Pine straw for mulch

Contents

A Few Commonly Asked Questions

Pine Straw & Ground Cover FAQ

Pine straw has been the #1 ground cover product in the Southeast for over 50 years, and Swift Straw is proud to be the largest provider in the country. Pine straw’s popularity has stood the test of time because of its beautiful, natural look, and it’s less than half the price of many alternatives such as colored mulch.

Our goal at Swift Straw is to offer a quality service at a fair price and to help educate and empower you to make the best decisions possible for your property.

• Where is pine straw produced & when does it fall?

Pine straw comes from stands of agriculturally processed planted pine trees (AKA pine plantation) throughout the Southeast. When a stand reaches 8 years old, the canopy closes, and it becomes suitable for harvest. At that age, the canopy blocks out sunlight helping prevent herbaceous competition while the tree density remains high, which results in a high concentration of needle fall.

• How do slash & long leaf differ?

Slash pine trees (standard straw) shed its needles once per year in the winter, and the majority fall by January 1st. The quality is always best at the first of the year since it’s freshly fallen.

Longleaf pine trees (premium straw) shed needles twice per year in the summer and winter. The additional fall makes the quality of long leaf better and more consistent throughout the year than slash.

The conventional slash bale also covers approximately 45 square feet, and the conventional long leaf bale covers about 50 square feet.

• How is pine straw harvested?

The historic means of harvesting pine straw is by hand producing a square bale. This process includes hand raking the straw into a pile, removing the sticks by hand, shoving the straw into a box baler, closing the lid, and tying the bale with twine.

This process is extremely labor intensive and less appealing to the workforce than other seasonal agricultural produce.

Many times, straw workers elect to leave pine straw fields when more lucrative produce is in season, which often creates square bale shortages throughout the year.

• HOW ARE BALE SIZES DETERMINED?

Over the years, pricing per bale has increased very little despite inflation and increased costs to produce. To compensate for this pricing compression, the standard bale size has decreased as suppliers fight to survive in the difficult industry. Bale boxes are typically handmade by the workers, creating extreme variability in the size, weight, and density of the bales produced.

A typical bale box is usually 26-28 inches in length and 10-13 inches in height and width. The weight of a typical bale is 10-15 lbs depending on the size of the box, compression applied by the baler, and the moisture content of the material at the time of harvest.

Thanks to recent packaging and mechanical harvesting innovations, Swift Straw is proud to offer a full menu of options based off your needs including mechanized rolls in a few different sizes, pallet bales (smaller bale size & packed on pallets), jumbo bales, and conventional bales.

• WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MACHINE PRODUCED ROUND ROLLS?

Given the challenges with square bales, machine produced round rolls are becoming more popular today.

The process is to “wind row” straw in trees and then drive the mechanized roll machine over the wind row to create rolls. The process is more mechanical requiring half the number of workers to produce an equivalent amount of rolls vs. square bales.

There are multiple types of compact round balers being used today, which make a string wrapped or a net wrapped roll. Round rolls typically range from 24-30 inches wide and 16-22 inches in diameter. They generally weigh between 20-35 lbs depending on the moisture content of the material at the time of harvest.

As our nation’s labor and immigration policies continue to evolve, there is going to be a significant shift away from square bales and towards mechanically produced rolls.

• HOW IS PINE STRAW PRICED?

Historically, the industry has priced pine straw by the bale. The challenge with pricing pine straw by the bale is that there is a high amount of variability in bale size, which makes the amount of raw material the consumer gets extremely subjective and inconsistent.

This variability in the size of each bale and each roll has led us to establish a price for each unit based on its size compared to the conventional bale.

For example, if you purchase a roll that is made by the Star baler, it is typically 2.25x the size of a conventional square bale.

If you purchase a string wrapped roll that is made by an MTE roller, they are closer to 2x the size of the conventional square bale.

The same goes for an extremely large jumbo bale and a smaller pallet bale; they are priced based on its size relative to the conventional bale.

• WHAT IS CONTRACT PRICING?

Modern packaging and mechanical harvesting innovations led Swift Straw to switch to contract pricing when charging for all straw and mulch installations.

With so much subjectivity in the amount of raw material found in the different bale sizes, roll sizes, and bulk yards of mulch, it makes it hard for the property owner to make an educated decision on how much material is actually needed.

