Versatile pines (Pinus spp.) have evergreen, aromatic foliage, tolerate sun and drought, and take a minimum of maintenance. Most pines grow to be medium to tall trees, so if you add one to your yard, it usually needs considerable space. For smaller yards, or for container gardening, use short varieties that are shrubs rather than trees. Most of them are dwarf and semi-dwarf forms that grow slowly and have compact, tidy growth that reaches less than 8 feet tall.
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Rounded, Low-Growing Shrubs
Some dwarf pines have mounded growth habits and usually stay less than 5 feet tall. An example is dwarf mugo pine (Pinus mugo pumilio), which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 8. Broader than tall, in 10 years the dark green shrubs can reach 3 to 5 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide. Another mugo pine cultivar, "Teeny" (Pinus mugo "Teeny"), has a globular shape and grows about 1 inch a year, reaching 10 to 12 inches tall and wide after 10 years. Use "Teeny" in rock gardens and for containers in USDA zones 3 through 7. A species with brighter green needles, Japanese red pine "Low Glow" (Pinus densiflora "Low Glow") grows in USDA zones 3 through 7, reaching 4 feet tall and wide.
Taller pine shrubs suitable for hedges, screens or accents, the oval-shaped mugo pine cultivar "Big Tuna" (Pinus mugo "Big Tuna") has dense, dark green needles and reaches 6 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide and grows in USDA zones 2 through 7. With a pyramidal form and longer, 3- to 4-inch-long needles, dwarf green Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris "Globosa Viridis") grows 5 to 6 feet tall and wide and is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 7.
Several kinds of dwarf pines have ground-hugging growth forms. "Hillside Creeper" Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris "Hillside Creeper") gets only 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall but spreads over 6 to 8 feet. Growing in USDA zones 2 through 8, "Hillside Creeper" has faster growth than most low-growing pines, adding 12 inches or more a year. For a low-growing shrub useful as a ground cover or as a rock garden plant to cascade over terraces, weeping Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora "Pendula") grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide in USDA zones 4 through 7.
Most pines have needles in various shades of green, but some shrubby pines have other colors. Although it's green in summer, "Carsten's Wintergold" mugo pine (Pinus mugo "Carsten's Wintergold") turns golden yellow in winter, becoming more intensely colored in colder climates. This small, mounded shrub becomes 1 to 2 feet tall and a little wider, growing in USDA zones 2 through 7. Introduce a more muted color with the blue-green needles of dwarf blue Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris "Glauca Nana"), which grows in USDA zones 4 through 7. A taller bush reaching 5 to 8 feet tall, dwarf blue Scotch pine has a compact, rounded growth habit.