Minnesota’s red pine forest type

Products and Uses

Red (Norway) pine commonly is used for pulpwood to produce high-grade printing and wrapping papers. It also is used for lumber, veneer, pilings, poles, cabin logs, and posts. Red pine stands generally are considered poor habitat for game birds and animals, but old-growth trees are used as nesting sites by bald eagles and many songbirds.

Growing Conditions

Large red pine tree. Click for a better view.Red pine often grows in relatively pure, even-aged stands. On drier sites it grows in pure stands or in mixture with jack pine, aspen, paper birch, and oaks. On moist sites it often grows in combination with eastern white pine, red maple, northern red oak, balsam fir, or white spruce. It is common on sandy soils where the site index ranges from 45 to 75, but grows best on well drained (but not dry) sandy to loamy soils. Heavy, wet soils are poor sites for red pine.


Because red pine is shade intolerant and good seed crops occur at 3- to 7 -year intervals, clearcutting followed by planting is the most reliable regeneration method. A common spacing is 7 x 7 feet. Trees can be planted at wider spacings (up to 10 x 10 feet) if high survival is expected. Closer spacing reduces tree taper and branch size, promotes early crown closure, and suppresses competition, but also requires more frequent thinnings in order to maintain stand vigor and health.

The most common planting stock is 3-0 bareroot seedlings, but 2-0 seedlings sometimes are used. Containerized seedlings may be used to extend the planting season.

Site preparation prior to planting should reduce competition for light, water, and nutrients without causing any serious soil loss. On most sites shrubs should be controlled and mineral soil exposed. Mechanical equipment, herbicides, prescribed burning, or a combination may be used to prepare the site.

Intermediate Treatments

Cultural practices are needed to keep red pine crop trees free from overhead shade and to provide needed growing space. Red pine seedlings may need a complete release from shrubs and other low competition by the second or third growing season. Release plantations overtopped by hardwoods as soon as possible. In seedling stands (less than 2 inches average diameter at breast height [DBH]) with more than 2,000 trees per acre, at least 100 potential crop trees should be given a minimum growing space of 25 square feet each. Dense sapling stands (2 to 5 inches average DBH) with 160 square feet or more of basal area per acre should be thinned to give 50 square feet of growing space per tree (7×7 foot spacing).

Canopy gap in thinned red pine, Cloquet MN. Click for a better view.Red pine responds favorably to a variety of types of thinnings and intermediate treatments. These treatments are essential to maintain stand health and vigor as individual trees grow and compete with one another.

Pole stands (5 to 9 inches DBH) with greater than 140 square feet of basal area per acre should be thinned to about 90 square feet of basal area per acre. Small sawtimber stands (9 to 15 inches average DBH) grow well at densities around 120 square feet of basal area per acre. Large sawtimber (15 inches or larger average DBH) can be managed at densities of 150 or even 180 square feet of basal area per acre. But red pine grows optimally at about 90-110 square feet per acre.

As a general rule, remove less than half of the basal area in anyone thinning, and during early thinnings, cut trees that are smaller, slower growing, and poorer quality than the stand average.

Read more about thinnings and woodland stand improvement or watch a short video covering the basics of thinning Minnesota conifer stands.

To produce high-quality sawtimber, prune crop trees to a height of 17 feet when they are poletimber-size.

Red pine range map
Red pine range map


Bark beetles are very serious pests, particularly in dense stands on sandy soils during drought years. They can be managed using the measures discussed for eastern white pine.

Scleroderris canker, red pine shoot blight, diplodia, root rots, butt rots, and needle blights may be important in some areas. The best control measures are to remove infected trees and maintain stand vigor through favorable growing conditions. Avoid establishing young stands beneath or near infected older pine trees.

Defoliating insects include sawflies and jack pine budworm. They can be controlled with insecticides where needed. The European pine shoot moth and the Zimmerman pine moth damage tips and buds, resulting in deformation of the main stem. Cultural controls are not effective, and insecticides have limited use against these insects. The Saratoga spittlebug, white grubs, and pine root collar weevils also injure or kill red pine. Spittlebug is controlled by removing sweetfern, grubs by killing sod, and root collar weevil by pruning lower branches and raking up needles near the tree’s base.

Animal injury may be caused by deer, hare, rabbit, porcupine, or mice. Eliminate protective grass to decrease hare, rabbit, and mouse activity. Animal control or repellents may be necessary in other cases.

Read much more about red pine management in theĀ North Central Region Red Pine Management Guide.

Mel is the Extension Forestry program leader. He's based on the St Paul campus.

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  1. Hello and thank you so much for trying to answer my question.
    May I please ask what is the largest contiguous stand of red pine (Norway pine) in Minnesota, how many acres big is it.
    Thank you.
    This is for my high school final report, and I really appreciate the accurate information, and I I’ll include you in my bibliography.
    Thank you University of Minnesota!

    1. Hi Mac- It’s difficult to identify the largest contiguous red pine stand in the state as these forests continue to grow and are managed continually. You might see this article on red pine in Itasca State Park. The pine in this forest is vast and it is a unique ecosystem because of its old growth characteristics and history of fire in the Park. Good luck with your project! -Matt