White Pine

lcgun4April 12, 2007

I am very new to planting anything and have some questions. I have 10 4ft white pines, my soil is clay... I was told to use gypsum(sp) in the whole to help break up the soil because white pines do not like clay. Has anyone heard of gypsum? Is this a good idea? Is there any other recommendations I should do for these trees? I planted 15 GG last spring they all seem to be doing well, but I was told they are more tolerant to different soil types. Any help is appreciated.


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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

white pine = pinus strobus ....

it is nearly a native to MI ... and covers a great percentage of the state .... ergo, i doubt it needs anything ... we tend to suggest that nothing but the tree be added to the planting hole ... except the return of the native soil ....

planting in clay is a different issue of which i am not able to tell you what to do .. since i do sand ...

i would not amend the soil unless a soil test indicates something is lacking...

a 'friend' told me to lime my soil ... because that's what they do where he lives ... i think i have had problems because of that ...

old wives and their tales need to be researched.. not followed blindly ...

these are not foo foo plants ... get them planted .... mulch the well ....and water them properly ... and dont drown them in the clay .. and they should be just fine ....


    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 7:56AM
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You say your soil is "clay." I have seen a number of posts in these forums from people who say their soil is clay. I am sorry, but I have no idea what that means. First, clay is not soil, and if all these soils I hear are clay, nothing should be growing in them.

Most common soils that are relatively fertile have a good proportion of clay in them. Some clay in soils is good, not bad. So when someone says their soil is "clay," I need to know exactly what that means. A few times I have asked some specific follow up questions and in the end I decided that the soils in question were just fine.

So here are my questions--What is growing in this "clay"? Are there trees? Shrubs? Weeds and grass? How are these things growing? Are they really stunted compared to what is growing elsewhere in your area?

To check your soil you can dig a nice deep and wide hole--I would recommend at least 30 inches deep and 18 inches wide at least, and see what is there. Are there any roots in the soil? How deep? And by any roots I mean really small, fine roots. If these go down to about 30 inches or more, your soil is in all likelyhood, just fine. What is the soil like at each depth. Is there a layer of topsoil that has one set of characteristics? Then one or two more layers with different soil properties?

When you bring up chunks of "clay" from this hole, can you take them in your hand and break them like you would break a piece of moist cake? Or do you have to actually slice them to get it to split. When you break the clods do you see any roots in them?

You can contact your county ASCS office and get a soil survey book for your county. This can tell you all you will ever need to know about your soils and what can or can't be grown in them.

As for white pine, it is rather adaptable. Most of the time when it is absent on some kinds of soils it is because of its inability to compete with other plants growing in the soil during the seedling stage, not because it can't grow in that kind of soil.

But you don't want to plant white pine and see it turn yellow and die, or live and just grow in some stuinted fashion--that's ugly both for you and the tree. So find out just what kind of soil you have. If it is "clay," pave it over.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 10:16AM
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Hi Spruce,

Depends on the the difference between "clay.", "clay,", and "clay" . . .


    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 10:50AM
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I was told last year by two Master Gardners that I have clay soil, that's about all I can tell you regarding my soil type. The builders told me this as well when they dug the whole to pour my basement. It's thick, looks/feels just like clay...

I no problems growing grass, my GG's seem to be doing fine.

My point was to see if gypsom(sp) should be something to consider when planting White Pines. I purchased the trees last weekend and assuming I need to plant them by this weekend at the latest. Back to my first statement, I am not familiar with planting anything and want to make sure I don't screw it up.

Thanks :)

    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 12:25PM
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james_va(z6/7 VA)

I used to live in a house, next to which an enormous white pine was growing in clay-based soil. This was hard soil, hard enough to require a pick axe to dig. So at least in that instance, white pine was clay-tolerant.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 12:29PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if you are going back to your original statement..... "Back to my first statement, I am not familiar with planting anything and want to make sure I don't screw it up. "

... then i will go back to my original statement... do NOT amend the soil unless a soil test indicates such is needed [that includes fertilizer] ... do NOT rely on someone else's suppositions ..... did they test your soil ... have they dug in your soil ... what exactly are their qualifications for such statements? .. what is their experience with planting conifers .... etc ... and just about NEVER rely on the guy/gal who wants to sell you the amendment .... they have a vested interest in your money, rather than in your trees ...

plant them ... water them ... do NOT drown them .. mulch well ... and do not water again until your index finger inserted to 3 to 6 inches, indicates that the soil is dry or hot ... you may not water again until the heat hits in mid to late june .... but for some freak heat wave earlier in MI in zone 5 or 6 ... dont over think .. dont over worry ... and dont over love them .... they are weed trees in MI .... treat them as such.. and you will be rewarded ... i wish you all the luck in the world ....

ken .... Master Gardener [in case your expert claims such status]

    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 1:28PM
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Do as Ken says--master gardener and all. I am a master forester/white pine grower, duly certified by no one other than myself.

