Swiss stone pine (Zone 2) is native to the Carpathian Mountains and the Alps, and parts of Asia. A slow grower, (it can take more than 40 years to reach maturity, while most pines mature in 30 years), it eventually reaches a height and spread of up to 12 by six metres, making it ideal for a smaller property. And it’s worth the wait. With exceptionally long, soft needles in bundles of five, it forms a lovely dense and almost columnar shape. Although more costly than other pines, plant this one for your grandchildren.
Limber pine (Zone 4) is about the same size as Swiss stone and is native to the foothills of the Rockies. Young branches are highly pliable, and although dense and pyramidal in its early years, this pine develops a large, uneven crown with age. Very distinctive and drought-tolerant once established, it’s slow growing, but can survive for more than a century.
Mugo pine (Zones 2 to 4) is one of the most widely planted but variable pines on the Prairies. Some mature to small mounds less than a metre in height and diameter, while others top the rooflines of two-storey buildings.
If you want a low, dense mugo pine, purchase vegetatively (non-sexually) propagated cultivars such as ‘Mops’, which forms a compact mound of one metre in height and spread, or ‘Slowmound’, which, as its name suggests, grows exceedingly slowly, to about the same size.
Scots pine (Zone 2) is one of the larger pines for the Prairies, with an ultimate height of up to 30 metres and a spread of up to eight metres. Widely distributed in Europe from Spain, north to Scandinavia and into Siberia, Scots pines that are hardy enough for the Prairies should originate from seed from Scandinavia and northern Russia, not Scotland.
Fast-growing and long-lived, they’re pyramidal and symmetrical when young, opening more as they age. The short, stiff needles grow in bundles of two; their bark is an attractive reddish orange. Extremely drought-tolerant once established, Scots pines do very well on sandy soils and are the species of choice where the going is tough.
Bristlecone pine is one of the slowest-growing but longest-lived trees in its native range in the southwestern U.S., but it needs a very protected microclimate to survive on the Prairies, often experiencing dieback to the snow line. Growing in bundles of five, the blue-green needles are specked with white resin and persist for many years, giving the branches a bottlebrush appearance. Zone 4.
Eastern white pine is a tree to fall in love with. Its blue-green needles, in bundles of five, are exceptionally long, soft and pliable. With an open form, an airy texture and a relatively small size (15 by seven metres), it’s well suited to sheltered locations in smaller landscapes or grouped together in larger ones. Zones 2 to 4 (depending on seed origin).
No Jack of all trades
Jack pine (P. banksiana), found all across the boreal forest of the Prairies, has a highly irregular form, with a height of 20 metres and a spread of seven metres. Often brought home from the cabin, it fares poorly in the lime-based soils of the parkland and grassland regions, has rather dull foliage and is better left in the north. Zone 2.
Photo: 'Scots Pine'