During the winter, when almost everything else is brown, evergreen trees provide reliable color and signs of life. This is the case in Wisconsin where there are about 30 coniferous and deciduous native trees.
Generally, Wisconsin has a continental climate with warm or hot humid summers and cold, snowy winters. Most of the Wisconsin falls between USDA planting zones 3b to 5b.
The coldest part of the state is the northwestern counties, and the counties along Lake Michigan experience relatively milder winters.
Wisconsin has three native pine trees – Jack pine, red pine, and white pine. These natives grow throughout Wisconsin’s forests, except for the wetland forests.
Red pine is not the best landscape tree, though the other two natives can be. If you are keen on adding pines to your landscape, also consider these beautiful and hardy non-native specimens – Scots pine and ‘Oregon Green’ pine.
5 Excellent Native and Non-Native Pine Trees in Wisconsin
1. Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) – Native Pine Tree
You can find Jack pine growing in dry, sandy, and sunny sites throughout Wisconsin. It is absent in areas with rich and wet soils.
Jack pine needles are dark to yellowish-green. The sharply pointed needs are about 1 inch long. The needles grow in bundles of two and are slightly twisted.
The 1 ½ inches long cones have a wide base that curves to a rounded, narrow end. When ripe, they are resinous and brown. The cones can remain on the branches for up to 10 years without opening.
A unique feature of the Jack pine tree is that the resinous cones open and release seeds during forest fires or intense hot sun.
Jack pine is not usually grown as a yard or landscape tree because it tends to grow in various directions, and its shape is difficult to tame. But if you decide to grow one, ensure that it gets full sun exposure (at least six hours a day).
Also, it strives in sandy and poor soils. It seems to do better in drier soil rather than moist soil.
Other Common Names: Grey pine, Scrub pine
Growing Zones: 2 – 6
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 70 feet high and 30 – 50 feet wide
2. Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) – Native Pine Tree
The gigantic red pine (up to 120 feet tall) is easy to spot. It has a reddish-brown plate-like bark that forms along the trunk as the tree ages.
The needles grow in groups of two and are about four to six inches long. Much longer than jack pine needles. They have an attractive dark green color. Red pine’s cones are quite also good-looking as they are purple and about two inches long.
In the forests of northern Wisconsin, you will find many large groupings of red pine. As you go further south, down to Dane County, the collections get smaller. Red pine prefers dry, loose, and sandy soil. They strive in full sun and are extremely cold hardy.
Perhaps this is a better pine tree to admire in nature than to grow at home. The Morton Arboretum does not recommend growing red pine in the ornamental landscape because of its susceptibility to disease and insects.
Other Common Names: Norway pine
Growing Zones: 2 – 6
Average Size at Maturity: 80 – 120 feet high and 40 – 80 feet wide
3. White Pine (Pinus strobus) – Native Pine Tree
Of the three native pines on this list, the white pine is the one most used for ornamental landscaping. You can use them as a screen or windbreak. It also happens to be the shortest, with a maximum height of 80 feet.
The tree is also fast-growing (at least 24 inches per year), eventually forming an oval pyramidal shape.
White pine grows throughout Wisconsin, especially in areas with well-drained and sandy soils. But also in boggy areas and rocky highlands.
White pine features long, slender, blue-green needles. The soft and tender needles can reach about 5 inches long and grow in bundles of five. The tree produces elongated brown cones, which vary between 3 to 8 inches long.
If you decide to introduce a white pine to your landscape, provide them with full sun and partial shade. As a plus, they transplant easily. Once planted, a minimum of four hours of direct and unfiltered sunlight will do them some good.
Other Common Names: Eastern white pine, Northern white pine, Weymouth pine (British), Soft pine
Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 80 feet tall and 20 – 40 feet wide
4. Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) – Non-Native Pine Tree
Scots pine is native to Northern Europe and Northern Asia. In fact, it is Scotland’s national tree. Yet it is popular in the United States, primarily because of its climate adaptability.
This tree is a fantastic windbreak or single specimen, forming an oval and pyramidal shape. Scots pine is also a common Christmas tree because it holds its needles for a long time.
During the milder months of the year, the Scots pine needles are blue-green. They range from 1 to 3 inches long. But the needles’ color often changes to a yellowish-green during the winter. The tree produces an oval dry brown cone about 1 to 3 inches long. It has an orange-red bark, which adds to the ornamental value of the tree.
Scots pine needs at least six hours of direct and unfiltered sunlight each day for best growth. It grows in a range of soil conditions – acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, dry, and well-drained soils. Scots pine grows at a slow to medium rate (12 – 25 inches per year).
Other Common Names: Scotch pine, Baltic pine
Growing Zones: 3 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide
5. ‘Oregon Green’ Pine (Pinus nigra) – Non-Native Pine Tree
‘Oregon Green’ is possibly the most beautiful of the five pines on this list. It has deep, glossy, rich green needles which are densely spaced and curved against the branches. Each branch looks like a large pipe cleaner. In addition, the tree has an attractive open form.
Each spring, it showcases many upward-facing pearly white “candles” climbing out of each branch. These so-called candles are new growth.
‘Oregon Green’ is beautiful, but it is also relatively low maintenance. This pine tree can tolerate extreme cold (Zone 4), poor soils, urban pollution, and road salt. The most important thing is that they get plenty of sun exposure; at least six hours of direct sunlight each day is ideal.
Also, they do not need much water and will be fine with weekly watering.
Considering its year-round aesthetic charm, ‘Oregon Green’ is an excellent addition to Asian, Zen, and rustic style landscapes. On a practical note, they make remarkable privacy screens or windbreaks.
Other Common Names: Austrian Pine, Black Pine
Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 18- 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide
Admiring and growing pine trees in Wisconsin
There are three native pine trees to admire in Wisconsin – Jack pine, red pine, and white pine. Of the three, white pine is best for landscaping.
But as a Wisconsin landscaper, there are dozens of other non-native pine trees you can grow. Scots pine is one common type, noted for its wind-breaking abilities and simple beauty. But there are highly ornamental types such as ‘Oregon Green.’ This variety is excellent for landscapes with an Asian, rustic, or Zen theme; and is remarkably beautiful year-round.
In terms of care, pine trees are not difficult at all. Most are tolerant of various soil conditions. They all do well in soils on the drier rather than wetter side. One common trait they all share is their love of bright sunny conditions.
On a lovely final note, birds love making nests in pine trees. You will likely find a few nesting there throughout the year.
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Kenique grew up in Florida and currently lives in southern China. Before China, he spent many years in Portugal and the Caribbean. He studied economics and is a teacher, entrepreneur, and writer. Since he was knee-high, he has been gardening and was an active member of FFA (Future Farmers of America). He is his best self in a densely wooded forest or park. Depending on the day, you can find him reading, hiking, traveling, exercising, sipping lots of tea, or eating everything in sight.