was no back porch then (and therefore no stepping stones leading to it); there was no nothing but unmown grass and wild raspberries tangled throughout it, and my youthful enthusiasm. The house was a wreck; the back foundation, in fact–perhaps 15 or 20 feet from where this most beautiful of conifers now stands about 20 feet tall–had collapsed, and a swath of plastic sheeting was all that formed the barrier between outside and in below ground level.

Today, as spring gives way to summer begrudgingly, leaving spoiled flowers to clean up and not much at “peak” form to admire–as it rains for another day with a couple more really wet ones still ahead–rather than wish for anything else like fewer to-do’s on the stalled list, or more bloom somewhere, I’ll do this instead:

Say thank you to my Japanese umbrella pine for holding up to 25 winters of uneasy snow loads and countless ice storms; not suffering winterburn in the spot I chose with no particular knowledge of the plant’s needs or the garden’s future direction; for settling in without so much as losing a needle (which apparently isn’t always the case as you can tell from the comments on this plant profile I did some time ago). For looking handsome every single day of all those years.

I took its picture, all wet and moody (those are drops of rain on the top photo!), to just say hallelujah for its being here with me to this day. Sometimes, just sometimes, we have enduring successes in this funniest of pursuits called gardening, in spite of the heroic odds.

18 comments
June 23, 2011

comments

  1. says

    So reassuring to see what you can make of a landscape with a little persistence. We just planted a maple that sprouted from seed last year. Its about 12 inches tall this year…lets hope the garden grows around it (and I’m still here to see it :).

  2. says

    Your Japanese umbrella pine is gorgeous and a worthy subject for adoration and thankfulness. I’m also interested in the big-leafed plant on the left side of the top photo; what is it? Thanks…as always for this lovely, lovely and helpful blog.

  3. Nickie Skoog says

    A bit off the subject…. But what is that beautiful broadleaf plant on the bottom left? I have been looking for a plant similar to that to put over my pond.

    • says

      Hi, Nickie. It’s a naughty plant I planted more than 20 years ago, when it was slightly chic and before it was thought of as a pest because it spreads so effective underground. It’s Petasites japonicus, or Petasites japonicus var. giganteus, or Petasites x hybridus or who knows what it’s called at the moment (every seems to disagree), common name Japanese butterbur or in Japan called fuki, but you could get a bold effect from a less spreading large-leaved plant in the shade such as Astilboides tabularis perhaps (not as tall, but bold, and a lighter green). Another point of view on the Petasites is here. I love the plant, but I have to say that it will walk a mile.

  4. Janeen says

    Margaret, you don’t harvest pine nuts from this, do you?

    And also — as a story idea — since you’re so passionate about pesto (me too) and it’s that time of year, have you ever experienced “pine mouth syndrome.” It’s well documented on the web (various news sites, FDA, Dr. Weil, NIH) and harmless, but a BIG bummer. I ate some offending pine nuts from a purveyor of organic foods and am just toward the end of it.

    In case it’s new to you, here’s a somewhat funny, but informative take on the subject:
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/07/02/128273771/pinenuts-may-be-to-blame-for-that-bitter-atertaste

  5. Teresa says

    5 years ago I bought mine at the IES sale in Millbrook (back when they had sales). I had no idea what it was but was looking for an interesting dwarf tree to put in front of my house and fell in love with it. It was $35 and about 18 inches tall. The IES people told me it was very slow growing and would stay small for a long time.

    Ha!

    So obviously I knew nothing about it. I just read your older post and I guess the reason mine has thrived is that the house has protected it from wind and midday sun. Needless to say it’s now over 10 feet tall and as still growing strong. The only problem we have with it is that the deer come right up to the house and munch on it in winter but diligent application of Liquid Fence deterred them all winter. The first spring we watched the growth we thought it had some disease due to all the leaves on the actual bark as you describe.

    Mine has never produced cones….?

    I guess I am wondering if I should move it since I don’t think I want a 30 ft tree in front of my living room window. Yet….it’s so beautiful and happy I am terrified to upset it and after reading your posts I realize it truly may be unhappy elsewhere….what to do?

  6. Teresa says

    Question about the Astilboides tabularis: do the deer bother it? Thank you for posting about it….I have been coveting it for a while without knowing what it was called!

    • says

      Hi, Teresa. I have a deer fence so I do not know. In the years prior, they ate things nearby like hostas more than this, but I don’t have enough experience with them in the bed with the Astilboides to be sure.

  7. Cathy says

    What am I doing wrong? I have a Japanese umbrella tree my sister gave to me and I really do like it. I have had the tree since May. It has done well, but now the outside needles are starting to get brown. The inside needles are still green, but I fear I may be losing it. I live in NC and the weather has been plenty wet here, but not exceedingly so. Any ideas? Thanks!!!

    • says

      Hi, Cathy. Tip dieback usually worries me, yes. I don’t know what’s causing the issue, but stress from transplant or other environmental issues as it has been trying to settle in can certainly cause a conifer to sulk and even show damage. The stress of high heat/too much sun before it’s settled into its new home (before it roots are fully put down, meaning the plant is more vulnerable the first year or even two) can also be the culprit. I’d watch and wait, to see if the branch tips become brittle and die, or if it just dropped needles. Don’t feed; keep it watered.

  8. Kathy says

    Hi Margaret . . . . I was also told my umbrella pine would only grow 5ft., I planted the young pine in 2003, now 9 years later it’s 15ft tall’ Since I planted it between the condo & the sidewalk in front of my condo, I’m now worried about its roots disturbing either the foundation or the sidewalk. I’m so afraid to transplant it tho’ as I feel it’s a fragile species. I don’t want to lose it, but fear it may outgrow its location. Advice??

    • says

      Oh, my, Kathy, definitley more than 5 feet in every direction!:) Mine is next to a small inground water garden lined with thick rubber and no root has ever poked into the pool in 20+ years, I can tell you. Beyond that I do not know for certain.Is there enough room for it to be 15 feet wide at the base when it matures, without blocking the sidewalk?

  9. says

    Hi … fun to read about your Japanese Umbrella Pine…I have one in my Carroll Gardens Bklyn backyard which is doing beautifully..of course too big for here but I did’nt know anything about it when I bought it from the nursery in a pot. T had in in a pot for a long time and it was healty but didnt grow as soon as I put it in the ground it took off now 9 feet tall grows about 18″ every summer. I saw one at the Westbury Garden House which first clued me in to how big it will get. The one there is far taller then the 30′ …I think closer to 45′

    • says

      Hi, Robert. It’s such a great plant. Mine hasn’t gone beyond 20-something feet in 25 years here, a few years prior in the ground at my first garden, and of course years and years at the nursery before I bought it about waist-high. But who knows what it will do next!

  10. Debbie says

    Hi, Margaret:
    I too have a beautiful Japanese Umbrella Pine specimen. It has survived and flourished after many New England winters. It was planted 20 years ago and is well established. Although all info that I have read says that there are no serious pests or diseases that are problematic, I am concerned. I recently noted a white substance on the lower needles. I cannot tell what it is. Do you have any thoughts or have you heard of similar situations? If it is treatable, I would like to get started right away. The tree is one of the gems in my garden. It would be tragic to loose it.

    • says

      They are pretty bullet-proof as far as pests and diseases, but I wonder if you have an outbreak of some kind of scale insect (follow link). Do you know what mealy bug looks like too? (You said “white” so I am thinking of white pests; not that I have heard that these affect umbrella pine particularly.)

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