In order to solve this problem, we price everything with a pre-approved contract price based on the approximate square footage of the property.

The straw is to be applied at 2-3 inches of thickness and will average around $0.11 – $0.14 per sq. ft.

With contract pricing per square foot, it allows us to select and install the best quality material that we have on hand regardless of whether it is the form of a conventional bale, jumbo bale, or one of the multiple sizes of rolls. Yes, this means that we may use 100 conventional bales, 120 pallet bales, 80 jumbo bales or 50 machine rolls depending on the best quality that we have available.

• How I determine the square footage for my property?

We work with our customers to understand how many square feet their property is, which can usually be determined by their historic bale count.

The conventional slash square bale covers approximately 45 square feet, so if your yard has used 100 conventional square bales in the past then you are covering approximately 4,500 square feet of bed space. If we agree on a contract price of $.12 per ft, or $540, this is the same as paying $5.40 per bale.

As long as the square footage provided is accurate, we offer a satisfaction guarantee on the application and coverage.

• How does the price of pine straw compare to the price of mulch?

At 2-3 inches of thickness, a conventional bale covers approximately 45 square feet of bed space, and a yard of mulch covers approximately 180 square feet.

At $5.40 per bale, the property owner is paying $.12 per square ft.

At $50 per yard of mulch, the property owner is paying $.28 per square ft.

• When should I put out pine straw?

Nothing looks better than two applications of pine straw per year.

If you are using standard pine straw, it is freshest in the winter time. So, if you are going with two apps, we recommend one in November or December just after the leaf fall and another later that spring.

If you are only planning to do one application, we recommend late February while the straw quality is still good. Remember, this year’s straw is on the ground, so it will look the same in April whether it is installed in February or April.

​Should you put down mulch or pine straw in your landscaping beds?

Are your landscape beds in need of a freshening up? Usually homeowners will redress their beds once per year in the early spring. You have a couple different options. In most parts of the country shredded much is used. You can read about how much mulch to put down here

However, you may consider putting down pine straw as an alternative to mulch. It’s a little cheaper because it goes further and is easier to place in the beds. Pine straw is very popular in southern climates as I’ve seen lawn care companies in Atlanta Georgia use it quite often. Also it’s a popular option throughout Florida as well. When I meet with our lawn care companies in St Petersburg Florida they say they prefer it to mulch.

While I personally prefer hardwood mulch, it really comes down to personal preference when deciding which to install in your landscaping beds.

Here are some points to consider for pine straw versus mulch.

Pros for Mulch

  • Provides a better moisture barrier for plants
  • It’s easier to cleanup leaves and trimmings out of mulch
  • It stays in place better than pine straw
  • Offers a better weed barrier, and it’s easier to pull weeds for mulch.

Here is a example of the finished look of mulch

Pros for Pine Straw

  • It’s cheaper, easier to handle and transport.
  • Some people prefer the aesthetic look of pine straw over mulch, especially in areas with dense Pine tree cover
  • Pine Straw is better for the environment, as the manufacture of pine straw doesn’t require heavy grinding machinery to make it.
  • Pine Straw doesn’t create a big mess during installation, and won’t run off and stain like mulch can sometime during a heavy rain fall

Here is a example of the finished look of Pine Straw

Differences Between Pine Straw And Mulch

Are you wondering whether you should use pine straw or mulch? Each type has its own pros and cons. Get to know more about these two by reading the information provided below.

You’re reading this article because you probably can’t decide whether to use pine straw or mulch for your garden. Don’t worry because most gardeners encounter the same difficult situation. Pine straw is only made from shredded needles of pine trees. Mulch, on the other hand, is a combination of loose earth, organic matter, and leaves.

Functions Of Pine Straw Vs Mulch​

Pine straws can also be used as mulch.

It is known to have low levels of acidity, which can be utilized in any garden setting. If you want your pine straw to work the most effectively, combine it with other types of organic materials.

​Mulch

​Above all, mulch are used to retain and regulate soil temperature. It also helps avoid the moisture evaporation from your soil. Mulch can also prevent decays. Using mulch in your garden means you no longer need to use more fertilizer. The elements of mulch will act as the nutrients which are all essential for your soil.

