Many of us have probably wondered about the landscaping decisions of previous owners when moving into a home. This was true for us in several instances. Why were azaleas planted where there is blazing afternoon sun? Why did one of the conifers shoot up twenty feet before any branching occurred? Most of all, why would someone plant a ponderosa pine, a tree that seemingly loses every needle every fall, be planted next to the house? It wouldn't be so bad if the needles fell all at once, but that is not the case. Starting in late September, their leaves start to fall. Fast forward to January and they are still coming down. I know people gripe about raking leaves in the fall, but a ponderosa pine is in a different category altogether. The needles are hard to rake and impossible to sweep with a broom. They “decorate” bushes by straddling small branches and each one must be removed by hand. Being very lightweight and aerodynamically shaped, they find the furthest reaches of the yard (and the neighbors). The needles grow in groups of three to a fascicle, and as stated above, these trees drop thousands of needles every year. The typical needle retention is three to four years, which means that one quarter to one-third of the needles in a ponderosa pine tree come down every year.
A camellia bush decorated with ponderosa pine needles
After we moved into the house, we had the tree pruned. It started to ooze sap so sticky it might rival super glue. To step on a bead of sap doomed a pair of shoes to being outside footwear only. Ponderosa pines belong in a non-subdivision area, i.e., a forest. Clearly, not much research was done when the tree was planted years ago. Our tree is large, so it has been there for quite a while. The Ponderosa pine is a fast-growing tree and can grow more than 12 inches per year. At full maturity, it will reach a height of 125 feet.
A couple of days worth of needle fall from a ponderosa pine
Is there anything positive to share about this poor, huge tree? Ponderosa pines are handsome trees with their reddish-brown bark and invoke the western United States. They are drought resistant trees, fire-resistant (as long as there aren't thousands of dry needles on the ground), and provide habitat for wildlife. They also make great lumber. Master Gardeners are taught right plant, right place from the beginning of training class. Given the right place, that being a very large property or a forest, this plant is a beauty to behold.
Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: email@example.com. or phone at 707-253-4143. Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.
Visit our website: napamg.ucanr.edu to find answers to all of your horticultural questions.
Photos by Jane Callier