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Pinus montezumae (Shitzu Tree)

Wide, low spreading, deliciously soft pine tree from the Mexican mountains. There are several at Nymans Garden (National Trust) in West Sussex where they enjoy perfect conditions : greensand soil (beautifully well drained), masses of space (without it they’d become lopsided) and on the brow of a hill where they enjoy good ventilation (the breeze conveniently removes the old dead needles).

Over the years we’ve learned much more about our leafy offspring from our own observations and those of our customers than from books. A Mexican customer – who knew the tree well – confirmed what I’d hoped, that the tree reminded someone of the Emperor Montezuma’s headdress and therefore named the tree after him. However, the tree has also been known as the Shitzu Tree ever since famed gardener Geoffrey Ingham and I returned from a liquid lunch at the Prince of Wales. He spotted a particularly fine batch of Pinus montezuma in the nursery, pointed, swayed a bit and announced “Oh look, Shitzus“. Yes, they did look a bit like a small herd of distinctive little Tibetan dogs. Anyway, the name stuck.

Apart from their beauty, they have a wonderful aromatic smell. Walkers in the western states of America will have wandered amongst the Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa) – they’re impossible to miss. One of the great sports with these trees is to place one’s nose close to the south side of the trunk when the warm sun alights upon it. The warmth brings out an intoxicatingly wonderful aroma that everyone loves. Ponderosas are dead common, Shitzus are not but they do the same thing. Grow one. Let the trunk mature. Wait for the warmth of the sun to bake the bark and apply your nose to it. You may not be transported back to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Nuevo León in Mexico because you’ve probably never been there but you might be transported back to absolutely anywhere between Montana and New Mexico.

Grown by us from seed. It can be quite a variable tree in its shade of green (some are quite grey). We always grow the green form. 20ft tall and 30ft wide after 25 years. Unlike some pines, this is not good by the sea. Doesn’t mind wind but does mind salt.

N.B. When clipping several plants with the same tool, have a bucket containing a 5% bleach solution and swish your blades around for 30 seconds between plants to sterilise them. This will help avoid the chance of cross contamination of disease.

As with all woody plants, plant high, exposing as much of the taper at the base of the trunk as possible. Allowing soil to accumulate round the base of a tree can be fatal. Keep very well watered when first planted.

Hardiness traffic light amber

Hardiness level Amber

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Hardy in the Home Counties if sensibly sited (avoiding severe frost pockets, for example). Many Amber Labelled Plants are from cuttings from well-established plants that have survived many harsh winters in the South-East.

This is only meant as a guide. Please remember we're always on hand to give advice about plants and their frost hardiness.

Please remember that these coloured labels are only a rough guide.

General Point about Plant Hardiness: The commonly held belief that it's better to 'plant small' is perfectly true with herbaceous plants, but not necessarily true with woody plants. They need some 'wood' on them to survive severe cold - so plants of marginal hardiness in very cold areas should really be planted LARGER, rather than smaller, wherever possible.