​Uses Of Pine Straw Vs Mulch

Using pine straw, especially during winter, is effective. Pine straw can help protect the plants and soil from frosting. The weed growth can also be controlled with the pine straw which is at least 3 inches in thickness. Another proper usage of pine straw is as the excellent landscaping mulch for trees, acid loving plants, and shrubs.

Mulch​

​Mulch can be used almost anywhere as long as they are composted well. The mulch should also be weed-free to stop them from invading your garden. One of the best things about using mulch is that it can improve substantially soil quality. Unfortunately, mulch does not have the ability to mix with soil well. It can be time-consuming when moving the mulch all the time to make room for newer plants.

Advantages Of Using Pine Straw And Mulch​

Advantages Of Pine Straw

Enhances Soil: One of the main advantages of using pine straw is money-saving. It can be spread quickly and be rearranged as well. Pine straw can also enhance the soil in different ways. It helps the plant roots to be insulated from extreme temperatures. Pine straw can also reduce erosion by protecting the soil from rain and wind.

​Sustainable and Natural: Pine straw comes in different types of pine trees. The pine trees will drop straw and needles on the soil. You will then rake up the pine straws for mulching purpose. The raked pine straw is one kind of renewable mulch, which is beneficial for the environment.

​Advantages Of Mulch

Retains Soil’s Moisture​: Above all, the ability to conserve soil’s moisture can bring substantial benefit for plants. Mulch can better provide a barrier of moisture for your plants. It also can add more natural nutrients for your soil. These nutrients can help your soil and the plants healthier. In comparison to pine straws, mulch can stay in place for an extended period. Your plants will surely benefit from this.

Insect Repellent​: There are particular types of mulch, such as pinewood chips, cedar, and cypress which can all act as an insect repellent for your plants. They can get rid of fleas, gnats, and ticks.

​Disadvantages Of Using Pine Straw Vs Mulch

Disadvantages Of Using Pine Straw

Of course, pine straw has its disadvantages as well. Firstly, they need to be refreshed regularly. The acidity of your soil can be increased due to the acidity level in pine straw. Secondly, frequent clearance is required since pine straws can be blown easily to every corner in your garden.

Disadvantages Of Using Mulch​

Mulch is much more expensive compared to pine straws. Mulch can also take quite some time to be spread sometimes even your entire morning.

Conclusion​

These are all the information that you need when it comes to the differences between pine straw and mulch. Now that you fully acknowledge of their pros and cons, you can decide as to which is the best for your garden.

Plants That Love Pine Straw

Pine straw has been a preferred choice of landscaping mulch in southern states and across the United States for over 20 years by landscapers, homeowners and business owners.
Pine needles have been favored in landscaping projects ranging from residential to industrial and highway landscapes.

Pine needle mulch is a natural soil enhancer that reduces erosion, slows down moisture evaporation and keeps down weeds. There are many more benefits to using pine straw as a natural mulch; read about pine straw benefits.

Pine needles are also known as pine straw. Pine needles usually have a high amount of acid, so care must be taken when placing them in your whole yard or landscape, depending on pH levels. There are many plants that love all the pine straw acid.

Pine needle is an excellent choice for garden mulch around newly planted annual flowers such as:

  • Marigolds
  • Snapdragons
  • Zinnias
  • And many more!

See a short list of plants that love pine straw.

Why use organic mulch such as pine straw?

Garden mulch helps provide a healthy environment for plants to grow their very best. It also promotes uniform growth and as the pine needles slowly decompose over time they release organic nutrients that enrich the soil.

Some flowers, shrubs and trees that do great in pine straw:

  • Amaryllis
  • Azaleas
  • Bluebell
  • Camellias
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Columbine
  • Dahlias
  • Daisies
  • Daylilies
  • Dogwood
  • Fir Trees
  • Gardenias
  • Holly
  • Hydrangeas
  • Mountain Ash
  • Mums
  • Pine
  • Rhododendrons
  • Roses
  • Spruce
  • Western River Birch

Some fruits and vegetables that do great in pine straw are:

  • Blueberries
  • Bog Rosemary
  • Cranberries
  • Garlic
  • Mint (Herb)
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes

Pine needles interlock and stay in place even on landscapes that are on a slope. The interlocking of pine needles keeps them from being blown out of landscapes and gardens during strong winds and storms.

