How To Use Pine Needles In Gardens & Beds
Can I use pine needles to mulch my garden and flowerbeds? Should I put them in my compost pile? Are pine needles safe to use around my vegetable plants? What about using them to protect perennials over the winter?
When it comes to pine needles and how and where to use them in the landscape, there are often way more questions than solid answers. And it’s easy to see why. There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation when it comes to pine needles, and it certainly leads to a lot of confusion about just how valuable they are to a gardener, and where they can safely and effectively use them.
The simple truth is, pine needles can be wonderful for a whole slew of uses when it comes to gardening. Both in the vegetable garden and in flowerbeds as well. But the key to success is knowing when, where and how to use them – and more importantly, where not to!
Pine trees regularly shed needles, making them a completely renewable source of mulch for the home gardener. Even more, they can be found growing in nearly all climate regions, making them quite accessible to all.
Hopefully, today’s article will shed some light on the subject, and in the process, dispel some of the myths that exist about how good or bad pine needles can be for your soil and plants. With that in mind, let’s start by taking a look at one of the biggest areas of confusion when it comes to pine needles, their acidity!
Are Pine Needles Acidic?
To be honest, pine needles get a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to being overly acidic. Many gardeners mistakenly think you can only use needles around acid-loving plants, but as you will see below, that is not always the case.
When needles are on a tree and green, they are acidic in nature. In fact, most pine needles will register around 3.0 to 3.5 on the PH scale while green.
But as pine needles age and break down, much of that acidity is lost. In fact, by the time needles die and drop to the ground, although they still are slightly acidic, they are much closer to a neutral PH. And after they age a bit even more and turn brown, they basically register as neutral.
When pine needles are green and on the tree, they are at their highest point of acidity. From there, they only head more toward neutral PH as they age.
Once pine needles have decomposed completely, either by naturally breaking down or via composting (more on composting pine needles later), they are completely neutral in PH. Because of that, once they are, you can use them near almost any vegetable or flower plant without worry.
Dispelling The Myth –
How To Use Pine Needles In Gardens & Flowerbeds
That is actually a very important fact, because it means once needles break down in the soil, they simply do not cause the soil to become more acidic. Unfortunately, the myth that needles cause the soil to become acidic leads to a lot of confusion as to where you can and can’t use them.
Now that we have covered the topic of acidity, let’s take a close look at how and where pine needles can best be used in their various states of decomposition. And, even though they may not be acidic, also why and where they shouldn’t be used in some situations.
Pine Needles As A Mulch –
How To Use Pine Needles In Gardens & Flowerbeds
The sheer volume and availability of pine needles makes them excellent for use as a mulch. One thing is for sure, pine needles can be found in abundance in a wide range of climates.
Varieties of pine trees can be found growing from areas that see bitter winter cold to locations where the the temperature rarely drops below 50°. Add in that needles, much like leaves, fall from trees every year, and it’s easy to see how they can be a great source as a natural, easily available and inexpensive mulch.
These needles that have fallen and aged have almost no acidity at all. They are safe to use as a mulch without worry of any plant, bush, shrub or tree.
But where do they work best as a mulch? Brown (aged) needles are great for mulching flowerbeds and around bushes or trees. Again, remember that they are near neutral in PH and will not affect the plants or the soil when it comes to acidity.
A three to four inch layer of fallen pine needles can do wonders to keep weed seeds out and flowerbeds looking fresh. The needles also break down very slowly, saving on the amount of re-mulching that will need to take place. Especially in perennial flowerbeds that are not worked as often.
For perennials and bushes that love more acidic soil, you can mulch with fresher needles. Azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberry bushes and even strawberry plants prefer slightly acidic soil. To help these plants, mulch around them with green needles or freshly fallen pine needles.
The green needles will provide the most acidity for plants, but even freshly fallen needles will give a small dose of acid to plants as it leaches out, helping them in the process.
Pine Needles In The Vegetable Garden –
How To Use Pine Needles In Gardens & Flowerbeds
Whether or not to use pine needles in the garden is often a confusing subject for gardeners. The good news is that you can use brown needles anywhere in a garden without worry of acidity. But they are better to use as a mulch for walking rows than around vegetable plants.
A thick layer of pine needles is an excellent way to mulch between your rows. They help to keep weeds out, and allow you to walk the rows freely without worry. Unfortunately, they are not as good right around the plants, but interestingly enough, it has nothing to do with acidity as is often thought.
