When planted right and in the right spot Mugo Pines are exceptionally easy to grow and care for. Mugo Pine is ideal for use as a specimen, in groupings or mass plantings, or as a low to mid-size hedge in landscape borders and home foundation plantings. Its unique texture combines nicely with most all other types of plants and is an especially nice companion for small trees such as the Japanese Maple and Crape Myrtle, to mention a few. Also ideal for use in conifer and Xeriscape (low water need) gardens.


Here's a breakdown of what you need to know regarding planting and caring for Mugo Pine...



Cultural Preferences


Soil Preferences

Though exceptionally drought tolerant when established, Mugo Pine grows best in a moist but well drained soil. They grow well in sandy soils and are tolerant of well-draining clay soils. As with so many other ornamental shrubs, constantly soggy soil can cause problems with the roots.


How To Test Soil Drainage  

If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant, it's well worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting. 

To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you need to improve drainage, plant in a raised mound or bed, or look for plants that are more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.


Soil pH

Mugo Pine adapt to a wide range of soil pH from 4.5 to 7.5 on the pH scale. This means there usually isn't a concern with having to adjust soil pH. 


How To Test Soil pH  

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. 

If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, and whether or not it's suitable for growing Mugo Pine, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil SulfurAluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.




Light Preferences

Mugo Pine grow best in full to mostly sun. 8 hours direct sunlight per day is suggested. That said, in hot southern regions where Mugo Pine will grow, plants might appreciate some filtered sun during the hot summer afternoon hours. 



Planting Mugo Pine In The Ground

Scroll down for container planting instructions and care tips


Step 1

Start by digging your planting hole at least two to three times as wide and as deep as the height of the rootball of your plant. The wider the hole the better. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.


Step 2

Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil in the planting area you might need to mix in a soil amendment to the native soil removed from the planting hole. When planting Mugo Pine in dense, slow-draining clay or or other compacted soils it is beneficial to thoroughly mix in some sand, bagged top soil, small gravel, and/or a good planting mix at a 25-50% ratio with the soil removed from the planting hole. When planting in very sandy or quick-draining soil mixing in some top soil, peat moss and/or compost will help to retain moisture in the soil. When planting in average, well-drained moist soil there is no need for adding a soil amendment.


Step 3

To remove your Mugo Pine from the container it was growing in first squeeze the sides of the pot to loosen root ball. Then try to gently lift and remove the plant from its container. If the root ball is stuck in the pot use snips or a utility knife to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball.


Step 4

Set your Mugo Pine in the planting hole so that the top edge of the root ball is at or just slightly above ground level to allow for settling. If your soil drains well but a little slowly, you can set the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is several inches above ground level, as shown in the illustration below. If necessary, add some backfill soil mixture to the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height. 


Note: If the soil is poorly drained (constantly soggy or wet) take measures to improve drainage or select a different plant species tolerant of wet soils. 




Step 5

After setting your Mugo Pine in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the plant straight and your other hand to begin back-filling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball. If you are planting the root ball higher than ground level, as shown in the illustration above, taper your soil mixture gradually from the top edge of the root ball to the ground level. To avoid suffocating your plant, avoid placing any soil on top of the root ball.


Step 6 (Optional)

When planting your Mugo Pine in a site far away from a water source and in well drained soil, you can use remaining soil mixture to build a 3-inch high water retaining berm (catch basin / doughnut) around the outside perimeter of the planting hole. This basin will help to collect water from rainfall and irrigation which can help reduce the need for hand-watering. The berm can be removed after a growing season.


Step 7

Next, deeply water the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, you can water your newly planted Mugo Pine with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development, reduces plant shock, and promotes greener, more vigorous plants.


Step 8

To conserve moisture and to suppress weed growth, apply a 1 to 2" layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around the planting area. Avoid using freshly chipped wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your plant as this could cause the bark to rot.




How To Plant A Mugo Pine In A Container


Mugo Pine growing in pots appreciate a moist, but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy soil can and often will cause root rot or other harmful or deadly plant diseases. Therefore, I suggest a well-drained container with a drainage hole(s), and a quality potting soil or potting mix, or a 50/50 combination thereof, for planting. Optionally, you can add 10 to 20% pumice or Perluite to the soil mixture to ensure better drainage.

Choose a container that is large enough to allow for 2 to 3 years of growth before shifting up to a larger size container. This might mean your planting pot would be 6 inches or more in diameter (width) than the root ball of your plant. 

Container color will matter as well. Not only will you want to pick a color of container that goes well with the foliage color and texture of your Mugo Pine, you'll also want to pick a container that matches the style of your home or other structures and other plants in the surrounding environment. 

Many nursery & garden centers offer a wide variety of containers to choose from. Before heading out to buy a container take pictures of your home and the surrounding environment. Doing so will help you to choose just the right color and style.


