Longleaf Pine in the Landscape
Keith Hawkins, SW LA Area Forester, LSU AgCenter
About a year ago, a family in Ragley asked me to look at their landscape trees. They were particularly concerned about the health of their longleaf pines. A few older needles were browning due to the drought stress at that time. However, the trees seemed to fundamentally healthy.
The husband and wife described how their longleaf pines had survived the winds of Hurricane Rita while other trees had failed and then had to be removed. While longleaf pine is a good timber tree producing high-value, pole timber, it has value as a landscape tree.
One reason to consider longleaf in the landscape is its native heritage. Settlers found open groves of longleaf with wide enough spacing for wagon traffic to move freely. These stands also had native grasses and legumes suitable for livestock. The USDA is trying to restore the longleaf pines stands as a native forests.
There are a couple of disadvantages with homeowners planting longleaf pine as landscape trees. The longleaf pine is famous for its “grass” stage. A longleaf seedling looks like a tuft of grass for five to ten years. During this time, the seedling is developing an expansive root systems. Then when the seedling is ready, the young tree has a rapid spurt of growth forming its main trunk.
One practice that may enable a longleaf seedling to have an early growth spurt would be controlling plant competition. A homeowner, through normal yard mowing, may encourage the longleaf seedling to leave the grass stage early.
Another disadvantage might be the pine straw. Over time, as the longleaf tree mature, the pine straw may become a nuisance. Also, several longleaf trees would produce enough pine straw to impair mowing. and raking would be an annual fall task.
However, for some folks, longleaf pine straw would be a valuable mulch for homeowners who enjoy gardening. In fact, longleaf pine straw is considered the “Cadillac” of pine straw, and some businesses harvest and bale pine straw for retail sale at garden centers. Longleaf pine straw mulch is very stable in windy and rainy conditions. Its natural appearance is attractive for landscape purposes.
The Louisiana Office of Forestry sells 100 containerized longleaf seedlings for $40.00. Here is a link for a seedling order form: http://www.ldaf.state.la.us/portal/Portals/0/FOR/Reforestation/2013SeedlingAp.pdf