Best pine trees to grow: 11 choices for yards of all sizes

The best pine trees bring evergreen textures to the garden, with options for tall specimens and ground-hugging, shrubbier types

Pine trees in the garden in sunlight
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The best pine trees come from the family Pinaceae, and incorporate many different types of conifers, but not all of these come under the genus Pinus. This is a little more exclusive, with around 100 different species scattered across the globe, from as far north as Newfoundland and extending as far south as Mexico and Guatemala and southern Asia, too. 

Pines have long been valued as a good source of timber; for their evergreen qualities and often aromatic leaves or needles, and for their ability to grow at altitude, in poor soils, and in some cases, for withstanding pollution. 

They are hugely popular, and you will see them growing in many diverse locations as many species travel very well. The Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, for example, is now classed as invasive in North America. 

The choice of cultivars, from towering, full-sized specimens to dwarf varieties, offers options to gardens of all sizes and they bring structure, texture and year-round interest. They are often very resinous evergreen trees, however, and this makes them a fire risk, so this is something to weigh up when considering planting locations.

Pine trees grow in the backyard on the lawn

The range of sizes you get with different types of pine trees is incredible

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11 of the best pine trees for your backyard

When choosing a tree for your garden, Kevin Martin, Head of Trees at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (opens in new tab) advises: 

'When we look at the best pine trees to grow, we should be considering the growing environment, taking time to consider the soil type, the amount of annual rainfall and finally, the annual temperature of the site.

'All of these are becoming more important as we look at climate change in order to get increased establishment rates for our backyard trees.'

1. Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’

Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’

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  • Hardiness: USDA 2-9 (UK H7)
  • Height: 6ft (2m)
  • Spread: 6ft (2m)

With glaucous green needles, ‘Watereri’ offers a smaller alternative to the far loftier Scots Pine. It’s a slow grower, making it one of the best pine trees for small gardens – growing approximately 6-8in (15-20cm) a year.

And with its compact, upright habit, it makes a good choice if you’re looking for a structural evergreen focal point.

If trained as a multi-stem specimen, this adds to its value, revealing the typical reddish attractive winter bark as wonderful textural contrast. Pinus sylvestris are not generally recommended for planting in the US, as they are now categorized as an invasive species, but this tight little cultivar makes a good manageable alternative. ‘Watereri’ is also sometimes found under the names ‘Nana’ and ‘Pumila’.

2. Pinus nigra

Black Pine (Pinus nigra)

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  • Hardiness: USDA 1-5 (UK H7)
  • Height: 150ft (45m)
  • Spread: 40ft (12m)

This is a large pine, native to the forests of central-southern Europe, with a darker bark, reflected in its name. Traditionally used for timber production, its statuesque presence gives it an ornamental dimension. 

It looks better planted in a more natural forest setting, with multiple pine specimens, and it has naturalized in parts of the northern USA and Canada. The tree experts at Barcham (opens in new tab) in the UK say, 'We tend to grow and sell the Pinus sylvestris as our staple, however if you are looking for a tougher tree for coastal areas for instant impact, Pinus nigra ‘Austriaca’ is usually a better candidate.'

As with growing sycamores, you would need to have plenty of room in your garden for one of these trees.

3. Pinus mugo

Mountain pine, Mugo pine (Pinus mugo 'Mops')

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  • Hardiness: USDA 3-7 (UK H7)
  • Height: 9ft (3m)
  • Spread: 16ft (5m)

The dwarf pine is not a fast-growing tree, and so is a favorite for its compact, rounded form and amazing ability to tolerate tough conditions. Barcham Trees recommends, 'If you are tight on space, try the much smaller Pinus mugo "Mops".'

A great choice for a wide range of yard sizes, whether growing in the ground or a large container, it makes a neat evergreen punctuation point in a landscape – it’s a popular choice alongside landscaping with boulders

There are many cultivars to choose from, varying in diminutive size or coloring. For example, ‘Carstens’ has a golden winter hue. 

4. Pinus parviflora ‘Negishi’

Japanese white pine

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  • Hardiness: USDA 5-10 (UK H7)
  • Height: 3ft (1m)
  • Spread: 2ft (60cm)

The Japanese white pine is another slow-growing tree, with long, silvery-green needles, offering options for smaller-scale pine planting and bonsai specimens. ‘Neigishi’ is a very petite cultivar with a neat upright habit and attractive shape. 

It is perfect for very small garden spaces and containers. Other recommended Pinus parviflora cultivars range from the tiny ‘Hagoromo Seedling’ that reaches a mere 10in (25cm) to the small tree-sized ‘Glauca’. 

If you want to go really small, ‘Miyajia’ will grow up to 3ft (1m) when mature but has been traditionally used for bonsai trees.  

5. Pinus pinea

Part of a pine ( Pinus pinea ) with blue sky

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  • Hardiness: USDA 9-11 (UK H4)
  • Height: 70ft (21m)
  • Spread: 50ft (15m)

This is the classic Italian stone pine, with its umbrella-shaped canopy topping a tall trunk clothed with warm, russet-colored bark. It’s a stunning sight when it grows to its mature size. 

Perhaps you’ve spotted them perched on the side of a seaside cliff with the Mediterranean Sea glistening in the background. Grown traditionally for the tiny, but nutritious and delicious pine nuts, it also makes one of the best trees for shade, with a great capacity to tolerate heat, drought and salty air. 

So, it’s a good drought tolerant tree choice for coastal gardens, but you do need space to allow it to reach its potential, so not one of the best pine trees for the city or an average-sized yard.