We have a standing rule around here that I’m in charge of gardens and Mr. Much More Patient is in charge of grass. It’s been a frustrating role for him because we are so conditioned to believe that if you want a beautiful lawn you need to apply an almost constant stream of chemicals to it, and well, I don’t allow that. Mr. MMP has gotten on the organic bandwagon now, and not just because I made him, but it’s true that it makes growing a lush lawn more challenging at times. But really, we have really sandy soil and two very large dogs so we’re never going to have a perfect lawn anyway. I say put in more gardens and you won’t notice the lawn!

We have 1.3 acres, which, when we bought our house, I thought sounded like an estate but now I’d be happy with five times that much land. At least 50% of that is wooded, so we struggle with balancing woods and yard. Over the last 10 years the woods has been encroaching on our yard, mostly because tree limbs started sagging making it difficult to mow under them and then creeping Charlie took over. The situation got worse when we added the deck onto the back of the house, taking up a good amount our yard.

Because we’re in an “off” year for garden creation (last year we put in the path and the new terraced beds along the deck), we’re dedicating some of the gardening budget (by the way, I use the word “budget” loosely, as I make it a point to never add up how much I spend on plants; I recommend the same strategy for costs related to pets) to reclaiming a bit of yard, cleaning up some poor performing trees and installing some new screening trees.

This is the to-be-grass area as seen from the deck. You can see it’s not a small area. There was a sickly pine tree in the middle of the white area (that’s left over chippings from the stump removal). Nice brush pile in the woods, huh? I put it there when there was a big pine tree in front of it so we couldn’t see it. Then we cut down the tree. Whoops. I won’t feel comfortable burning it until winter, so we’ll have to live with it, but the good news is that I just learned in my level 2 master gardener class that brush piles are very important habitat for native critters.

The process has a couple of phases and started with trying to kill the weeds in the area we’re going to (hopefully) grow grass. I suspect this area actually once was grass because the only thing growing there was weeds and there seems to be a clear line where the Ostrich ferns that fill our woods stop. Normally I would kill a large area of vegetation by smothering it with newspaper and then building from there. This is how I’ve started most of the new gardens I’ve made. But that is a long process and one I’ve always done at least six months before I plant something. And as you know, I’m nothing if not impatient. I want grass now. I am not a fan of Round-up for various reasons including its potential environmental damage and the fact that buying it supports its manufacturer Monsanto, which has the most despicable business practices I’ve ever heard of. I’m particularly sensitive to the first issue because of our proximity to Lake Michigan and the fact that we have a creek just feet away from this area that feed straight into the lake a few hundred feet away.

You can see that we ended up with a pretty skinny strip of grass alongside the deck and the woods was feeling a bit close when we were sitting up there. In the distance you can see the “caution” tape I put around the wildflower area where the mayapples, trillium and ramps grow to keep the tree-cutting crew from stepping in there.

That didn’t leave me with a lot of weed-killing options so I got creative. I started by using my new weed torch on the whole area. It took a long time because the torch I have is really meant for spot treating weeds, rather than killing whole areas. Then I followed up by spraying vinegar (the regular household stuff you by in the grocery store at full strength) with the pump sprayer. After it I was happy to see some serious dead weeds. We limbed up a pine tree that was really close to the deck and the main thing impeding our lawn mower access to the area, the mowed the area with the blade really low. Then I followed up immediately with another vinegar treatment. I don’t expect to kill everything that’s growing there. I think that’s probably unrealistic with an organic method. However, I hope that by getting rid of a lot of it, and then by growing a healthy lawn, the grass will eventually crowd out most of the weeds.

This picture shows how the weed murder is progressing. Not too bad, considering the methods I used: a torch, a lawnmower and vinegar.

A few days later we had four trees removed, including the pine tree we limbed up (we knew it was coming down, but we wanted to just trim it enough to get the mower under there in the meantime). I thought I took a pre-tree removal photo, but I can’t find one, so all you’re see is post-tree removal. The tree guys showed up at 7:15 a.m. and were so efficient that I didn’t even have time to take a picture of them in action.

