Pine – A Versatile Tree by PJ LaRue Smith.
From needles to trunk, the pine tree (a member of the Pinaceae family) benefits man in a multitude of ways. To gardeners, the smell, symmetry (or lack of, in some cases), and it’s status as an evergreen, provides the incentive to grow this stately tree in their landscape.
While there are many varieties of pine available for use in the garden, the focus in this article will be on the Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), a native Texas variety that is commonly grown in the Hunt County area.
The optimum growing conditions for the NATIVE loblolly pine are full sun, moderate moisture, neutral to slightly acidic loam or sandy soil. However, through years of research and specialized hybridization, the Texas Forestry Service has developed hybrid loblolly pines that are more tolerant of drought and are able to grow in a variety of soil types. With minimal care, these hybrids are capable of growing as much as 2 – 4 feet per year. An added plus, as noted by this author, is the perfume-like fragrance some of these hybrids produce.
What other benefits can one gain from growing pine trees? For the gardener, there is the added benefit of “pine straw” (needles) that fall in the autumn/winter months that can be used as a mulch for the garden. Pine straw mulch increases soil acidity (to a degree) in certain soils and, unlike pine bark, pine straw will not “float” away as easily during a heavy rain. Another added benefit arrives in spring when the worm population infiltrates the pine straw – loads of worm castings! The benefits of pine straw use in the garden has brought about it’s harvesting into bales in east Texas and other southern states.
At this time of year, another benefit of the pine can be found as Christmas decorations everywhere –pine cones. A favorite collection item for both children and adults alike, the pinecone has many uses. It’s seeds can be germinated for more locally acclimated pine trees. Dry pinecones make a great fire-starter. And, as mentioned above, they are used in making homemade crafts for the holidays.
As a pine grows, the lower limbs often will die back so that the tree can focus it’s energy to the newer top-growth. If these lower limbs are removed soon after they die back, they can be made into fairly decent walking sticks or canes. If a mulching machine is available, limbs and twigs can be also be mulched and used in the garden or added to the compost pile.
Pine trees that are no longer of use in the landscape, are overcrowded, or that meet an early demise due to an ice or snow storm (i.e. winter of 2000) can either be sold or taken to a sawmill for harvest into boards.
Interested in reforestation of an area? There are several sources for purchasing large quantities of young pines at minimal expense available. Visit the Texas Forestry Service website or contact them directly via the number listed there for further assistance on pine tree sources or questions on reforestation.