Pine needles make up some of the most effective organic mulch you can use in your garden. Ever notice how damp the area under a pine tree is, where the needles have landed?
That is because the pine needles are a naturally occurring barrier of water preservation. The waxy coating on pine needles allows water to bead and slide of the needle into the soil.
But, that same waxy coating also prevents rapid evaporation and keeps water beneath the needle layer and in the soil. And,
You might already have noticed that Mother Nature doesn’t like bare soil. Bare patches soon have something growing on them, usually weeds.
That’s nature’s quick and dirty way of ensuring that soil doesn’t wash away or blow away. But if you’re a gardener, you aren’t exactly in love with weeds, and you should try mulching.
My favorite benefit of pine needle mulch has to do with weeds. Almost any mulch will cut down on the number of weeds in your garden. With pine needle mulch, the few weeds that manage to survive are incredibly easy to pull, roots and all.
As the pine straw mulch naturally goes through decomposition, it also naturally adds valuable organic nutrients to the soil.
When pine needles naturally break down, they help to acidify the soil, which makes superior mulch for acid-loving plants, trees and shrubs. Pine straw provides an extra layer, or buffer, to reduce compaction on the soil below.
There is a misconception that they are too acidic but they usually test at pH 6.5. The thing to be aware of is a substance called terpenes. It is what gives the needles that great smell.
This can interfere with seed germination and generally stunt growth. Just be sure the needles are dried out and going towards brown. Most of the terpenes will be released by then and should pose no problem.
Pine needles are also good in a compost pile. Although pine needles will not cause problems with acidity in the long term, they do break down relatively slowly.
The reason for the slow decay is that the needles are covered with a waxy layer that resists bacteria and fungi, and, like other fallen leaves, they have an excess of carbon relative to nitrogen.
The process could be speeded up by shredding the needles, thereby offering bacteria and fungi greater surface area at which to “chew” away.
Well, pine needles indeed create acidic effect in the compost but there are certain ways of countering that acidic effect.
Sprinkle some limestone on dried pine needles as it will eliminate acidic factor and will improve the feel of finished compost, making it less sticky. Don’t be too heavy-handed with limestone on a compost pile because it wastes nutrients and causes odors as nitrogen is converted to gaseous ammonia.
Plants that do well with pine straw mulch are plants that love acid. These include chrysanthemum and roses,azaleas and blueberries, rhododendrons and hollies, among others. It’s best to leave a free area around the plant stems to avoid mold.
Some gardeners find that prickly needles help to discourage slugs. Apparently, the soft-bellied pests hate crawling over pine needles.
My neighbor uses pine needles to line his walk paths in the vegetable garden. Pine needles keep weeds from growing and his walk paths look wonderful.
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Yours truly, Polly – Organic Gardener