One of the major challenges of gardening in Denton County is the abundance of heavy clay soil. Much of Master Gardener training and education is geared toward dealing with this challenge. However, there is a ribbon of sandy loam soil wending through the county and some of us get to garden in this soil. It has its own set of challenges – generally, holding enough water and nutrients for our plants. It is mostly for that ribbon of gardeners I’ve chosen to write about the Eldarica Pine, also known as the Afghan Pine (Pinus brutia var. eldarica). Seeds of the evergreen Afghan Pine came to the United States in the 1960s through diplomacy with Afghanistan, but the tree originates from the Eldar Valley on the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Afghan Pines grow best in full sun, at least 6 hours daily, and well-drained soil. These trees will tolerate acid pH and alkaline pH soils, as well as clay soil, and are highly drought-tolerant. They grow best in hardiness zones 6a to 8b. Suitable for a xeriscape, this is a good tree to plant in locations where there is no irrigation – too much water, more than 20 inches a year, will kill Afghan pines. They tolerate heat quite well, while its strong branches and soft needles make excellent windbreaks. Afghan Pines create valuable cover, nesting, and breeding areas for birds. In winter, the 3” long, oblong cones and seeds provide food for nonmigratory birds and other animals. The rough bark, which peels on young trees, grows into dark, furrowed bark as the tree matures. Eldarica or Afghan Pines have a dense, symmetrical cone-shaped canopy with medium growth of 13-24” per year, up to approximately 40 feet tall, with a spread of 15 to 20 feet. Many times nurseries advertise these pines as the perfect Christmas tree!
It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? There are a few cautions I must give, though. It is crucial that excess water be drained away from Afghan Pines as they are susceptible to Diplodia tip blight (Diplodia pinea), a fungus that attacks if the roots get too wet. It may also experience issues with cotton root rot disease which occurs during summer. Needles become brown and dry, but don’t fall to the ground. By autumn, roots begin to decay and the whole tree declines, eventually dying.
Similar to crape myrtles, Afghan Pines can be attacked by sucking aphids and, subsequently, a sooty mold often grows on areas affected by honeydew. While the mold does no direct damage, an aphid infestation results in distorted, yellowed foliage and can severely degrade a healthy tree. Boring pine tip moths, such as the Southwestern Pine Tip Moth (Rhyacionia neomexicana), like to lay eggs in tender plant tissue. Larvae bore into that tissue to feed before forming cocoons on the trunks. Damage from the feeding borers includes dieback on twig tips. Releasing beneficial insects, such as parasitic wasps, can control small infestations. Insecticides with permethrin can control severe infestations. Parasitic wasps, lacewings, or lady beetles provide effective biological control of aphids and other sucking pests. Neem oil or other low-toxicity pesticides could be used to control heavier infestations of sucking pests.
If you have a dry, hot, non-irrigated, perhaps windy section of your garden and don’t mind looking out for a few pests, consider the beautifully shaped, low-maintenance, drought-hardy Afghan or Eldarica Pine tree. What a great gift for an upcoming winter holiday!! (hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge!!)