Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Italian Stone Pine: Spacing from Walks and Driveways

In response to my earlier article on Italian Stone Pines, I received a note from a reader in Tennessee. Strictly speaking, Tennessee is not in the desert; Tennessee is lush, green, well-watered, and worth visiting, for those who haven't had the pleasure.

Completely Irrelevant Side Note: some years ago I spent the night in Tennessee in a suite at the Opryland Hotel that was so large we got lost trying to find the room exit; I discovered a chocolate sculpture in one of the dining rooms, though, so it all worked out OK.

Back to business. Barbara, in Nolensville, Tennessee, sent the following note:

Thank you for the information you provided on Italian Stone Pines. We purchased four of them, at $1.50 each I might add, at a Lowe's here in Tennessee. We had them inside for a while; they are now outside waiting to be transplanted. I was wondering if you could tell me approximately how far from a sidewalk/driveway an Italian Stone Pine needs to be. Just as an aside, I'm Italian and do make my own pesto. I've always used walnuts or pistachios for my pesto, believe it or not, since Pignoli are so expensive. So, you can imagine my excitement at having all the ingredients at my fingertips! Any other information you can provide to me regarding this tree is appreciated.

Good morning Barbara,
With four Italian Stone Pines (Pinus pinea), you're going to be able to make pesto by the bucketful.

A couple of thoughts on these trees in your area. First, the Nolensville/Nashville area is just outside what would be considered the ideal range for Italian Stone Pines in the United States. If you consider a big curved line that extends from Jackson, sweeps down through Pulaski and Chattanooga, and then curves back up to Knoxville, that's about the Northern line for Italian Stone Pine territory, and of course you're somewhat North of that line.

Knowing that, however, don't hesitate to plant them out in your yard with every expectation of success. The very worst result is that you're out 6 dollars and a small emotional investment; the potential for great success is worth the risk.

The Italian Stone Pine is hardy down to about 0°F, so it should take your Winters just fine, and the trees will become hardier as they mature. Temperatures below 0°F are not unheard of in your area, so if you have unusually hard freezes when the trees are young, consider protecting the trees with frost cloth or other means; by the time they're too big to cover, they'll be big enough to take it.

Pinus pinea is a Mediterranean tree and accustomed to more Summer heat than they will get in Tennessee, and also to less water. How they'll respond to that combination I don't know, but I suspect they will grow fine and then mature at a smaller size than in Italy or Portugal; I admit to the possibility of being totally wrong.

All of which brings us to your question about how far to plant them from a walk or drive. Assuming they get big, I think you will be safe at 15 feet from either; that should give plenty of root space assuming a canopy of thirty feet. If I were limited in space, I might be willing to go to 10 feet, but that's just me being a daredevil; yes, it's an exciting life.

One other thought on spacing: don't be afraid to plant the trees close enough to each other that the canopies may someday touch. You want to give them good space, of course, but these can also be very attractive trees when they are in a multi-trunk grove with mingling crowns. And besides, it would look molto italiano.

I hope this helps,


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