Suddenly we’re feeling very exposed to our neighbors (who are nice people, but you buy a house in the “country” so you’re not on top of your neighbors, so everyone appreciates a bit of screening). We own all the land right up to their garage so we have a lot of area to do something in. A couple of fast-growing screening trees are going in, and I feel like the area on the edge by the birdfeeders would be a great place for a more natural-looking planting area that included some beautiful and larger shrubs.

We will be adding several new trees in more appropriate places to help with screening, which you’ll notice is a real problem, especially in spring before everything leafs out. In the meantime I continue to work on killing before I can work on growing. I think the next step will be get in there and hand remove some of the more stubborn weeds, rake the whole area and hopefully spread a thin layer of soil on top, then seed away.

I have never thought about grass this much before in my life. It’s an interesting change of pace for me.

A quick note/update from my last post: Comments DO appear to be working now, but you have to be in the actual post, not just the home page of the blog in order to see the comment form at the bottom. I’ll try to fix this. Unfortunately it looks like I did lose a lot of comments but I hope to restore those as well. Thanks for bearing with me on this. As always, I really do appreciate hearing from you!

“Sweet Woodruff” – © chriscondello 2013 – Wilkinsburg, PA – Private Garden – Although plants will grow… Don’t expect them to be the most prolific bloomers in your garden…

The space underneath of a pine tree is one of the most difficult places to garden, sometimes it may seem impossible. The extreme microclimate created underneath can challenge even the most experienced gardener. It is tough, but it is by no means impossible. Carefully chosen plants, coupled with a few secrets, is all one really needs to green up an otherwise brown and lifeless corner of your yard.

Some of the challenges presented under a pine tree include extreme shade, lack of moisture, a heavy layer of pine needles, and rarely, extreme acidity. In all honesty, the biggest challenge is a lack of moisture, as a pine tree can create a solid rain shield underneath its branches.

If your pine tree has branches all the way to the ground, your first step will be pruning off all of the lower branches to allow enough room to work underneath. This also allows for sun, air and rain to access the ground… I have found in the days after doing this, weeds will quickly grow underneath of the tree… Take it as a good sign… And study the hell out of it… Everything you need to know will grow right in front of your eyes…

If your tree has already been pruned up… Start by simply observing your space, often times you will find some weeds, or a patch of grass already growing somewhere under the tree… Get my point?.. I feel pretty comfortable saying that if weeds already grow under your tree, plants of your choosing will also grow under said tree. A lot can be learned by simply studying the area, careful observation is always the key to choosing your plant locations… In fact… Careful observation is the key to any garden… And it does not stop once the plants are in the ground… When… In fact… Your observation is just beginning…

“Hanging In There” – © chriscondello 2013 – Wilkinsburg, PA – Private Garden – I planted this hosta 3 years ago… It was not much smaller than this when I planted it…

There are many plants that can survive with minimal water, and a lot more that can survive arid conditions after a year or so of establishment. Sedums are little cactus-like plants that never need watering once they are growing on their own, they do not grow as densely in the shade, and they do not flower as profusely… But they will be there for years to come.

Hosta and sweet woodruff work well under conifer trees once established… And by established… I mean watered once a week for the first year… Once these plants are established, they will grow, slowly, but they will grow… Cut the recommended spacing in half under a pine tree if you are going for a mass-planting… Leave the pine needles under the tree to serve as mulch, it will extend the amount of time between watering…

Any acid tolerant, shade loving annual will do well under a conifer tree. If you grow annuals, then I’m sure you will be out watering once a week in the summer anyway, what’s a little extra time watering your plants under the pine tree… In fact… Any shade tolerant annual will work well under a pine tree… If you baby it…

“Minimalist” – © chriscondello 2013 – Wilkinsburg, PA – Private Garden – Another hosta that has remained relatively the same size as when I planted it… This garden was a test for me… Now that I know how the plants will act… I can begin to fill it… And others like it…

Acidity… Is really only a problem in myth… As pine needles… Although acidic in nature… Take a really long time to break down… Unless you are standing in an old growth pine forest that has been around for hundreds of years, I doubt that tree has had much of a chance to drastically alter the pH of the soil. A cheap pH meter available at any garden supply center will answer this question for you, I recommend having one regardless of where you are gardening.

