Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Thunderhead black pine

pinus-thunbergii-thunderhead-closest-640

 

Fancy pine trees in Winter!  They don't care about messy weather or cold, and each brings an individual talent to the garden's show.  For 'Thunderhead', it's white leaf-buds.  Really big ones.  In Spring they lengthen to candles of near comic proportion, but in Winter they keep their dignity. 

 

 

Here's how to grow this exceptional pine:


Latin Name

Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead'

Common Name

'Thunderhead' black pine

Family

Pinaceae, the Pine family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen coniferous shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 5b - 8.

Habit

Clumping, multi-stemmed, irregular.

Rate of Growth

Medium. 

Size in ten years

Reports vary, from four feet high and five feet across, to eight feet high and nine feet across, to ten to fifteen feet high and wide.  Be prepared for your 'Thunderhead' to surprise you.

Texture

Dense but more fluffy and cuddly than heavy, thanks to an irregular habit.

Grown for

its foliage.  Profuse, long, deep-green needles thickly clothe the branches.  'Thundercloud' is particularly talented when it comes to leaf-buds.  They are numerous and white all Winter, and in Spring lengthen dramatically, to a foot or more.  Their white color is from the dense and numerous young needles, which are white and completely veneer the buds.  The buds maintain a credible whiteness even though their Spring increase is so literally extensive.  All that length is achieved by growth of green-barked young stem tissue, which puts more space between the needles that, in the Winter buds, were so closely set.  They maintain their whiteness until after the candles are full length, at which point the needles enlarge, too, as well as change color to adult green.

 

its habit.  'Thunderhead' is bushy and irregular, with a energetic moundiness that does, indeed, merit comparison to storm clouds.  The plants always grow outward, and can be almost trunkless and full nearly to the ground.  Some plants also grow more upward—again, like a heightening thunderhead.  They're often pruned to that end at the nursery, so they take up less space and are also easier to handle.  The form is most appealing when any such upward growth is removed in favor of ever-wider and more "roiling" moundiness and breadth.     

 

its toughness.  Black pines are extraordinarily tolerant of salt, wind, and drought, and can thrive in sand dunes by open ocean.  On the other hand, black pines are at risk for turpentine beetle attack.  See "Downsides" below.

Flowering season

Spring, but neither the flowers nor the brown cones they mature to are particularly showy.  Think of the Spring candles as the flowers. 

Color combinations

'Thunderhead' brings white and green to the landscape, so it goes with everything.

Partner Plants


Large foliage, evergreen or deciduous, is always congenial with conifers, all the more so if it's also in a contrasting color.  Can there be a purple-leaved smoke bush or 'Merlot' redbud at the East or North of the pine, so it doesn't block the hot South and West sun?  With drifts of 'Frosty Morn' sedum across the front?  Or—take your pick—front the pine with 'Color Guard' yucca or back it with 'Peppermint Stick' arundo. 

 

If you're gardening in Zone 7 and warmer, what about Edgeworthia chrysantha?  It's blessed with rhododendron-sized foliage in Summer, and bare frangipani-thick branches in Winter that are tipped by fragrant flowers.  Year-round, the juxtaposition with 'Thunderhead' would be riveting.

 

Low groundcovers that can take some shade as well as sun can explore back under the canopy of 'Thundercloud' as well as outward to its front.  Sarcococca humilis, say, or—if you commit to pruning it to the ground in Spring, and also to limiting its lateral spread—Sasa veitchii bamboo.  Its large parchment-edge foliage all Winter long adds another detail to the white buds of 'Thundercloud'. 

Where to use it in your garden

Because 'Thunderhead' grows best with full sun, it shouldn't be crowded at any side, especially by plants to the South or West that are tall enough to cast any shade.  If possible, plant it two or three feet back from the front edge of its bed; don't plant anything between it and the edge would grow taller than a foot or two. 

Culture

Full sun and decent drainage.  Grows faster in good soil, but makes steady progress even in lean soil.

How to handle it:  The Basics

'Thundercloud' usually needs little attention other than to ensure that it doesn't become shaded by neighboring plants.  Prune them back as needed—or better, choose nearby plants that won't impinge on the 'Thunderhead' even if they grow to full size.

 

If your plant is showing signs of producing an excessively-upward branch, or you bought a plant that had been pruned at the nursery so that it was taller than wider, cut off the top whirl of foliage (or top two or even three) so that lower branches can take precedence and help the plant develop the billowing and multi-branched habit that is one of the best features of 'Thunderhead'.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

None.  Because 'Thunderhead' needs full sun, this isn't the evergreen to ornament with a vine or flexible shrub that could provide flowers or contrasting foliage in the warm months.  

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

Pinus thunbergii thrives in Zone 8 only where Summers aren't overly hot and humid. The tree is short-lived in Georgia, although it can do fine in the comparative coolness of North Carolina.  To me, anything south of Albany is unbearably hot in the Summer, but Pinus thunbergii seems more accommodating.  Nonetheless, the safest choice is to plant Pinus thunbergii north of the Potomac River.

 

Pinus thunbergii is susceptible to the turpentine beetle.  Unstressed trees are less susceptible, as are trees grown in relative isolation from other black pines.  Trees planted en masse—especially in salty coastal conditions that can be challenging even for these salt-tolerant pines—are at such risk that Pinus thunbergii has been largely removed from the coastal-landscaping repertoire.

 

Plant Pinus thunbergii sparingly.  All the reason, then, to plant just one of the exceptional cultivars, such as 'Thunderhead'.  None grows large, and all are particularly showy.

Variants

As is typical for plants native to Japan, where horticulture has been intensely practiced for centuries, there are many cultivars of Pinus thunbergii.  One specialist lists twenty-five.  Nearly all feature some degree of dwarfness or at least compactness; there are no cultivars that trumpet large size.  'Green Elf' would be huge if it creeped up to twenty inches in a decade; 'Koto buki' might soar to three feet.  'Mt. Hood Prostrate' keeps itself to a foot—but spreads outward to four or five.

 

Some cultivars also feature unusual needles.  Those of 'Ogon' are gold overall; those of 'Shirome janome' have broad gold bands; those of 'Torafu matsu' are gold at the tips.

 

The buds, already exceptional in 'Thunderhead', are particularly fat in 'Porky'.  Growth of 'Ogi' can be fasciated—in cockcombs.

 

This diversity of gifts would certainly tempt me, in another life, to garden where turpentine beetles are not a worry, such as in the Pacific Northwest.  Then I could explore a half dozen cultivars of Pinus thunbergii without leaving my own garden.

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By grafting.

Native habitat

Pinus thunbergii is native to Japan.

 
 
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