If your green giants are growing OK, then I would guess--yes, I have to admit an element of guessing here, in spite of my "master" status--that the white pine will do well also. Not that much of a guess--say I am virtually certain (no guarantee).

As for planting tips, here is what I recommend as a master planter (also self certified, unfortunately): when you dig your hole get some buckets ready. Put all of the best topsoil in one set of buckets, and the deeper subsoil that may have more clay in it in a seperate set of buckets (or whatever--just don't put all your soil on the grass where you will lose much of it). Then when you plant the tree, put the best soil in the hole around the roots first, then if you have the poorer soil left over, use that as a kind of "berm" around the tree to hold in water when you water the tree.

Dig the hole wide enough so you can fill the soil around each tree carefully and pack it down firmly but not too hard. Use no "amendments" except the best topsoil that you took out of the original holes. Mulch!


    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 3:36PM
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I would agree, don't do anything. I am no expert by any means, but living in Michigan myself, White Pines seem to be pretty adaptable to various conditions. I am assuming you have room if you planted 10. They obviously get very large, make sure the spacing is enough if possible. They are beautiful and I have found them to to be low maintenance type tree. In other words, don't fret. I have several that are large and not growing in their preferred typical sandy or lighter soils if it makes you feel any better about it. In areas of our property where I have dug deeper holes, it seemed like it was all clay for the first foot or too but then changed. Might that be the case or are you in fact "all clay"? I have noticed that here in MI our soils can change quite dramatically even with just a few feet. I planted 6 dogwoods within 50' of each other two nights ago and ecountered clay/sand, sand/gravel, loamy, and sandy. Hope this helps....

    Bookmark   April 12, 2007 at 11:19PM
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Thank you for all your advice... I am not going to do anything special to the soil just plant them like you all suggested. It's hard sometimes when you have a ton of people telling you different ways to plant and me not knowing any better I paniced. Ken is right, everyones soil type is different.

Thank you again. I appreciate all the comments/ advice.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 6:05AM
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Lynn, the mulch-woodchips or shredded bark, etc- will be helpful regardless of your soil type. Just keep it a few inches from trunk base.

Wisconsin, where I leve, is much like Michigan of course. White pine seems to be at its' absolute happiest in areas having sandy loam, but it is present and does well pretty much in all parts of the state.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 11:39AM
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With white pine, an important thing to understand is that where you see it growing naturally--I mean where it reproduces and develops stands most freely on its own is not where individual white pine trees will achieve the best growth. One of the most important factors for the reproduction of white pine is the competition afforded by other plants and the characteristics of the seed bed. White pine occurs most commonly on the lighter sandy loam soils because they compete better there, but actually the best growth of individual white pine trees once fully established is often on the heavier, richer soils. They just don't grow on these soils so often because of competition from weeds and grasses during the seedling stage and hardwoods during the sapling stage.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 12:43PM
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Good point spruce, but I do see the best general appearance to the plants in areas having, as I said, sandy loam. No, I'm not taking core samples of these trees to determine growth rate, etc. This has more to do with foliage color than anything else. Good dark green needles seem to correlate here, at least, with sandier, acidic soils. But you're right, some very fine specimens can easily be found in heavier, more neutral pH soils.

That whole thing about where a tree grows in nature versus where it would potentially grow best is interesting. Like the tamarack (American Larch), always considered a 'swamp tree', yet it will develop nicely in a more drained site. There, however, competition from other species would really beat the hell out of it in most cases.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 1:55PM
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My own white pine are growing on a variety of soils on which they do not usually grow naturally. The lighter of these soils in a Gilpin channery loam, but this soil is heaver than soils that generally have native white pine. I am not sure what the percentage of clay is in these soils, but it is not especially high. But if you dig into the B horison they can seem a bit "sticky." The drainage in these soils is good and they are moderately to strongly acidic--more acidic at depth.