Container Planting Instructions


Step 1

Before filling your container with the soil mix, I recommend lining the bottom with shade cloth or a porous landscape fabric. This will keep the drain holes from becoming clogged with roots and soil. If you use gravel or other materials in the bottom of the pot lay the fabric over it.


Step 2

To remove your Mugo Pine from the container it was growing in first squeeze the sides of the pot to loosen root ball. Then try to gently lift and remove the plant from its container. If the root ball is stuck in the pot use snips or a utility knife to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball.


Step 3

Pour a small amount of your soil mixture in the bottom of the container. Set your plant in the container and make necessary adjustments by adding or removing soil so that the top edge of the root ball will sit approximately 1" below the rim of the container.




Step 4

Backfill with your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go, until the level of potting soil is even with the top edge of root ball.


Step 5

Water thoroughly until water starts to drain from the holes in the bottom of the container. Add more soil mixture if settling occurs during watering.


Step 6 (Optional)

Apply a 1/2" layer of wood chips, pea gravel or sphagnum moss to soil surface to help conserve moisture.




Mugo Pine Care Tips


Mugo Pines are exceptionally easy to grow and care for. Here's some helpful tips that will have you growing them like the pros.



How To Fertilize Mugo Pine


Mugo Pines are light feeders however benefit from fertilization. 

In The Ground:  I feed my Mugo Pines growing in the ground right when new growth (candles) begin to form at the tips of the branches. At this time I apply a slow-release shrub & tree type fertilizer or a natural, organic plant food as directed on the product label.

In Containers:  I feed my Mugo Pine growing in containers once in early spring with a slow-release plant fertilizer listed for use in containers. Follow instructions on product label. 




How To Water Mugo Pine


At Planting Time

Immediately after planting deep soak the soil in the planting area to a depth equal to the height of the plants root ball. For an extra boost, to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development you can also water you newly planted Mugo Pine with a solution of Root Stimulator, which reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants. 


During the First Growing Season

In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted Mugo Pine every day. More often than not, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the rootball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently, and allowing the soil to dry out somewhat before watering again, is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day. 

When planted during the winter dormant season, when plants are not actively growing and evaporation is much slower, your Mugo Pine will require much less water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter!


Thereafter

When established Mugo Pine are exceptionally drought tolerant plants. Only during prolonged periods of summer drought will plants require supplemental irrigation. Always check soil moisture before watering.


In Containers

Mugo Pine growing in containers will require more frequent watering than when growing in the ground. Use the finger test to check soil moisture frequently and provide water when the top two inches of soil has become dry. 


Note:  When watering with an automated irrigation system it's best to set your timer to water during the early morning hours and not in the late evening or at night, which can lead to the onset of fungus and other foliar diseases. During the first few weeks after planting, check soil moisture often and adjust irrigation time if necessary to keep the soil moist, not wet.




How To Prune A Mugo Pine


Mugo Pines do not require pruning however respond well to it to maintain a more compact plant. 


When To Prune A Mugo Pine

Prune Mugo Pines in late winter or early spring when new growth (candles) begin to form at the ends of the branches. 


Pruning Instructions

Candles on a mugo pine are the tender upright shoots that emerge from the ends of the branches in spring. The candles are typically in bunches with one taller central candle surrounded by several shorter candles. The main central candle is the one that becomes the new, long, straight branch while the smaller candles become side branches.

If you would like to maintain a more dense and compact plant, the main central candles can be pruned by half their length. 

You can use sharp bypass hand pruners to cut back candles to desired length, or use your finger tips to snap them off.  Whichever method you use, do so while the candles are green, before they turn to brown wood in summer.  If you prune too late, the cut back candles will not form buds for next years growth and will end up dying within a few years. So just make sure to prune candles in spring while they are still green.  

The percentage of the candle you cut off will reduce the eventual length of the candle by that amount. For example, if you cut the candle in half it will only grow to half the size it would've grown too otherwise. 

If you want a uniform mound, start by reducing the length of the tallest candles that are growing beyond the profile of the shrub. Shorter candles that are within the profile of the shrub can be left alone to fill in space. 

Eventually, if your Mugo Pine grows too dense, you can remove most of the candles at the end of branches, leaving  only one candle. For candles inside the shrub leave only one or two candles. 

If your Mugo Pine looks thin and sparse leave all the innermost candles and completely remove the main central candles at the ends of all the branches. These shorter candles that surround the main central candle can be left alone, unless you want to shorten them as well to keep your pine from adding much size at all. 

Note:  If your Mugo Pine has gaps that are void of branches, and you want these empty spaces to fill in, you have to leave candles on other nearby branches that are growing in the direction of the void.



Plant Long & Prosper!

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