Saving a white pine sapling


My white pine sapling doesn’t look to great- the ends of the needles are turning brown and I think its dying- I really hope to save it. Over the winter it was kept at the back of the house in an un-insulated area with windows. I have since taken it outside and have tried to give it what in needs.
How can I save this sapling?


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners. Given the scale of your photograph, it looks like this sapling is still quite small which makes it easier to move to an optimal location in your garden and to re-pot if necessary. You might also consider planting it in your garden rather than keeping it in a container as this makes taking care of it easier, especially over the winter.

White pines (Pinus strobus) need specific conditions, especially when grown in containers so there are a number of reasons your sapling is not looking healthy right now. These include too much water, not enough water, compacted soil (which prevents air getting to the roots), root burn/frost kill and too much natural light all of a sudden (for example when it was moved outside).

The first thing to determine is whether the tree is still alive. You can check this in a number of different ways.

  1. Can you see any signs of visible new green needle growth?
  2. When you gentle bend the stem, is it pliable?
  3. If you use your fingernail to gently scratch at the stem, is there green underneath?                  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then there is a good chance your sapling can be revived. Otherwise, it has most likely died.

The following is a brief list of the conditions that your sapling needs:

  • ensure the soil is well-drained, fertile and slightly acidic (Tree Journey provides some very specific recommendations for buying or mixing your own pine-friendly soil)
  • use a wooden or concrete container (terracotta is not ideal for Canadian winters as it can crack in the cold)
  • make sure it receives 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, preferably the morning and later afternoon sun (however, if it is was exposed to natural light suddenly by moving it outdoors, slow down this process by gradually introducing it to increasing amounts of sunlight over 7-10 days)
  • water daily in the morning, and potentially at the end of the day too at the height of the summer if the soil has dried out (avoid watering in the middle of the day)
  • enrich the soil with organic matter like compost, preferably a commercial brand to avoid stressing the sapling further by introducing pathogens or insects from home-made compost

For more specific details, Picture This and a second article from Tree Journey both have detailed descriptions of caring for your white pine.

Finally, to prepare for next winter, both the Chicago Botanic Garden and Midwest Garden Tips have recommendations for overwintering pine trees in containers which you may find helpful.

I wish you good luck with this little sapling. Please feel free to reach out again with any further questions.