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Rise and fall of the Monterey pine.

Not all plants that become popular deserve their popularity. The Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) looms as an example of too much undeserved popularity--read its post-World War II history in the box on the opposite page.

It's a fine big tree in the fog belt along the northern California coast. It's an okay tree on the Southern California coast. And just about anywhere else, it will almost certainly give trouble to the garden where it grows.

You can divide the list of the tree's faults in two: things it does wrong everywhere, and things it does wrong only away from the coast.

Here's the everywhere list: gets damaged by smog; loses lower limbs and, with them, any pretense of being a wind or privacy screen; drops great quantities of needles; blows over in high winds; breaks walks and driveways and clogs sewers with its roots.

And, as if that weren't enough, here's the away-from-the-coast list: gets infested with insects and mites, doesn't live very long (as few as 15 years), and sometimes inexplicably falls over.

Regardless of all that, the tree does seem to sell itself at the nursery with its long, aromatic needles, lush green growth, and rounded conical shape (see picture above). Sometimes it's purchased to serve as a living Christmas tree for a season and then it goes into the landscape.

Even in native stands, Monterey pines do not live long; the average life span is 80 to 90 years. A few live 150 years.

What to do if you already have a Monterey pine

To keep it as healthy as possible, don't keep a lawn under it; frequent watering encourages root rot. Deep-water the tree's roots monthly using a hose-end injection device or a drip-irrigation system. Feed annually with a high-nitrogen complete fertilizer; you can bore holes around the tree's drip line with a soil auger and drop in tree fertilizer tablets or use tree food stakes.

Watch for pests. The red turpentine beetle and pine engraver beetles are serious problems; they bore into the trunk, often leaving sap globs on the surface. If you detect signs of these beetles, no treatment is certain to save the tree, but consult a tree service.

Irregular pine scale, a soft, round insect, attaches itself to twigs and shoots and sucks sap. It also excretes honeydew, which gets moldy, blackening the foliage. A tree service can spray for it.

From spring through fall, Nantucket pine tip moths are known troublemakers in Monterey pines in parts of Southern California; dead shoot tips and dead growth spreading to the whole top of the tree indicate their presence. One biological control--a parasitic wasp specific to this moth--has been successfully used in San Diego and Orange counties. The University of California releases the wasps whenever an infestation is found; you cannot buy them.

Dust sticks to Monterey pines' resinous needles, especially in Southern California, attracting mites; keep young trees clean with an occasional strong jet of water from the hose, adding insecticidal soap if necessary.

What tree is better? It could be another pine

The best long-term solution is to replace a troubled Monterey pine with a better-adapted tree, and it could be a better-adapted pine. Among your choices are several well-mannered ones that grow fairly fast, make attractive living Christmas trees, and in an inland garden can serve many of the same uses for which Monterey pine was earlier touted: Canary Island pine (P. canariensis), eldarica pine (P. eldarica), Italian stone pine (P. pinea), Japanese black pine (P. thunbergiana), adn Torrey pine (P. torreyana). Other choices include Atlas and deodar cedars (Cedrus atlantica and C. deodara), conifers that tolerate heat, drought, and clay soil.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1985
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