YOU’D THINK BIGGER WOULD NOT BE BETTER when you’re taking about a dwarf conifer, but to the contrary, I’m loving my overgrown “dwarf” white pines (Pinus strobus ‘Nana’) more each year. After 20-plus years in the ground, starting from mounded creatures maybe 3 feet across and 2 high, today they are close to 14 by 7 or 8—like giant bonsais someone hasn’t clipped lately. (That would be me.)
First, the disclaimer. I know I said the plant is specifically Pinus strobus ‘Nana,’ and that’s how mine came to me, but here’s the wrinkle: ‘Nana’ is kind of a grab-bag name for many relatively compact- or mounded-growing Eastern white pines, a long-needled species native to Eastern North America, from Canada to Georgia and out to Ohio and Illinois.
Today, you can shop for named varieties that are really compact, with distinctive and somewhat more predictable shapes, like ‘Coney Island’ or ‘Blue Shag’ (to name two cultivars selected by the late Sydney Waxman at the University of Connecticut, who had a particular passion for this species).
I could have pinched the tips of the new growth, or candles, by half each year to keep the generic plants I brought home decades ago somewhat more contained, but frankly I like that they have grown up along with me and the rest of the garden’s original plants. (Oh, and I am lazy about such things.) There is not a day in the year I am not happy to look out at them, set about 30 feet apart behind the house.
One was meant to be the right flank of a small frog pool (below) I’d dug early on, placing a Japanese umbrella pine I’d carried from my old garden on the left side, with an existing old rhododendron in the middle. Now the three have all but overrun the pool, but the fish don’t seem to mind.Neither do I.
My plants, despite their age, don’t set cones; I frankly don’t know why. They’re planted in conditions they like: moist but not soggy, slightly acidic soil, and where they get sun much of the day. White pines do well in sun or very light shade, but will be looser in lower light.
Like many conifers, the dwarf white pines (Zones 3-8) will shed its oldest needles every autumn, when the innermost foliage turns brown and then drops. Don’t panic.
Can you find a home for a dwarf white pine—whether one that promises to stay that way, or something more rebellious that will someday get as big as mine?
Or perhaps you are looking for other conifers–something weeping or blue or gold or in some other way distinctive?