Which Is Better? Mugo Pine vs. Birdsnest Spruce
Although evergreens don’t seem to be one of the top choices for consumers these days, they do provide a necessary component to every landscape……year round color! Green in the landscape doesn’t look too shabby in the middle of winter when everything else looks sparse and, frankly, dead. There are many different types of pine and spruce on the market today. Let’s bring it down to a “foundation” level and talk about a couple smaller varieties; Dwarf Mugo Pine and Birdsnest Spruce.
Dwarf Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo pumilio)-is one of dozens of mugo pines that is considered to be a “dwarf”. When most people hear the word dwarf they tend to think of something pretty small. A Mugo Pine looks pretty darn cute in a container when sitting in the local garden center. Unfortunately with Pinus mugo, it doesn’t share the same definition of dwarf as most people. This variety of pine is a slow grower, but will reach 3-5’ tall and 6-10’ wide.
Just like most all other evergreens it is a pretty low maintenance plant except for the need for pruning. In order to keep its shape nicely compact, Mugo Pine should be pruned each year. It is best to prune while the new growth flushes out in the spring by trimming about ½ of the current season’s growth. This will encourage the plant to produce new buds that will grow and help thicken it up. Trimming more than the new growth may result in the plant not generating any new buds.
Mugo pine grows best in a moist and well-drained soil and is resistant to deer as well as being drought tolerant. Hardiness isn’t typically a concern in the Midwest as the plant is rated for zones 2-7. They prefer full sun and unlike some other types of pine, will tolerate some shade. If the plant remains healthy there are usually few serious problems. An unhealthy plant can be susceptible to tip blight, rusts and rot. Pine needle scale can become a serious problem if allowed to go untreated.
Mugo Pines are a good choice to use in rock gardens, foundation plantings and in group plantings. The biggest consideration is making sure the right Mugo Pine variety is chosen for the appropriate space. That being said Mugo Pine pumilio is a great landscaping plant choice.
Birdsnest Spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’) is a good, low growing plant that is commonly used evergreen in landscape plantings. It is named “birdsnest” because as it matures, the middle becomes concave and looks like a bird’s nest. Like the Mugo Pine it is a very slow grower so accounting for its mature size at planting time is important unless longevity is not an issue. It grows 3-6’ tall and 4-6’ wide, but only reaches 1-2’ tall and 3-4’ wide over ten years. Birdsnest Spruce is a darker and somewhat dull green needled plant with branching that grows in horizontal layers.
Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’ tends to prefer a soil with medium moisture level and may require additional watering during dry spells. It will grow best in full sun, but will also tolerate some shade. Hardiness zones for Birdsnest Spruce are from zones 3-7 making this plant very hardy and even wind resistant. Pruning on this type of spruce should be limited to the new growth each season and should be done in late spring. Like most other evergreens this spruce will benefit from a more acidic soil (5.0-6.0). Deer don’t care too much for Birdsnest Spruce, but it might become a habitat for some of the smaller animals.
Birdsnest Spruce is a good plant choice as a foundation plant, groundcover as well as rock gardens and even when used as a container plant since it is slow growing. For the most part there are no serious problems with this type of spruce, but do be on the lookout for aphids, bagworms and mites.
So which is better….Mugo Pine or Birdsnest Spruce? Both have their place in the landscape and both are equally good plants. Many times the mature size isn’t taken into account or just not realized and years later the plant becomes too big for its spot in the landscape. Therefore, mature size would be a big consideration as well as the growth rate of each plant which, in both cases, is pretty slow. The features of each plant are very different which might lead to one plant being more desirable than the other. Either way, there’s no losing with either plant.