Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Your First Garden: The Free Mulch You May Already Have on Your Property

Search

Your First Garden: The Free Mulch You May Already Have on Your Property

June 6, 2019

Between my house and my neighbor’s stands a tall pine tree. I don’t particularly love evergreens, but I don’t mind this one as it stands conveniently in front of my second-floor master bath and affords some privacy. (I bet my neighbor is also grateful for its existence).

My first spring in the house, I thought I’d be neighborly and rake up all the pine needles that had fallen in the corridor between our houses. I was in the middle of doing just that when my neighbor bolted out of his front door and, as politely as he could, asked me just what I thought I was doing.

Did I realize, he wanted to know, that fallen pine needles make great mulch and can suppress weed growth? Did I realize, he inquired, that they’re acidic, which is good for the soil pH and my hydrangeas growing nearby?

No, I most definitely did not. Chastened, I spread the pine needles back where they belonged. But was he right about pine needles? Are they really a free miracle mulch material for your garden? Kind of—and not quite. Read on.

Why should you leave pine needles where they fall?

Maine has no shortage of pine trees. The Soot House, pictured here, uses mulch made from the area’s fallen spruce trees. Photograph by Greta Rybus, from Curb Appeal: A Classic New England Color Palette on Spruce Head in Maine.
Above: Maine has no shortage of pine trees. The Soot House, pictured here, uses mulch made from the area’s fallen spruce trees. Photograph by Greta Rybus, from Curb Appeal: A Classic New England Color Palette on Spruce Head in Maine.

Pine needles, indeed, make for great mulch. They keep moisture locked in and soil temperature cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. And unlike other types of mulch, they won’t need to be replaced very often as they are slow to decompose.

Furthermore, pine needles, once settled, won’t wash away in heavy rains; they’re, in fact, often used on slopes to help with soil erosion.

What are the disadvantages of using pine needles as mulch?

Pine needles in a rose garden. Photograph by Malcolm Manners via Flickr.
Above: Pine needles in a rose garden. Photograph by Malcolm Manners via Flickr.

If you live in a region prone to wildfires, you should definitely rake up fallen pine needles, which are highly flammable. You should also reconsider if you live in an area that experiences high winds, as pine needles are lightweight and may blow away before they have a chance to settle into the ground.

Do they really make the soil more acidic?

Because Greyfield Farm is far from the mainland, the owners source as much as they can from local sources. They rake pine straw from the northern part of the island to use as mulch. Photograph by Emily Hall courtesy of Greyfield Inn, from Greyfield Gardens: A Chef&#8
Above: Because Greyfield Farm is far from the mainland, the owners source as much as they can from local sources. They rake pine straw from the northern part of the island to use as mulch. Photograph by Emily Hall courtesy of Greyfield Inn, from Greyfield Gardens: A Chef’s Dream on a Remote Georgia Island.

In a word, no. It was once thought that because pine needles themselves are acidic, they would, in turn, lower the soil pH once they’ve fallen, but that’s just not true. While fresh, green pine needles tend to be on the acidic side, once they are on the ground, they start to neutralize. So feel free to mulch with pine needles even around plants that don’t love acidic soil.

Can you buy pine needles as mulch?

Yes. When used as mulch, it’s called pine straw. It’s cheaper than bark mulch, and you can buy it in bales from certain gardening centers.

For more on mulch, see:

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

From our network