Alright, I lied. Last time I said I would give you more smaller shade trees. That will have to wait a week. Instead of continuing with my theme from my last post, I am going to talk about spring Mugo pine care tasks to keep it looking nice and staying compact. I am changing subjects, because now is the time to do this in a lot of areas.
First step in Mugo pine care
The first thing you should do is to assess your mugo pine’s current condition. There are three areas your should consider. They are:
- Common pests
- Shape & Desnsity
Common Pests– Is there any scale or sawfly on it? Pine sawfly is a green and black caterpillar like insect that chews pines needles. It’s favorite food is Mugo pine. They are easiest to spot by looking for spots where the needles have appeared to be striped away. Your #1 spring mugo pine care priority should be to remove these little turds. Pine scale is another common insect that affect mugo pines. It appears as small whitish specs that cover the needles. It is less common but can make your pine’s needles turn brown and just look like heck.
Density & Shape – How dense is the pine. Is it foliage sparse, overly dense, or just about right.
The ideal shape that most people want for there mugo pine is that of a rounded mound.
How does your mugo pine compare to ideal shape? Are there gaps of foliage missing anywhere. If there are you will want to let the pine grow into that area and fill the space.
Size – In an ideal world, how big would you like this pine to be? How does its current size compare? Is it way overgrown or would you like it to be larger?
Next mugo pine care job, treat (a nice way of saying kill) any pests
If you have sawfly or scale you should get rid of it or they quickly will make your mugo look like a sick puppy.
My favorite mugo pine care job is picking off and squishing pine sawfly. If you are a wus, whimp, or sissy you can spray them with insecticidal soap or any number of other nasty insecticides like Sevin.
If you see just a little bit of pine scale you can rip off the needles that have it. Then dispose of them away from the pine to keep them from spreading. If you have more than a few, I would apply a little imidacloprid (such as Bayer Tree and shrub care) to your pine. This insecticide is absorbed into the plant and moves throughout it.
Candle your mugo pine
Candles on a mugo pine are tender shoots that appear in Spring. The entire season of growth of the branch and needles are compressed into these candle shaped growths. They are typically in bunches with one main candle surrounded by smaller candles. This main candle becomes the long straight branch and the smaller candles become side branches.
Reducing candle length
Reducing the pine’s candle length, reduces the eventual size the shoot will grow to this year.
You will want to cut candles with a pruner or snap off with your fingers to reduce their eventual length. You have to do this before the candles become hard and woody in mid summer. Otherwise they will not form buds for next years growth at their ends and they will just die in a few years.
You want to do this usually by the middle to end of June in my Chicago zone 5 area. If you are south of me, you will want to do this earlier (like now).
The percentage of the existing candle you remove, will reduce the eventual length of the candle by that amount. So if you remove 50% of the candle, it will only grow to roughly 50% of what it’s eventual size would have been.
Reduce the candles that are growing outside the profile of the shrub the most. Leave more of the ones that are well within the profile and they will fill a space.
Removing individual candles
If you just reduce the length of your candles every year, your pine will grow increasingly thick. Eventually, you will want to thin the candles by removing some of them to keep it from getting even thicker.
If your pine is sparse - You will want to leave all leave all inner candles and completely remove the main candle at the end of each branches, leaving the secondary candles. These secondary candles will usually not even need to be shorten, unless you REALLY want to keep your Mugo from growing much at all, then you can reduce them a bit.
If your pine is already too dense – Remove most candles at the end of branches, leaving only 1 candle. For candles inside the bush only leave 1 or 2 candles.
What candles not to shorten or remove
In spots where you want your pine to grow to conform to the ideal shape, you have to let it grow in that direction by leaving candles that will grow into that area longer. If there are gaps find branches that could grow to fill the gap from the inside of the pine outward or upward to fill a space.
Here is a quick demonstration of candling.