limber pine for pennsylvania
PLANT A LIMBER PINE?
Limber pine, also known as Pinus flexilis is one of my favorite trees in my garden. Let me tell you why I love this tree. First, let me say, one tenet of my philosophy of gardening is, "Why plant a common tree that you see in everyone’s yard when you can plant something unusual or slightly rare in your garden?"
Fifteen years ago, in memory of one of my best friends, I bought a beautiful, small limber pine called ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’. I planted this small 3 foot pine in a bed with other plants where it stayed a bush for a few years. As it got around 6 or 7 feet tall, I actually would get on a ladder and shear all the hundreds of new growth bunches on every branch. I became a slave to this tree. After about seven years, this limber pine did what it was supposed to do; it took off, followed its DNA, became a big tree, and took over the bed, the paths, and all the sunny air space. Finally, it was just too big for this spot and I had to cut it down. Another tenet of my philosophy is, "You do not have to live with your garden mistakes." (You can not imagine the hundreds of times I followed this tenet through the years.)
Where can you use this tree?This is an estate type tree.
The Limber Pine is a medium to large size tree that can be planted in a corner or far edge of your property where it will grow very happily and add wonderful color and shape to that section. At maturity, it can reach 60 feet in height and 15-35 feet in width.
It also can be a focal point in the center of a circular driveway. There it will grow in all its glory and be a real specimen. Nothing else will be needed in that circle.
I have seen it silhouetted on a plain side of a tall house where it took over and added great interest to a boring wall. The thin ‘columnar’ variety of this limber pine can be used as a tall accent plant between two windows where it is also interesting and appealing.
But where this tree shines and does double duty is when it is planted to define a boundary line for privacy or a wind break. It is rarely used this way in Pennsylvania. Out West on farms, this tree is planted on the boundaries and principally used as a wind break. (They know something we don’t know.)
What we in the East, particularly Pa are used to seeing is white pines planted around developments. The white pine is not the best choice; in fact, it is a bad choice because of the weakness of this pine. In my own town of Langhorne and all the surrounding communities, when a line of white pine is planted for privacy, it looks good for a few years. After about 15 year’s growth, all the bottom branches begin to look sparse due to die off or breaking- it is following its genetic makeup, -and there you have it; you have lost lower branches and lost privacy. Not only do the bottom branches break, but during a heavy snow storm or wind storm, the upper branches also snap. That can be ugly. White pines are not strong armed trees. It seems that white pines more than other trees suffer the most in wind and snow storms.
I have noticed that folks, who can afford it, are now cutting down these white pines and putting up tall fences where if they were more tree savvy they could have planted limber pines years ago and they would have still been full and beautiful.
What is wonderful, almost magical about the limber pine (Pinus flexilis) is that it is flexible, true to its name- Flexilis. You can actually tie a knot with the flexis branches and they do not snap as a white pine would. A monster snow storm or hurricane simply gives exercise to these flexible arms and seems to make them stronger. I love showing off to my garden friends how I can knot this tree. I am now purchasing 4 limber pines for the front of my property as my 70 year old sugar maples are quickly dying.
So why are these limber pines not being used instead of white pines for boundary lines? Possibly money factors in. Where as a white pine might cost you $100, a limber pine costs $150 . That is not the whole story though; sometimes the developer simply does not know about this tree and how great this limber pine is. Or sometimes people just follow the crowd and plant pines, arborvitae or leylands. What a mistake. Also, here is where the nursery man must come in and educate the public about why to choose one tree and not another- but that is another essay.
A brief history of the picturesque native limber pine. This tree was discovered in Colorado many years ago growing in high cold rugged country as well as in low, dry rough canyons. The bad soil in these extreme conditions was as bad as possible and yet the limber pine survived where few other trees would grow, although a bit rugged and not too refined looking. Many limber pines in Colorado were found that exceed 1,000 years in age. Another has been found to be 1,650 years old in -Idaho. As you can see, these pines have staying power, even in rough conditions. Many of the trees in the Grand Canyon are Limber pines. Talk about stressful conditions.
Years ago nursery men began experimenting with this tenacious limber pine and found that if this native Western tree is planted in a much less severe climate as we have in Pennsylvania, the tree grows bushier, more refined and cultured. It is quite lush looking. It grows well throughout Pennsylvania and does well in any type soil and especially well in good soil.
Description of the Limber Pine. The needles are long, gracefully tapered and striking blue-green color, in bundles of 5; all sides of the needle have 3-4 white lines. The tree is easy to transplant; long lived; cast good shade; and branches can be bent without breaking. This tree is dense; broad pyramidal in youth; grows in sun; all soil types; has a long taproot and does not blow over in severe elements. I especially love its branching habit which adds to the esthetic appeal in the landscape. And to me, it is beautiful. What more could you want?
In closing, visit a nursery to see the different varieties of this pine and you too will probably see what I see in this Pinus flexilis. Add an unusual interesting tree to your garden. Choose a limber pine either as a specimen tree or a line of them planted as a boundary line.