Straw, grass clipping or compost are a better choice around vegetable plants. They not only insulate the soil better than pine needles, they also break down faster improving and renewing the soil for each successive crop.
Pine needles are thin and narrow. Because of that, they are poor insulators of the soil and do not hold in moisture well either. They also often mat together over time, and can keep water and nutrients from getting to the roots if too thick.
In addition, because they take so long to break down, they do not add an abundance of organic material to the soil very quickly. Straw, grass clippings, and compost all do much better at adding nutrients. Even more, they are also better at insulating and holding in moisture.
Another Great Use For Pine Needles In The Garden
For these very reasons, those three are the best choice for mulching right around vegetable plants. Pine needles, however, do have another use in the garden besides walking row mulch that can be quite helpful.
Pine needles are excellent for putting out around the edges of sprawling, vining crops. This can easily help to keep fruit off of the bare ground and out of danger of rotting. This is because the needles dry quicker than straw or grass clippings and still provide good air flow.
Cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, zucchini and squash are all great candidates for this! Simply lay a few inches of needles on the ground and let the vines grow on top.
Composting Pine Needles –
How To Use Pine Needles In Gardens & Flowerbeds
Finally, there is the topic of composting pine needles. Or more to the point, should you use them in a home compost pile. The short answer is that it is best to leave them out of a home compost pile. Again, it is not due to any acidity issues at all. Once fully composted, pine needles are not acidic at all.
The reason you should not use pine needles is that they are extremely slow in decomposing. Pine needles have a waxy outer coating that is slow to break down. Because of that, it can take tremendously longer to create fresh compost. Even when you chop them up. See: The Secrets To Making Great Compost
When it comes to pine needles, you are better off to create a dedicated pile of needles. They will break down slowly, but you can then have them at the ready to use anywhere and everywhere you need them.
Here is to using pine needles in your landscape in the best way possible. And even more, to healthier and happier plants as well!
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Is Pine Needle Mulch Right for Your Garden? 18 Pros and Cons
Attractive, sustainable, and long-lasting, there are many reasons to try pine needle mulch in your garden. But this all-natural mulch may not be right for everyone. In this guide, we’ll discuss the benefits of using pine needle mulch and how it compares to classic wood mulch.
Mulch is one of several excellent ways to use free pine needles in the garden.Jump to:
- Pros of pine needle mulch
- Cons of pine needle mulch
- Pine needle mulch vs. wood mulch
Pros of pine needle mulch
Pine needles are gaining popularity as a garden mulch, for many good reasons.
Pine needle mulch isn’t as commonly used as wood mulch, but times are changing, and pine mulch is becoming more popular among backyard gardeners. Below are some of the main reasons why people are switching to pine needle mulch.
Unlike wood mulch, which is produced from tree trunks and bark, pine needle mulch doesn’t require any trees to be cut down. Pine trees naturally shed their needles, and repurposing those needles into foraged mulch is both savvy and eco-friendly.
Fresh pine needle mulch really makes a statement and creates a charming, natural aesthetic in garden beds. Naturally golden-orange in color, pine needle mulch is loose and fluffy and forms attractive mounds around ornamental shrubs, trees, and flowers.
While wood and bark mulches are also appealing, many of those mulches are colored with artificial dyes to achieve the same tones that pine needles naturally have.
Once applied, pine needle mulch will easily last for a few years and won’t degrade as quickly as most wood and bark mulches. Super low maintenance, gardeners often just need to fluff their pine needle mulch in spring to keep it looking its best.
As it ages, pine needle mulch will turn a light silver color. While this coloration can look nice if you prefer the look of fresh pine needle mulch, simply top off your old mulch with a thin layer of fresh pine needles every spring.
It’s an excellent insulator.
Some features of pine needle mulch, like insulation from extreme temperatures, are superior to other mulches.
All organic mulches help to insulate the soil from extreme temperatures and conserve moisture levels. However, pine needle mulch does this better than most other mulch types.
Because of the large air pockets in between the needles of pine mulch, this mulch variety buffers the soil wonderfully and helps shield tender plant roots from the summer heat and winter chill.
It’s less expensive.
If you have long-needled pine trees in your backyard, such as loblolly pines and ponderosa pines, pine needle mulch can be free! Even if you have to purchase your mulch from your local garden center, pine needle mulch is usually a lot cheaper than standard wood mulch.
For example, one dollar’s worth of pine needle mulch will usually cover about 12.5 square feet of garden space. One dollar’s worth of wood mulch, on the other hand, usually covers only 3.5 square feet. That makes storebought pine needle mulch about 3.5 times less expensive than wood mulch!
