I’m looking at buying some land and noticed many properties have pine trees. Since I want to grow fruit trees, I was wondering if they’d be good to plant alongside the pines. So, I did some research. Here’s what I found.
As long as fruit trees have at least 6 hours of sunlight, they can grow near pine trees. Contrary to popular belief, pine trees and needles do not make the soil too acidic, but their shallow roots can still crowd fruit trees. For best results, plant away from pine trees as they’ll quickly outgrow the other plants.
So, while planting fruit trees near pine trees is possible, is it a good idea? And which fruits grow best near pine trees? Let’s take a closer look.
Are Pine Trees Bad for Fruit Trees?
Pine trees are not bad for fruit trees unless they out-shade or out-crowd their roots. While pine needles have an acidity of 3.2-3.8 when they fall from the pine tree, they are neutralized in the soil and have little to no effect on the actual soil pH. Taller fruit trees avoid suppression from the pine needles.
The main reasons why there’s commonly a lack of plants around pine trees are due to:
- Crowded Roots
- Pine Needle Suppression
As mentioned in the book The Hidden Life of Trees, healthy forests are often considered those that capture the most sunlight—the ones with the tightest packed canopies. Without sunlight, most plants will cease to grow, so there is much competition.
When a tree dies in these forests, it leaves an opening where sunlight can once again reach the forest floor. Plants will quickly take advantage of this opportunity, with the fastest growing and most resilient tree taking the new spot. This is the natural order of forests.
So, why is this behavior important to consider when planting fruit trees near pine trees?
Well, since pine trees can grow 2 or more feet per year (source), and fruit trees typically grow much slower, pine trees capture much of the sunlight and can quickly compete with and out-shade fruit trees. Because fruit trees grow and fruit best with a minimum of 6 hours of daily sunlight, nearby pine trees can pose a problem.
Aside from the impact of shading and root competition, some say that pine trees contribute high acidity to the soil or have compounds that affect plant growth. However, this is found to be a myth.
Unlike black walnut trees, which attack any competitor with chemicals exuded from their roots, pines are not known to deter nearby plants. Of course, any tree that shades your fruit trees will interfere with their production. If your trees get each day at least 6 hours of full, direct sunshine they should yield the fruit you anticipate.Walter Reeves, The Georgia Gardener
The reason why many plants are usually not found near pine trees is due to their shading, shallow root growth, or the suppressing effects of their pine needles—in other words, any seedlings or weeds will be smothered from the bed of pine needles.
So, ideally, don’t plant fruit trees near pine trees. But just how far away should you plant?
How Far To Plant Fruit Trees From Pine Trees
Plant fruit trees at least 15-25 feet away from pine trees. This will help avoid most or all of the potential root competition. However, also consider the direction of sunlight as pine trees cast large shadows depending on the time of year. In these cases, planting fruit trees 25-50 feet away is recommended.
If you’d like more information about how far apart to plant fruit trees, see my other post: How Far Apart Should You Plant Fruit Trees?.
The Best Fruit Trees To Grow Under or Near Pine Trees
Most fruit trees prefer a slightly acidic soil pH, which makes them good for growing near pine trees. However, here’s a list of fruit trees that have been known to grow especially well under or near pine trees.
- Pricky Pear Cactus
Blueberries and cranberries are commonly found growing around pine trees and love acidic soils, so you can’t go wrong with these two!
Are Pine Needles Bad for Fruit Trees?
Pine needles are a good mulch for fruit trees as they protect the soil from the elements and suppress weed growth. While pine needles are acidic when they’re on the tree, they’re a neutral pH in the soil. For best results, apply 2-6 inches of pine needles at the base of fruit trees, at least 3 inches from the trunk.
As mentioned above, the myth that pine needles aren’t good for fruit trees due to their acidic pH is false. While the pine needles are acidic when they’re green and on the pine tree, they quickly lose their pH when dropped. The pH is further decreased when decomposed by soil organisms.
The truth is pine needles do not make the soil more acidic. It is true that pine needles have a pH of 3.2 to 3.8 (neutral is 7.0) when they drop from a tree. If you were to take the freshly fallen needles (before the needles decompose) and turn them into the soil right away, you may see a slight drop in the soil pH, but the change would not be damaging to the plants.Amy Jo Detweiler, OSU Extension horticulturist
Pine trees don’t make the soil acidic, they just happen to grow in already acidic soils (source).
Additionally, there are many benefits to using pine needles as a mulch, including:
- Little to No Cost
- Easy to Obtain
- Retains Soil Moisture
- Suppresses Weed Growth
- Adds Nutrients
- Regulates Soil Temperature
- Keeps the Ground Clean During Rains
Organic matter such as straw, hay, wood chips, ground bark, sawdust, leaves, grass clippings, and pine needles are common mulching materials [for fruit trees]. These should be applied to a depth of 2 to 6 inches and cover the ground around a plant out to the drip line.UMass Extension Agriculture and Landscape Program
Some would argue that you don’t see much growth around pine trees due to acidity or chemical compounds. However, the real reason why pine needles suppress growth is due to them smothering budding plants. This is true of any mulch.
So, don’t plant the seeds of fruit trees in beds pine needles. Instead, plant established trees or saplings.
Is Pine Bark Mulch Good for Fruit Trees?
Pine tree bark is a good mulch for fruit trees and does not contribute to excess soil acidity. When decomposed, the pH of pine bark and pine needles are neutralized in the soil.
For best results, place 2-6 inches of pine bark and keep it at least 3 inches from the fruit tree’s trunk. Reapply every 3-6 months.
If you’re on the fence about growing fruit trees near young pine trees, it’s usually better to get rid of the pine trees sooner rather than later. Since pine trees grow fast, they’ll likely soon become a problem and will be even more difficult to remove when they’re larger.
Also, if you’d like to be safe and test your soil’s pH first, you can use pH strips or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re easy to use and affordable. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, visit my recommended tools page.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.