The heavier soils on which I have white pine growing are Ernest silt loams and Cookport channery loams. These soils are at best moderately well drained, but seldom, if ever, pass a perc test. I think the B horizon of these soils is about 30% clay. The acidity of these soils is much the same as the Gilpin soil.

Of the two types of soil, I think the best growth is on the latter two--the heavier soils. The oldest white pine I have are on the Ernest silt loam--they are about 46 years old and 90 to maybe 95 feet tall.

On the Gilpin soil the trees are about 40 years old and the tallest trees are 80 to 85 feet tall, but seem to be just a tad less vigorous than those on the Ernest soil. The Ernest soil is rather deep compared to the others.

For a complete description of these soils, just Google their names and you will get an overall profile as well as a horizon by horizon breakdown. This info on-line is not as good as what is in the soil survey booklets, but I am pleased to see this kind of thing is so easily available.

For silvics of white pine and all other American forest trees use this link:



    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 8:16PM
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SprucemanI had no idea White Pines grew so tall so fast! I would have guessed a 95 foot tall White Pine to be 150 years old. Is that the average or is it you milder climate? I thought they were slower growing.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2007 at 11:30PM
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If you look up the link I provided--the silvics handbook--you will see growth curves for white pine with a site index up to 120 feet. That means white pine on better sites will grow 120 feet tall in 50 years. These growth curves are based on information about a large number of stands. Exceptional stands--especially strong strains of white pine growing on ideal sites could significantly exceed the 120 feet in 50 years.

The best Norway spruce can match or exceed white pine. And of course, some of our western conifers, most notably redwood can exceed these trees.

And then tuliptree at its best can grow faster than white pine.

So, all you folks out there who are still in your "salad days," plant your groves now and you can enjoy really towering trees before you are finally placed under the sod!


    Bookmark   April 14, 2007 at 7:49AM
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Let us ponder for a moment the characteristics of soil (and of clay) that make clay soils BETTER for growing plants (of all kinds) than all other soils.

Think hard about that statement, because it flies directly in the face of most of the so-called garden wisdom you're going to find.

Soils are categorized into sandy, loam, clay, silt, based upon the particle size. Large particles are sandy soils. Small particles are clay and silt. Soils comprised of large sized particles have large pore spaces and soils comprised of small sized particles have much small pore spaces.

It's these pore spaces that give clay a bad reputation, because most people seem to think that the proper way top take care of a tree is to soak in water, and to keep doing so. If soil is soil is dirt and this type of soil needs this amount of water, than all do, right?

Not nearly.

Sandy soils drain water really fast. One of the properties of sand (quartz and silica) is that they have little or no chemical activity and almost no nutrient value unless you do prodigious work in increasing fertility.

Clay soils on the other hand, are incredibly active chemically, and have great inherent fertility. they also have small pore spaces (air), so when those hole get filled with water, water does not pass through as easily. THink of a clogged drain in a bathtub. Open drain, water drains easily. Reduce the size of the drain hole, it doesn't drain as fast. I'm grossly oversimplifying, but that's the general idea.

Given a choice between having clay soil and having any other type, I'll take the clay. Hands down, every day.

Soils are by far the most misunderstood component of growing plants. Soils are also the most complex (soils contain water, nutrients, air, micro organisms, all individual components themselves). I make it goal every year to learn something new about soil. Every year, I discover how much more there is to learn.

Now as far as white pine, they are quite adaptable. Thankfully so, because we like to plant them just about everywhere. Think about that. If a plant was really as picky as someone wants to say, you think it would grow just about anywhere it was planted? White pine want full sun and they don't like wet feet (relatively few evergreens do [exceptions always apply]). Keep that in mind and when tempted to pull that garden hose out, go have a beer. Watch a movie. Play golf. Whatever you'd rather be doing other than working in your yard.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2007 at 8:57AM
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Maybe I should clarify the white pine growth rate issue--what I am talking about is white pine growing in forest stands, and more than that, even-aged stands. This means that the trees are getting optimum light both from above and to some extent from the sides. A white pine in a forest stand that is growing up with overhead light but between much taller and older trees will grow more slowly.