It’s perfect for DIYers.
If you have access to long-needled pines, you can harvest your own pine needle mulch on your own! Wood mulch is much more difficult to create and requires a wood chipper.
It suppresses weeds.
Have you ever noticed there are few to no weeds growing under pine trees?
Like other mulches, pine needle mulch will help prevent weeds and keep your garden looking its best.
It protects soil.
Pine needle mulch will also create a buffer around your garden soil and will help prevent soil erosion and compaction due to driving rains, wind, and other extreme weather.
Wood mulch is dense and often contains a high moisture content, which can make it quite heavy. Pine needle mulch, on the other hand, is drier and much lighter to move around. Although this may not seem like an important factor to consider, if you need to move wheelbarrows of mulch up a hill, working with light pine needles will be much easier on your back!
Unlike bagged wood mulch, pine needle mulch comes in bales. One bale of pine mulch weighs about 35 pounds and covers approximately 50 square feet of gardening space. One 2 cubic foot bag of wood mulch weighs 25 pounds and only covers 12 square feet of garden space!
It’s easier to apply and remove.
Pine needle mulch has the distinct advantage of being lightweight and easy to work with.
In addition to being lighter in weight, pine needle mulch bales are also easier to apply than wood mulch. Additionally, if you ever need to remove your pine mulch for any reason, it is much easier to rake up and compost than wood mulches.
It doesn’t slip.
When placed on sloping garden beds, wood mulch will often slip and spread out, especially after heavy rain. However, pine needle mulch is made from long needles that tend to interlock and hold each other in place. This makes pine needle mulch a better option for landscapes with steep grades and slopes.
It improves your soil.
Like other mulches, pine needle mulch will contribute valuable organic matter and nutrients to your garden soil as it naturally breaks down. This can improve your soil structure and boost plant growth too!
It doesn’t change soil pH.
There is a common misconception that pine needle mulch will change your soil pH and make garden beds too acidic. This is simply not the case.
While fresh pine needles are acidic, their pH neutralizes as they age. This makes pine needle mulch perfectly safe for most gardens.
Cons of pine needle mulch
Overcoming some of the “cons” of pine needle mulch is often a matter of management and application.
Although pine needle mulch has many benefits, some gardeners may encounter a few problems with this mulch variety. It’s important to consider these potential issues when deciding if pine needle mulch is the right ground covering for your garden.
Weeds may still penetrate.
Because pine needle mulch is looser than wood mulch, it contains more air pockets. These air pockets can allow more sunlight and water to penetrate the soil below and may leave space for weed seeds to germinate. To avoid this, add at least 3” of pine needle mulch to your garden beds, and be sure to pull out any weeds you see as soon as you can.
Wind may move it.
Pine needle mulch is lighter than wood mulch and may be more likely to be blown about by the wind. For this reason, avoid using pine needle mulch in very windy locations.
It is not appropriate for wildfire-prone locations.
Care should be taken with pine needle mulch if you live in an area prone to wild fires.
Pine needles can catch fire readily. If you live in a region that is prone to wildfires, it’s best to avoid using pine needle mulch.
It can be harder to find.
If you have long-needled pine trees in your backyard, you shouldn’t have any trouble gathering pine needle mulch. However, if you want to purchase this mulch type, you’ll usually have to check around, as not all landscape centers carry it.
It can trap autumn leaves.
In autumn, dried leaves can get caught in pine needle mulch and be difficult to remove with a rake.
Pine needle mulch vs. wood mulch
Weight, ease of use, cost, and sustainability are some of the things pine needle mulch has over wood mulch.
If you’re still on the fence about whether to use pine needle mulch or wood mulch, here’s how these two mulches stack up against each other.
Pine needle mulch is usually significantly less expensive than wood and bark mulches.
Pine needle mulch is more eco-friendly than wood mulches, as trees don’t need to be cut down when harvesting this mulch.
Pine needle mulch lasts longer than most wood mulches.
Wood mulch’s density makes it better at weed suppression than pine needle mulch.
Pine needle mulches provide better insulation to soils and reduce moisture evaporation too.
Pine needle mulch is lighter and easier to apply than wood mulch.
Pine needle mulch is a gardener’s friend–especially if you have a ready free source.
Pine needle mulch is an often overlooked mulch variety, but this attractive and durable mulch has lots to offer the backyard gardener. Sustainable and easy to apply, pine needle mulches are usually much cheaper than wood mulches, and they last longer too.