6. Pinus strobus

Close up of Pinus Strobus 'Louie' needles, Oregon

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  • Hardiness: USDA 4-9 (UK H4)
  • Height: 80ft (24m)
  • Spread: 40ft (12m)

This North American native is also known as the Eastern white pine, the Northern white pine, the Tree of Peace, and, in the UK, the Weymouth pine. It’s commonly found in areas east of the Rocky Mountains and was once very widespread, dominating the landscape. 

With a fast growth rate of around 3ft (1m) per year, this is the tallest conifer in the eastern states, and it needs space to reach its potential. It also has a very long lifespan and specimens that are 400 years old have been found. 

There are many strobus cultivars that offer a choice in size and the form of the needles, like the weeping ‘Pendula’ and twisted ‘Contorta’, and golden variations as seen in ‘Louie’. If you like the long smooth needles, there are smaller, dwarf varieties, including ‘Nana’ and ‘Blue Shag’. 

7. Pinus taeda

Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda var. rigida), branch with cones

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  • Hardiness: USDA 1-7 (UK H4)
  • Height: 80ft (24m)
  • Spread: 40ft (12m)

According to the American Conifer Society (opens in new tab), this species of pine is one of several native to the southeastern United States, spreading from central Texas, east to Florida, and north to Delaware and southern New Jersey. 

It will grow in acidic, damp clay soils that are typically found in the southern states. A tall, fast-growing tree, it’s often found colonizing deserted ground and, with its rangy habit, it looks best when planted in naturalistic-style groves.

It’s a good choice in terms of conservation, as it will support native wildlife. 

8. Pinus ayacahuite

Summer Foliage of a Mexican White Pine Tree (Pinus ayacahuite) in a Woodland Garden

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  • Hardiness: USDA 6-9 (UK H4)
  • Height: 150ft (45m)
  • Spread: 25ft (7m)

Also known as the Mexican white pine, this grows in moist climates found typically in forested, mountainous, eastern areas of Mexico and Central America. It was traditionally exploited for its timber, and is now less common in its natural habitat. 

It’s a very tall tree – named ‘Ayauhquahuitl’, ‘or ‘cloud tree’ by the Aztecs – which makes it unsuitable for the average garden, and best appreciated in an arboretum or broader landscape. 

But, if you love pine trees and you're looking for large garden ideas for a sunny area at altitude, it would add a naturalistic slant to the planting. 

9. Pinus jeffreyi

Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi)

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  • Hardiness: USDA 5-8 (UK H6)
  • Height: 120ft (12m)
  • Spread: 12ft (4m)

The Jeffrey pine is a classic North American pine, native to the southwestern USA and a familiar sight in the landscape there. It’s always worth considering native species, as they support the local wildlife population, and are better suited to the climate. 

As Paul Smith, an expert plant ecologist and conservationist and author of Trees: From Root to Leaf, available at Barnes and Noble (opens in new tab) says: 

'Pines belong in their centers of endemism, in the boreal forest, as well if you broaden it out to all conifers. We always try to promote planting native species because the knock-ons for other biodiversity are enormous.' 

For use in your own wildlife garden, try the compact P. jeffreyi cultivar ‘Joppi’ that grows to around 9ft (3m).

10. Pinus banksiana

Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana)

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  • Hardiness: USDA 3-8 (UK H6)
  • Height: 30-70ft (9-22m)
  • Spread: 26ft (8m)

Also known as the Jack pine, this is a good medium-sized North American native, found growing from right across the northernmost parts of the continent from east to west coast. 

P. banksiana makes an interesting choice for its often irregular and contorted growth habit, and for its toughness and ability to grow in poor soils. 

Cultivars include the very droopy and almost prostrate 'Uncle Fogy', which is good for pruning into whatever topiary shape you want.

P. banksiana is sometimes confused with its close relative Pinus contorta that’s more commonly found growing on the west coast of the USA. 

11. Pinus wallichiana

Pinus Wallichiana Foliage

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  • Hardiness: USDA 5-8 (H6)
  • Height: 40ft (12m) 
  • Spread: 26ft (8m)

The Himalayan white or Bhutan pine, P. wallichiana, is a tall and broad tree, with very attractive, long, silky needles and very large cones. It makes a real statement in bigger landscapes – you might spot it in arboretums and botanic gardens. It’s also prized for its tolerance to pollution.

The ‘Nana’ cultivar that grows to 9ft (3m) makes a good choice for a small garden. The more uncommon ‘Zebrina’ is a larger tree at 30ft (10m) high by 20ft (6m) spread, with striped needles which are really decorative.

snow on branches of pine trees in backyard

Most pine trees will grow quickly in the right planting conditions

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What is the fastest-growing type of pine tree?

Many environmental factors can influence the speed of growth. Generally, most species of the best pine trees will grow rapidly in ideal conditions. Pinus nigra or the Austrian pine is one of the species which performs best in USDA zones 6-9. 

According to the American Conifer Society, the fastest-growing pine tree is the hybrid Pinus x attenuradiata/KMX pine, a very tall, straight-growing tree that puts on 1ft (30cm) per year. 

Pinus nigra, Black pine

The Pinus nigra is a popular, fast-growing variety

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According to Kevin Martin, 'The popularity of pines has been derived by timber production in forestry.' Some of the most popular species are the Pinus sylvestris (the Scots pine) and Pinus nigra (the black pine/Austrian pine). Another popular choice is Pinus pinea, the stone pine, he says.

But Paul Smith advocates choosing native species wherever possible: 'Any planting by gardeners makes for good genetic diversity. The more native species we can grow in our gardens, the more resilient our trees will be. Trees are like mothers in a landscape – so many other species rely on them.'