And then, in terms of height growth, a white pine growing in the open will also grow more slowly. I don't think there is any way of really quantifying growth rate comparisons between open grown pine and forest grown pine, but for the first fifty years, my guess is that an open grown white pine would grow in height something like 60% of the height of a similar forest grown tree. But the open grown tree would have more crown spread and much more diameter growth.

So, a 90 foot tall white pine growing in the open should probably be in excess of 70 or 80 years old at least, and a white pine growing in the open could well take 150 years to reach 90 feet if the conditions are less than ideal.

OK, soils: Heptacodium:

I appreciate very much your appreciation/understanding of the role of clay in the fertility of soils. A number of times I have been tried to reassure people in these forums about their "clay" soils.

However, and this is a big however--there can be too much of a good thing. White pine will grow on clay soils, but not on heavy clay soils. The problem with clay soils is that they are often short on organic matter. None of the soils I have on my timberland are classed as "clay soils," as such. But several of my soils have a fairly high percentage of clay. I quote just a paragraph about white pine soils rom the USDA Silvics Handbook:

"In Massachusetts white pine site quality increased with the increase in silt and clay fraction of the A horizon, with higher pH value of the B or C horizon, with increased stone and gravel fraction greater than 2 mm (0.08 in) in the A horizon, with greater nitrogen content in the A horizon, and with higher percent organic matter in the B horizon (46). In general, the higher site indices are associated with the poor soil drainage classes. On reclaimed soils, white pine should not be planted on sites with a pH of less than 4.0 (6)."

So clay can be good, but organic matter is also highly desirable. Most gardening guides praise clay soils when there is adaquate organic matter and/or recommend adding it.

White pine does not like really wet sites, but it can grow fairly well on sites that are wetter than some other species prefer.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2007 at 9:51AM
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I agree that in general, soils having a fairly high clay content are more fertile. Many more cation exchange sites and much greater water retention.

When the original forest cover in Wisconsin was (mostly) wacked off for agriculture, much effort was put into farming, including in areas primarily in the north having soil high in sand and rock content. Mostly, these efforts failed and those areas are now primarily back in forest cover. Not so in the areas having the heavier soils, where corn and soybeans predominate today.

One drawback to working in "clay" areas is that these soils are more easily abused. Compaction and erosion occur much more readily.

I feel blessed to be able to grow the wide range of plants in my area of clay loam.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2007 at 5:35PM
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As someone who gardens on sandy soil (it was described to me as loamy sand), I too would prefer a heavier soil. On the other hand, I love how quickly everything dries up after snow melt, while others are slogging around in mud. I have to be very careful in siting trees just to give them a fighting chance of surviving on this sand patch. Pines, on the other hand, do exceedingly well here. White Pine is the dominant conifer, with Red Pine and Jack pine tied for second and seeding in roughly even numbers. I do see a few Junipers and very few Thuja, which are limited to the cool north side of ridge.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2007 at 9:00PM
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For the orginal poster:

I've dealt with soils (clay) that do not drain. The standard test is to dig a hole, fill it with water and walk away for one half of an hour.

If the water has not drained, more work is required.

In this particular case of planting 4 foot trees, you need to dig adequately. This means literally breaking through what is called "the hardpan."

Often a post is driven through the predug hole, or any other means (pick ax, etc) until you literally have broken though this layer of clay.

The point here is that if you dig your hole and it doesn't drain, you is wasting you time!

Dig very wide if you cannot break though the hard pan.

Master Gardener doesn't mean anything as Ken relatively states. These people might be "Hosta Collectors" you know. No offense on the Hosta's Ken!

I hope you understand here. Clay while being the most nutrient-based of all soil types, is a pain!!!!!

I hate it. I despise it. Try putting in a lawn on clay sometime. Try keeping a lawn irrigated on clay. Try, try, try, try, try.

No offense to you either.

Good luck, and my apologies.



    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 8:09AM
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If the homebuilding contractor has stripped off all the topsoil and actually left you with nothing but "clay" subsoil, then yeah, getting anything to grow will be difficult. But that's because of a stupid practice on the part of this contractor, not anything inherrent about the soil. I live in an area of clay-based soil which is one of the best turf-growing areas in the country.

Counties to the north and west of me, with sand-based soils, turf has a terrible time and is dried up and brown much of the time.


    Bookmark   April 15, 2007 at 12:12PM
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