Fallen, dried out pine needles are much more than just a mess to clean up. They can be a sustainable form of nutrient-rich mulch for your garden.
If you find your lawn covered with dried pine needles this time of year, or you've brought a fir tree into the house to decorate for the holidays, consider putting those fallen needles to good use. Dried pine needles, also known as pine straw, are perfectly suited to use as mulch. (Mulch, for those who are new to gardening, is a protective layer of organic material used to help soil retain moisture and discourage weed growth.) Pine needles, in fact, can offer significant benefits over their bark and wood chip counterparts. The key is to know where and how to use them.
Dried pine needles are also known as pine straw. Photo: Getty Images
Dried pine needles are completely organic, meaning they'll eventually decompose and return nutrients back to the earth. But they can slightly alter the pH levels of your soil over time, so consider using them first around your acid-loving shrubs and plants. Azaleas, chrysanthemums, roses, gardenia, jasmine, rhododendron, bayberry, and holly will all benefit from pine straw mulch. So, too, will hydrangeas, particularly if you want to change the color of your blooms from pink to blue. Dried pine needles can even be used in vegetable gardens where onions, garlic, mint, and tomatoes all relish the slightly elevated levels of acid in the soil.
In addition to being organic -- and sustainable as no trees are harvested in the process -- pine needles are lightweight, easy to spread and pack loosely, allowing air, water and nutrients to penetrate the straw. And, perhaps most importantly, they do not attract slugs, pests or termites associated with some wood chip mulch products. If you have sloping garden beds, pine needles are ideal because they form an interlocking mat that prevents them from washing away during frequent watering and rainfall. Their natural straw color also provides a beautiful backdrop to any garden landscape.
If you're collecting the pine needles from your yard -- or from your carpet or floor after the holidays -- make certain they are completely dried (resembling straw) before you spread them around the base of your plants. The greener the needle the more acid they contain. Ideally you want a 2- to 3-inch depth of pine straw when mulching. Coming up short? Check your local lawn and garden center to see if they carry pine straw mulch. Or look online, where you can have it delivered to your home in a box for roughly $40 for 100 square feet of coverage.
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