Join the “Suburbia National Park” Movement: Plant a Pine Today
Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
May 8, 2015 Release for Tallahassee Democrat
By Jody Walthall
My daughter Vanessa Walthall pictured in a longleaf pine grove that was planted by her first grade class at Kate Sullivan School (photo taken 13 years after planting). Photo by Jody Walthall.
In late March, we watched a young Bald Eagle in his nest, high in a slash pine at St. Marks National Refuge. It was very windy and this youngster was testing his wings. He would leap straight up, wings spread fully, and let the wind gracefully carry him back down into the safety of the nest.
At the nursery, we are watching a Red-shouldered Hawk pair nesting high in a loblolly pine tree, right over the parking lot! In past years, they chose a tall shortleaf pine in another spot on the grounds. We watched a constant procession of snakes, squirrels and other prey being taken up to feed the babies. Friends report Mississippi Kites nesting high in a pine tree in their yard each year. The common word here is pine, not oak or maple.
Pines are important as nesting sites for hawks, eagles and kites as evidenced by the sightings above. Pines are also a very important food source for wildlife. They harbor a whole other world of insects for birds than do hardwood trees and the seeds within the cones also provide food for both squirrels and birds.
Pine trees are also nice trees for people; they are beautiful, stately trees. They provide a cooling, filtered shade and excellent mulch every autumn. Free pine straw for the time and exercise of raking! If you sit quietly, you will hear the wind rustling through their needles, especially if you are lucky enough to have a small grove of pine trees in your yard.
I am making a case for pines because I am dismayed by the number of pines that are cut down in our neighborhoods. Our urban forest needs to have more than hardwood trees if we want to have a full complement of songbirds, hawks and other wildlife. On our property, if a pine is lost due to a lightning strike or storm, it is replaced with a pine. In the shade we replant with shade tolerant spruce pine. In the sun we replant with longleaf pine. We are planting for the future.
To plant a pine, choose a sunny area. If you are at the coast, choose slash pine which is salt tolerant. Most typical soils around Tallahassee support loblolly, shortleaf, longleaf and slash pine. For lightly shaded spots, it is probably best to plant a spruce pine. It is a soft and graceful, short needled pine with small cones and more shade tolerant than our other pines.
In the sun, I prefer to plant longleaf pine since it was practically removed from the Southeastern states in the 1800s and 1900s. The longleaf pine forest dominated the coastal plain from eastern Texas to southern Virginia. In acreage, we have destroyed ninety percent. The remaining ten percent is relatively young – second or third growth forest. There is only one percent of the original old growth trees left in tiny fragments scattered across the southeastern states, hardly the magnificent ecosystem it once was. The wood was highly valued for shipbuilding and building construction, so we took it all. We need to re-build our longleaf pine population.
Be a part of the new “Suburbia National Park” movement, and turn your home landscaping from mere window dressing to part of a larger, functioning ecosystem.
Let’s start planting pines wherever appropriate in our yards and parks; wildlife and future geerations of Tallahasseeans will reap the rewards.
Jody Walthall is co-owner and landscape designer at Native Nurseries and a volunteer writer for Leon County UF/IFAS Extension. For gardening questions, email us at Askfirstname.lastname@example.org