A way to cheat the acidity factor is to dig your planting hole two, or even three times the size of the plant you intend to grow. Remove all of the soil from the hole and put it somewhere else, then fill in the hole with clean topsoil… Acidity problem solved… I wouldn’t recommend digging out every square inch of soil underneath the tree, just remove the places you want to plant… And dig around those roots for crying out loud…

If you are the type of gardener that can’t consistently water their garden for a full year, you probably aren’t trying to break ground in every available corner of your yard… I would suggest picking an easier place to put your garden… Unless you want to install a drip irrigation system… In that case… By all means garden away…

“Heuchera” – © chriscondello 2013 – Wilkinsburg, PA – My Garden – Not under a pine tree… But up against a north facing wall that gets no sunlight… And very little rain…

For the sake of giving you a place to start, try some of these plants… They will work under any tree… But are a little more tolerant of the conditions presented under a pine tree…

Hosta – I wouldn’t choose the exotic varieties as they can be finicky. Go to a big box store and purchase the largest plants possible as they will grow very slowly, it’s best to just buy them the size you want them. Hosta can often be easily obtained from a friends garden, in my neighborhood they grow behind every abandoned house, I just move them to the front yards.

Sweet woodruff – Really a cool plant that produces insignificant white flowers in the spring that when growing in profusion can permeate the air with a super sweet scent. Woodruff tends to spread rapidly in the shade, if babied for a year it will grow forever. Don’t expect it to bloom a lot… Or every year… But it will bloom…

Lily of the valley – Another plant that can commonly be acquired from a friend, when it is grown in ideal conditions it will naturalize quickly. Another plant that needs around a year of care before it will take on a mind of its own. Beautiful bell-like white flowers grace this plant in spring, with a sweet scent to boot… I would consider it one of the cooler spring flower scents…

Fern – another plant that I would skip purchasing the exotic varieties, you want the regular old, every day ferns for under pine trees. Your first attempts should not be with twenty-dollar a piece plants, there is a good chance you will fail at first. Keep your eyes open when you are out and about, you will find them eventually… Ferns transplant easily as long as you limit the time between digging and planting… Just be quick…

Bleeding heart – These plants really do not need water other than the first week or two after planting, they can handle some pretty extreme conditions. Many of the plants in this family form fern leafed mounds of green, choose the low-growing, spreading types and let them do their thing.

Azalea – A seriously acid tolerant plant that is at home under any pine tree, to be safe I would plant it closer to the edge… A pine tree flanked on either side by mature azaleas is really a stunning thing to see in spring… They are really at home with each other…

Rhododendron – One of my favorite ornamental shrubs,we had one in our front yard that was always beautiful this time of year. Not only does this plant tolerate acidity, it is also very shade tolerant.

Blueberry – When grown in the shade, they do not produce lots of fruit. But, they are a stunning plant year round. In the fall the foliage turns a bright red color that is striking against a pine tree… Just saying…

Hydrangea or Oak leaf hydrangea – Very shade tolerant plants that grow well under conifers, also drought resistant once established.

Wild geraniums – This family of plants will grow anywhere, under almost any circumstances. Many of them have scented leaves that deter deer, and some flowers are edible.

Yarrow – Attracts so many beneficial insects that you will find it listed as a companion to almost everything… Enough said…

Tea berry – Small, creeping plant with slightly mint flavored berries, like the gum. The berries are typically hoarded by the wildlife, but that’s not such a bad thing. If you can get your hands on a few, they are like eating mint-flavored church wafers… At least that’s what they remind me of…

Trillium – If you can get your hands on them… Plant them everywhere… They are beautiful… And we need to protect them… And yes… They are at home under a pine tree…

Impatiens – This year will be difficult again due to the downy mildew, but they will figure that out soon enough. Impatiens are built for shade, but they do require water… Water at a minimum once a week when there’s no rain…

Heuchera – One of my all time favorite plants… It will do great in any amount of light… But they really shine in full shade… Many of the newer cultivars come in bright leaf colors, these are designed to glow in the shade.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I now have prints available to purchase online… You can find them here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free by the author… Me… At one time I had considered asking for donations… But that’s not me… So I have decided to sell prints of some of my photography… It is by no means a requirement… But it helps… If you have a few minutes to check them out… Then by all means… Please do…


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Can I Use Pine Needles For Mulch?

The prickly parts of a pine tree aren’t just a sweet-scented addition to the holiday season.