If you have long-needled pine trees in your backyard, the decision to use pine needle mulch is an easy one. But even if you need to purchase bales of needle mulch, this mulch is definitely worth it! So keep a look out for pine needle mulch this season and freshen up your garden beds with pretty mounds of golden-brown pine needles.
For more information about the best mulches to try in your garden, check out our full guide on organic mulches here. Click here for more ways to use pine needles in the garden.
How to use needles in the garden
When it comes to pine needles and how and where to use them in gardening, there are often many more questions than reliable answers. And it’s easy to see why. There are many misconceptions and misinformation when it comes to the use of needles in the garden, and this, of course, leads to confusion in understanding how valuable they are for the gardener and where they can be safely and effectively used.
Dacha / Garden plot
Ideas for giving
Fertilizers, top dressing
Can pine needles be used to mulch the garden and flower beds? Should I put them in the compost heap? Is it safe to use pine needles around my vegetable crops? How about using needles to protect perennials for the winter?
Contents of the article
The simple truth is that pine needles can be wonderfully used for a variety of horticultural purposes. Both in the garden and in the flower beds.
But the key to success is knowing when, where and how to use pine needles – and more importantly, where NOT to use!
Pine trees regularly shed their needles, making them a completely renewable source of mulch for home gardening. Moreover, they can be found in almost all climatic regions, which makes them quite accessible to everyone.
We hope that today’s article will shed light on this topic and dispel some myths about the benefits or harms of needles for soil and plants.
With that in mind, let’s start by looking at one of the biggest baffling questions when it comes to pine needles – their acidity!
Are pine needles acidic
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To be honest, pine needles have gotten a bit of a bad rap when it comes to being overly acidic.
Many gardeners mistakenly believe that needles can be used for plants that love acidic soil, but as you will see below, this is not always the case.
When the needles on a tree are green, they are acidic in nature.
In fact, most green pine needles have a PH value of 3.0 to 3.5. But as the needles age and decay, much of this acidity is lost.
By the time the needles die and fall to the ground, although they are still slightly acidic, their PH is much closer to neutral.
And after the needles age even more and turn brown, they become neutral.
When the needles are green and on the tree, their acidity is at its highest. As they age, they increasingly approach the neutral PH level.
When needles are completely decomposed, either naturally or through composting (more on needle composting later), they are completely pH neutral.
Therefore, coniferous needles can be used safely next to almost any vegetable and flower plants.
Debunking the myth: how to use pine needles in gardens and flowerbeds
Once pine needles decompose in the soil, they simply do not cause an increase in the acidity of the soil in the garden.
Unfortunately, the myth that needles cause soil acidification leads to a lot of confusion about where you can and where you can not use it.
Now that we’ve touched on the topic of acidity, let’s take a closer look at how and where to best use needles in their various states of decomposition.
And while pine needles are not acidic, we’ll also look at why and where they shouldn’t be used in some situations.
Pine needles as mulch for flower beds, trees and shrubs
Pine needles’ sheer volume and availability make them an excellent material to use as mulch.
One thing is for sure: needles can be found in abundance in a wide variety of climates.
Varieties of pines can be found growing in areas with severe winter cold and more temperate climates.
Add to this the fact that needles, like leaves, fall from trees every year, and it’s easy to see that they can be a great source of natural, readily available and inexpensive mulch.
Fallen and aged needles have practically no acidity. It can be used as mulch without fear for any plant, bush, shrub or tree.
But where do needles work best as mulch?
Brown (aged) needles are excellent for mulching any flower beds and fruit bushes and trees.
Again, remember that pine needles are near neutral PH and will not affect plants or soil when it comes to acidity.
A 10 cm layer of fallen needles can do wonders to keep weed seeds out of the soil and keep flower beds looking fresh.
Needles also break down very slowly, saving on re-mulching. This is especially true for perennial flower beds, which are not processed so often.
Some perennials and shrubs (azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries and even strawberries) prefer slightly acidic soil, so they can be mulched with fresher needles.
Green needles will provide the most acidity for the plants, but even freshly fallen needles will give a small dose of acid to the plants because they still contain acid.
The use of pine needles in the vegetable garden
The question of whether or not to use pine needles in the garden often confuses summer residents.
The good news is that brown needles can be used anywhere in the garden without fear of acidity. But they are better used as mulch for paths, and not around vegetable plants.
