I know a few folks out there are starting to believe that I’m just an apologist for the nursery industry. While it’s true most of the nursery people with whom I work are hard-working folks trying to do their best to run a successful business and produce a quality crop, there are certainly some issues out there and I’ve got my share of pet peeves. One of the things really that chafes my heiney is what I refer to as “Carrot-top” syndrome in eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). White pine is one of the most commonly planted conifers in this part of the world. White pine is native throughout much of the eastern US and is an extremely fast growing tree that makes a good ornamental when planted on the right place with room to grow. It is also widely grown as a Christmas tree in the Upper Midwest as well and therein lies the rub. Many nursery producers also grow Christmas trees and many Christmas tree growers also dig nursery stock. The result? White pines that have been heavily sheared as Christmas trees end up planted as landscape trees. Once in the landscape, the upper portions of the trees will quickly resume rapid growth, with some shoots growing 2’ to 3’ or more per year; while the side shoots that had been repeatedly sheared barely grow at all. After a couple of years the net result is neatly trimmed Christmas tree with a wooly beast growing out of its top. What’s the solution? Ideally producers should identify which portion of their trees will be sold as Christmas trees and which are destined for the landscape trade. Christmas trees can be sheared to meet demands of that market while landscape trees can be pruned much more lightly to maintain a single leader and conical form but keep obvious layers of whorls. The dilemma, of course, is that growers don’t always know which trees will end up and the Christmas tree lot and which will be dug for the nursery trade. The other, more challenging problem is that, given a choice, 99 out of 100 garden consumers will choose the neat-looking Christmas tree for the landscape, unaware of the wooly mess that’s about to be unleashed in their yard. The solution? Education on both sides; making growers aware of the issue and making consumers realize that the only way to have a natural-looking white pine in your yard is to start with a natural-looking white pine.
Heavily sheared pines will retain the outline from from shearing for years while the top rages out of control.