Pine needles are handy to have all year long. When it’s time to mulch your plants and trees, consider using the needles that have fallen in your yard. A Davey blog reader, Shirley, had this idea, and she reached out to ask whether or not pine needles actually make good mulch.

The answer? A resounding yes! Read on to learn when and why you should mulch with pine needles.

Using Pine Needles (Pine Straw) For Mulching

Mulching with pine needles comes with great perks. Pine needles are excellent at keeping weeds at bay, help water flow seamlessly into the soil, and they break down slowly, adding nutrients back into the soil.

When to Use Pine Straw vs. Mulch

The biggest upside to using pine needles for mulch is the cost. As long as you have a healthy growing pine tree with plenty of fallen needles, there’s no need to buy standard mulch. Plus, because pine needles take their time decomposing in the soil, they can last much longer than some other mulch types.

You should also opt for pine needles or pine straw in particularly windy or rainy areas. Traditional mulch can get washed and blown away, but pine needles interlock as they settle in, creating a durable, weather-proof groundcover.

Pine straw isn’t as practical when you don’t have a needle-bearing tree in your yard. Bundles of pine needles might be hard to come by, whereas standard mulch is readily available.

Important: Avoid mulching with pine needles in wildfire-prone areas.

The Best Pine Straw Mulch Applications

Cover your flower or tree beds with a two-to-four-inch layer of pine straw. For trees, be sure to keep the mulch a couple of inches away from the trunk, and spread it all the way out to the drip line, the furthest edges of the tree’s canopy.

For more detailed tips on how to mulch trees, check out this blog post.

What Plants Can I Use Pine Needles On?

Use pine straw any and everywhere in your yard—it works great for tree, flower and vegetable gardens. In some cases, pine needles acidify the soil as they break down, so acid-loving plants like holly, azaleas, and rhododendrons appreciate a coat of pine needles.

Pine Needle Mulch

When and where to use it

Mother Nature sure knows how to provide the perfect conditions for growing pine trees – laying down a pine needle mulch to squelch weed growth and give the pine trees the particularly acid soil that they need to thrive.

Other plants that like a pine needle mulch are Rhododendrons, blueberries and Arctostaphylos.

Oddly enough, these are all what is called ‘ericaceous’ plants – those that have fine hair like roots, urn shaped flowers and absolutely need low pH soil to survive. In lime (alkaline) soils, or with the addition of dolomite lime, these plants just dwindle to nothing.

Pine needle mulch collects for years under pine trees (and other coniferous trees that get labeled as pine trees), making a soft resilient carpet.

The odd hush under really old pine trees is created by the pine needle mulch deadening all sound. Digging down into the duff illustrates how this happens. Generally, a fungus starts to form, with many pale coloured hyphae, or roots.

This holds all the lower layers together, and makes a sponge covering the ground. This protects the usually sandy soil from erosion from heavy rainfalls, and prevents the evaporation of the moisture.

The only drawbacks to using pine needle mulch are that it’s precariously slippery when dry, and also a fire hazard if you garden in a wildfire danger zone. Use a different type of mulch if you’re fire smart gardening.

Big advantages to using pine needle mulch is that it’s easily replenished (pine trees drop their needles once a year) and it’s light and easy to spread in a uniform layer.

To make your own garden mulch from pine needles, rake up the needles into piles, and then run them through a shredder if you have one. Otherwise, composting the needles in a pile will help break them down a bit. Then once they’re spread out under the plants, they’ll pack into a solid yet breathable mat.

Landscaping with mulch gives you the opportunity to salvage and re-use otherwise wasted materials such as what the trees drop. Utilize these free mulching materials whenever you can to provide all the mulch benefits such as moisture retention, weed control and beauty in your garden.

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Spread the chopped leaves and pine needles over the surface of your planting beds. It makes excellent, attractive mulch that stays firmly in place. As it decomposes, it enriches the soil.

It’s lucky Moses and the Israelites didn’t own houses in the suburbs. Why? Because when manna fell from heaven, they’d probably take a cue from their neighbors and rake it to the curb.

To a gardener, December’s fallen leaves and pine needles are just like manna. Each leaf and needle contains a larder of organic matter–absolutely the best material for loosening clay or improving the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of sand. Organic matter feeds legions of plants, earthworms, and micro-organisms. Yet what do most of us do with this treasure? Rake it to the street for the city to take away.