A thick layer of needles is a great way to mulch row spacing. Coniferous mulch helps to prevent weeds from appearing and allows you to freely walk along the rows without fear.
Unfortunately, pine mulch isn’t as good directly around plants, but interestingly, it’s not related to acidity, as is often thought.
Straw, grass clippings or compost are the best choice around vegetable plants. Not only do they insulate the soil better than pine needles, but they also decompose faster, improving and renewing the soil for each subsequent crop.
Pine needles thin and narrow. Because of this, they poorly insulate the soil and retain moisture poorly. In addition, they often stick together over time and can prevent water and nutrients from reaching the roots if they are too thick.
In addition, since pine needles take a long time to decompose, they do not add much organic material to the soil very quickly.
Straw, grass clippings and compost are much better at adding nutrients to the soil. What’s more, they also insulate and retain moisture better.
Pine needles as bedding for climbing plants
Pine needles have other uses in the garden besides mulching beds, which can be very useful.
Pine needles are excellent for spreading around the edges of overgrown, climbing crops.
This can easily help keep the fruit off the bare ground and avoid the danger of rot – the needles dry faster than straw or grass cuttings and are still breathable.
Cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, zucchini and squash are all great for this! Just lay a few centimeters of needles on the ground and let the vines grow from above.
Pine needle composting
Finally, there is the topic of pine needle composting. Or, more to the point, should you use them in your home compost heap?
The short answer is that it’s better not to use them in your home compost heap. Again, this is not related to acidity issues. After complete composting, pine needles are not at all acidic.
The reason why needles should not be used in compost is that they decompose very slowly.
Pine needles have a waxy outer coating that breaks down slowly. Therefore, it may take much longer to create fresh compost. Even if you crush them.
Why strawberries need pine needles
- 1. One needle, two needles – strawberries will grow
- 2. How to mulch garden strawberries correctly
Many gardeners, whose plots are located not far from forests with conifers, often use pine litter to mulch berry crops. They love this “seasoning” garden strawberries and strawberries, a variety of flower and ornamental plants.
Coniferous needles added to the soil significantly increase its acidity, so they must be used carefully – not all horticultural crops will be “happy” with such a change in nutrient soil.
One needle, two needles – strawberries will grow
Garden strawberries are responsive to mulching with pine litter (it is better to use in the garden than spruce and larch). An even layer of needles protects the berries during the ripening period from decay, damage by slugs. The berries do not touch the ground, and moisture does not fall on them, thereby preventing strawberries from rotting.
Mulch is used to keep moisture in the upper layers of the soil from evaporating quickly. If fertilizers are added to the water during irrigation, pine needles will not allow them to wash out or erode from the soil. The litter inhibits the growth of weeds. Weeds do not take nutrients from the soil, which allows you to increase the yield of berries from each bush.
Soft coniferous “blanket” in winter will protect the roots of berry bushes from frost. Such a feather bed makes them invulnerable even in harsh and snowless winters. In addition, beneficial microorganisms develop more actively in the soil: organic elements favorably affect their vital activity, but it will not be so easy for pests to get to strawberry roots protected by mulch.
Pine needles contain phytoncides that kill fungus and pathogenic microorganisms. Mulch will protect from pine litter and from gray rot. And if your garden is attacked by slugs and snails, the best way to get rid of them is to use pine needles and small twigs.
Coniferous needles in combination with sand and compost (in equal proportions) give an increase in the yield of berry bushes, contribute to the formation of large berries and improve their taste.
How to mulch garden strawberries correctly
It is recommended to mulch berry bushes in the garden twice a year: in spring, before the start of the active growth season, and in autumn, preparing strawberries for wintering. Berries are covered in the second half of October.
Often, pine needles, tree bark, small twigs and cones are mixed with straw and fallen leaves, and strawberries are covered with such an organic “plaid”. It will quickly rot, which has a beneficial effect on the soil – it becomes loose and absorbs nutrients faster.
In spring, garden strawberries are mulched as soon as flower stalks form on the plant. Needles with a layer of 3-5 centimeters under the bushes and between the rows will protect the resulting fruits from contact with the soil, preventing the berries from rotting. They are harvested after harvest. You can use not only needles, but also small pine cones, which are simply scattered around the bushes.
In autumn, preparing the garden for winter, mulching with coniferous litter is used to cover bushes and protect them from frost. Before shelter, the soil must be loosened, weeds removed. Dry soil is watered, then mulch is laid in a 3-centimeter layer.