Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)

At a Glance

Height: 100-150 feet

Spread: Up to 60 feet

Shape: Pyramidal when young, growing roundish to irregular cylindrical

Exposure: Full sun, south-facing. Intolerant of shade

Native? Yes

Evergreen? Yes

Leaves: Yellow-green needles that are 3 to 7 inches long

Fruit: Light reddish cones, egg-shaped

Firewise? Yes, fire-resistant because of thick bark, loss of lower branches, and high moisture content in needles

Drought-tolerant? Yes, medium to good tolerance

Bark: Young trees have dark bark. It becomes thicker (almost 3 inches thick when mature), redder, and scalier as the tree matures

Where to Plant: Any soil type that doesn’t have standing water

Common Problems & Possible Causes

Sap and/or pitch masses on the bark – Pine beetle

Orange/brown clumps on branches – Mistletoe

Branches die back, bark falls off, sawdust – IPS/engraver beetles

Yellowing or browning at the tips of the needles – Nutrient deficiency

Yellowing on outer needles – Striped pine scale

Webs in needles, sap masses on new growth candles – Tip moths

About Ponderosa Pine

Ponderosa pine

Ponderosa pines tend to lose their bottom branches, which is good for firewise landscapes but won’t blogk the wind as well

Ponderosa pine is a Colorado native tree found predominantly on south-facing exposures. It can be found across 2 million acres of Colorado and is found widely across North America. It typically grows at elevations between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, but it can occasionally be found as high up as 10,000 feet.

You can recognize a ponderosa pine by its long green needles, roundish shape, and reddish or orange-brown bark. Mature Ponderosa pines reach up to 60 feet wide and 100 feet tall, with few lower branches, and can live 300 to 600 years.

The ponderosa pine is very drought tolerant, surviving on as low as 10 inches of precipitation per year. Because they grow on slopes that tend to dry out quickly, they don’t do well in wetter soils where water will stay for periods of time (such as irrigated turf settings). It prefers an alkaline soil and needs plenty of space to spread out.

Ponderosa pines are known for their ability to live with fire. The tree will shed its low limbs as it grows to keep brush and grass fires (these are our most common wildfires) from catching them on fire. Ponderosa can be seen with blackened trunks after a fire has passed through an area; their thick bark is very fire resistant but does get charred on the exterior.

Ponderosa pines have a long taproot that helps them obtain moisture during periods of drought and decreases the chances of the pine being uprooted during high winds. However, the taproot also makes it difficult to successfully transplant larger trees. If you plan to plant one, it’s best to start with a young tree.

Note that they also have wide-spreading roots that are closer to the surface. These roots are perfect for gathering rainwater to support the tree but make it difficult for anything to grow under it.

Pests and Diseases to Watch For

While ponderosas are generally trouble-free, they can fall victim to some of the beetles, parasites, and insect pests commonly found in Colorado’s Front Range. Below are the four biggest sources of decline in these majestic pines.

Mountain Pine Beetle

The Ponderosa pine’s most common pest is the mountain pine beetle which can be treated by preventative spraying and/or anti-aggregate pheromone packets.

Spraying is used on the high-value trees within the home’s outdoor living space. Packets are used in the outlying areas where its ability to treat a group of trees or larger area of land is more cost-effective.

Learn more about how to identify and treat these pests, including a video showing what to look for, on our Mountain Pine Beetle page.

Dwarf Mistletoe

Dwarf mistletoe would rank second as the ponderosa’s problems. This endemic, parasitic plant uses the ponderosa’s bark as its growing medium. Unlike the more commonly known mistletoe, dwarf mistletoe has no leaves and gets all its water and nutrients from the tree.

Treatments for mistletoe vary depending on severity; the most effective is removing the dwarf mistletoe by pruning or removal. Pruning should be done during the cold months when the tree is dormant and not actively growing.

Dwarf mistletoe can also be sprayed with a growth regulator that reduces its ability to spread via seed. This treatment goes on during the hottest time of the season, typically early July.

Learn more about it on our Dwarf Mistletoe page.

Ips Beetles

Trees with dwarf mistletoe can also have problems with Ips beetles because they are more stressed due to the parasitizing effects of the mistletoe plant.

Ips beetles are a group of insects (bark or engraver beetle) that are similar to the pine beetle. They’re opportunistic insects that typically seek out weakened trees to attack. That means recently-transplanted trees are also susceptible until they’re well-established, as are trees that are stressed by disease, drought, or other insect pests.

Treatment for Ips beetles occurs in late winter/early spring before temperatures warm up and the insects become active. Depending on weather conditions, treatment can happen as early as February or as late as April.

See our Ips Beetle page for more details.

Striped Pine Scale

A scale insect called striped pine scale is being found more and more in the area around Evergreen, CO and is therefore causing more visible damage to pines throughout the region.

This insect makes its home at the base of the needle cluster against the twig. It causes needle damage over a two- or three-year span, giving the tree a yellow appearance on the outer needles.

Treatments for scale should be done in April and early May, depending on the season’s temperatures.

You can find more information about the striped pine scale on our Scale Insects page.

Fun Facts About Ponderosa Pines

It is the most widely distributed pine species in North America.

Squirrels, chipmunks, quail eat the seeds, and mule deer enjoy snacking on Ponderosa pine seedlings.

Pinus ponderosa is the official state tree of Montana.

It was named after its “ponderous,” or heavy wood.

Lewis and Clark used Ponderosa pine wood for canoes.

 

Tree Planting

We recommend spring or early fall planting to get your new trees off to a great start. You can always call us for advice on where to plant your new tree(s) and don’t forget that we offer professional tree planting services if you don’t want to do it yourself!

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Call us at 303-674-8733 or contact us online to get a free estimate for tree planting, general tree services or any aspect of our Plant Health Care program.