Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Eastern White Pine
Our office receives a lot of panicked calls each fall about Eastern White Pine trees with yellowing needles. Many homeowners assume their tree is dying. On the contrary, it is perfectly normal for white pines to lose needles on the inner portions of the branches while retaining healthy green needles on branch tips at this time of year.
White Pines will lose needles that are one year old. These are the needles on the inner portions of the branches, a few inches from the tips. This loss can be quite dramatic, particularly after a stressful summer like this past one. The lost needles may be left as mulch under the tree, or may be used to mulch other acid loving plants like azalea and rhododendron.
If all of a White Pine's needles are yellowing at this time of year, or are yellowing at other times of the year, it is possible that there is an insect, disease, or cultural problem with the tree. Further investigation would be necessary in these cases.
White Pines are a great choice for large areas, as their full size is anywhere from fifty to one hundred feet tall and they are a fast growing species. Though they can adapt to surrounding conditions readily, white pines prefer moist, sandy loam soil. They can be transplanted easily, but they will not adapt well to being planted too deep in heavy soil. They also do not tolerate air pollution to a great degree, making them a poor choice for an urban environment.
White pines were once the dominant timber tree in the U.S., and were a major export to England in the colonial days. As tempers flared between the colonies and England, the King of England banned use of White Pine greater than 24 inches wide in the colonies. That is why many White Pine boards in historic New England homes measure 23 inches wide.