Not me. Maybe it’s because I think that landfills are for unrecyclables, such as rusted washing machines or albums by Air Supply. Or maybe it’s because I’m cheap and can’t stand the thought of buying sphagnum peat moss and ground bark when all this free organic matter is falling down around me.

In any case, I don’t rake leaves into the street. Instead, I rake them into long, shallow rows about 6 inches deep. Then I set my lawnmower on its highest setting and run over the pile, making enough passes to completely chop it up.

I like to use a mulching mower, because it’s designed to chop leaves into little pieces, but you can use a regular bagging mower–just take off the bag. The first time you run over the leaves, you’ll invariably miss some which won’t be chopped. So rake them all into a pile again, and run over them once more. You’ll be amazed at how small that big pile of leaves becomes.

Carefully gather that finely shredded material–it’s garden gold. Take it to your flowerbed, shrub border, or vegetable garden, and spread a 2-inch-thick layer over the soil surface and around any existing plants. The shredded leaves make excellent, attractive mulch–they stay in place and don’t wash or blow away. Even more important, as the leaves slowly decompose, they add vital organic matter to the soil, improving its ability to support abundant life. Do this every fall, and before long, you’ll have the richest soil on the block. And you won’t have paid a dime.

Time To Lime?
Not all leaves acidify the soil, but oak leaves and pine needles certainly do. This is fine for acid-loving plants, such as azalea, rhododendron, camellia, gardenia, blueberry, and dogwood. However, many vegetables and flowers prefer soil that’s only slightly acid or neutral (pH 6.5 to 7.0). Adding lime is an easy way to counteract acidity. Now is a good time to do it. A simple soil test kit available at garden and home centers can tell you the soil’s approximate pH. For a precise recommendation of exactly how much (if any) lime to add, you’ll need to get a soil test kit from your local cooperative Extension service.

Pine Straw

Pine Straw is the fresh fallen pine needles consisting primarily of longleaf and slash pines removed from the forest floor and bailed. Pine straw is a great choice for renewable, native organic mulch. Just a 2-3 inch layer of mulch is all that is required to create an effective weed barrier while allowing water to penetrate easily. The pine needles interlock together and stick into the ground below. So even on landscapes with a considerable slope the pine straw will not wash away under the frequent tropical rainstorms. Our pine needle straw is a 100% sustainable mulch, and provides a treeless alternative to traditional mulches.

Pine needle straw is slightly acidic so when it breaks down it keeps the soils ph low and acidic. Our all-natural straw makes an excellent choice as a mulch for many of the well-known Southern acid loving plants, trees & shrubs. The average square bale of straw is 12 x 13 x 27 inches long and weighs from 15-20 pounds. Bales spread approximately 50-60 square feet at 3-4 inches in depth.

Order today, we delivery 6 days a week.

Call to order – Organic Pine Straw

  • Landscaping – Pine straw is a great choice for native landscapes and is an ideal material for sloped areas.
  • Longevity – Pine straw doesn’t need to be re-applied as often as other mulches because it decomposes very slowly and will not float or wash away.
  • Lightweight – Pine straw is extremely lightweight which means it is very easy to handle. When compared to heavier mulches, pine straw bales are not difficult to carry and they actually cover a significantly larger area by equivalent weight than most other mulches.
  • Sustainable and Natural – Pine straw is usually organic and the harvesting of trees is not required to sustain it.
  • Cost – When measured by cubic feet, the cost of pine straw is highly competitive when compared to most mulches.
  • Soil Health – Pine straw does not compact, which allows the soil underneath to breathe easily and to have more sufficient water infiltration.
  • Plant Health – Pine straw helps reduce weeds and benefits soil by adding organic material and nutrients.
  • Erosion Control – Pine straw doesn’t float or wash away. This means you can use it where grass won’t grow to hold soil. It’s also great for sloped areas and walkways or paths.
  • Pest Free – Pine straw doesn’t attract termites.
  • Quick and Simple – Pine straw is simple to apply – just grab handfuls and scatter by hand.

Please note that each pine straw bale covers approximately 20 to 25 square feet. If you have any questions or would like to place an order for delivery, please contact us.

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