Mugo Pine, Swiss Mountain Pine

Ilona Erwin

Pinus Mugo

Mugo Pines, AKA Swiss Mountain Pine, are dwarf trees, and they keep their shape well with yearly attention in the spring. These aromatic, evergreen, dwarf trees highlight my foundation planting.Because these are dwarf size and slow growing they are grown as shrubs in a garden landscape.

Although not as popular as they once were, they are still widely used in home landscaping and there are many cultivars to choose from. Its unpredictable growth (see my post picturing the larger one- more than twice the size of its partner that I planted at the same time, bought at the same nursery, ‘Time To Prune The Mugo‘) is the reason that some home owners hesitate to use them, especially around the foundation like I have.

Dwarf mugo pine

An excellent specimen grown at Dawes Arboretum. My own photo.

Pruning a Mugo Pine Shrub

The right way and time to prune a mugo is when the new growth (candles) sprout out in mid spring; it doesn’t take very much time to trim them, then. This is the biggest question I get on the blog: when and how should I prune a mugo pine?

  • The tip growth is called a “candle” due to its appearance; these light gold, slim spikes should be pinched or clipped back about two-thirds each year.
  • Please don’t cut back into old wood or remove parts of a growing branch- it may not regenerate.
  • Use regular pruning shears, the tip growth is soft. Cut about halfway down the candle

Mugo Pines are Variable in Size

This popular evergreen is wildly variable in expected size. Their native range is western Europe, eastern Europe, southern Europe, and western Asia, which creates this incredible variation. From a well behaved dwarf to a form more in keeping with its tree status, I like the mugo pine no less for its indeterminate height at maturity.

mugo pine needles

The closeup picture is by Josh Jackson

If you must keep your plantings in bounds, such as near a pathway, either choose another evergreen or shop for a named variety that will give you the dimensions you need. A cloned one like ‘Sherwood Compact‘ may be the one you seek.

Mugo Pines Look Like This

A globular shaped shrub with branches reaching out in a cupped direction, the needles are 1-2 inches long in fasicles (bundles) of two. Some of the variants are more dome shaped with a low spreading form. Bright medium green foliage, with small, dark gray-brown pinecones, provides a good looking evergreen accent.

Grows from 5′ to 20′ high, and of equal spread. The branchlets grow fairly compactly which gives the bush a nice full shape for garden use.

Named varieties excellent for your home landscape are “Mops”, “Gnome, “Compacta”, “Slow Mound”, and “Sherwood Compact”.

Corleys Mat
Carsten Winter Gold
Sherwood Compacta mugo pine variety

Cultivation Facts

How To Grow Pinus Mugo

Hardy to zone 2, the Mugo likes loose, organic, moist soil… but is not picky. I’ve grown it both clay and clay loam soil.

This shrub does have some pest problems at times, including Pine sawfly and Pine needle scale. Description of more pest problems at this page, ‘bonsai mugo pine’.

There was one year they became covered with caterpillars. It was after I had used pine bark mulch in that garden bed. Because the bush was relatively short, I simply picked off all the (many) caterpillars and  destroyed them. Usually, though I experienced no pests with the mugo plants I grew.

tulips going with the mugo pine

mugo pine highlights tulips

Feed them in spring to early summer with an organic fertilizer. I don’t specifically feed my mugos, but keep them well mulched, and they get the benefit of whatever fertilizer, such as bone meal, that I use for bulbs in their vicinity. They do spread more widely than tall, so space bulbs and other plants accordingly- four to six feet from the center of the pines. ( I’ve had to move bulbs and hostas from beneath several times over the years.)

If you need to transplant them, late August to early fall is the best time of year to move pines.

Fun Facts about this Shrub
branching and needles of a Swiss mountain pine, known as Mugo Pine

branching and needles of a Swiss mountain pine, known as Mugo Pine

Mugo pines are a favorite for bonsai.
They are a natural choice for a Japanese or Oriental style garden.

Mugho Pine


The tulips and mugo picture, copyright to Ilona Erwin.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.