Why Pine Needles Make Great Mulch (& How To Make Your Own!)
Mulch doesn’t only make your landscape look uniform and neat, but it also comes with some added benefits. It keeps moisture in the soil, adds nutrients, prevents weeds, and helps with temperature control.
You can easily create an attractive organic mulch using pine needles! This amazing natural mulch can withstand severe weather while keeping your garden moist and limiting weeds. Rake up fallen pine needles, go over them with your lawnmower, and spread the mulch 3-4 inches thick around your plants.
If you’re wondering what to do with all those pine needles falling off the trees in your yard or looking for an organic and affordable mulch option for your plants and trees, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about this magical mulch!
The Many Benefits Of Using Pine Needles As Mulch
We know the importance of picking only the best material for your garden.
So besides giving you something to do with all those pine needles hanging out under your pine trees, here are just a few of the many benefits that come with turning your pine needles into mulch.
1. Pine Needles Recycle Local Nutrients When Used As Mulch
There are two types of mulches you can use in your garden; organic or inorganic mulch.
Mulch that is made from plant material is considered organic. Organic mulches eventually break down and add nutrients to your soil, allowing the nutrients to be absorbed by your plant roots again.
This recycling of nutrients is essential when growing plants, and this is especially beneficial for veggies and fruits you plan to harvest.
Pine needle mulch will help you create a balanced home for your trees and plants, ensuring a stable growing environment, a bountiful harvest, and healthy plants for a long time.
2. It’s Very Cost Effective
We all want what’s best for our plants and our wallets! The good news is that pine needle mulch is relatively cost-effective to purchase and maintain.
If you have pine trees on your property, then your pine needle mulch will be completely free, but if not, it can be pretty cheap to obtain, depending on where you live.
Pine needle mulch will also help you save money on watering as it absorbs less water than other mulches.
It also takes much longer to decompose than different mulches, meaning you will have to replenish it far less than others. This will help you save money if you buy your mulch and time if you make your mulch.
Is Pine Needle Mulch The Best?
Researchers from the Indian Department of Soil Science compared a series of different organic and non-organic mulches and their effects on strawberry growth.
They compared pine needle mulch to a series of mulches, including grass, transparent and black polyethylene (plastic) and Eupatoriom. For the case of pine needles, they found quite a few interesting things.
First up, the researchers found that ALL mulched treatments increased minimum soil temperature. The polyethylene mulches performed better in that regarded while pine needle and grass mulch ended up lowering the maximum soil temp (which is good or bad depending on the scenario.)
Furthermore, all mulches were effective at retaining moisture with the polyethylene mulches retaining the most water and nutrients (of course they would, plastic doesn’t absorb water and traps airflow.)
Now for the good stuff, behind black polyethylene mulch, pine needles produced the second most root growth out of the rest of the mulch types, over transparent polyethylene and grass.
Another study from the Journal of Environmental Horticulture found that organic mulches (various barks, chips and needles) vs. polyethylene mulches led to a 50% decrease it total weed control, where plastic mulches led to total weed control.
I encourage you to do some more research on the fact, but the main takeaway here is that plastic is the best mulch, and pine needles / bark are probably more than good enough for your home use and will help decrease weed growth while increasing water retention, root growth, and yield.
Personally, I try to limit a lot of the plastic I use. So I would much rather use an organic mulch vs. inorganic unless I was running a farm where my yield = my income.
Here’s a quick chart summing up the difference between pine mulch and other mulches.
Most Common Mulches Compared
|MULCH TYPE||HOW ITS PRODUCED||ORGANIC/INORGANIC||COMPLICATION||BENEFIT|
|Pine Straw/Needles||Fallen from pine trees||Organic||Doesn't retain heat as well as inorganic mulch||Retains water and is not easily moved in high winds|
|Plastic Mulches||Manufactured||Inorganic||Potential for too much heat and moisture||Best for moisutre and heat retention vs. any other mulch|
|Wood Chip Mulch||Shredded from inner wood||Organic||Can lead to fungus growth over time due to water retention||Excellent at moisture absorption and insolation|
|Wood Bark||Shredded from wood bark||Organic||More durable than wood chips||Insulates soil while retaining water|
|Grass Clippings||From your lawn!||Organic||Can decompose quickly / not as attractive||Easy to source and spreads local nutrients|
|Leaves||Shredded from fallen leaves||Organic||Only available in the Fall||Converts local nutreints back into the soil|
|Shredded Rubber||Manufactured||Inorganic||Rubber can decompose into soil||Doesn't absorb water and increases soil temperature|
|Stone||Naturally souced from Earth||Organic||Compresses soil over time and isn't as aesthetically pleasing||Prevents eroision and doesn't need to be replaced|
Incase you’re wondering, you can learn more about the difference between pine straw and pine needles here.
3. Pine Needle Mulch Will Keep Weeds Away
Since they are always competing with our plants for nutrients, water, and light, weed management is a top priority for most gardeners. That said, mulch is a great option to help combat this issue.
Pine needle mulch makes it more challenging for weeds to germinate than other natural mulches because the seeds will often drop below the mulch.
The mulch also keeps the weeds from sun access, preventing them from growing successfully. When controlling weeds with pine mulch, a three to four-inch layer will do the trick!
Because it is much more lightweight than other mulches, it is essential to manage the layer of pine needle mulch to keep weeds out.
A few key points:
- Always ensure you have about a three-inch layer of pine needle mulch at all times.
- Pull weeds right away.
- Use a weed spray to help manage your beds.
4. It’s Tidier Than Other Mulches
You may notice that pine needle mulch is commonly used on hillsides and other kinds of slopes. It does an excellent job of staying in place, and there’s a reason for this!
Unlike other types of mulch, pine needles interlace each other making it less likely to move and shift around. Mulches like shredded wood, tree bark, grass clippings, etc., will float around, especially in areas with temperamental weather.
If you’re tired of picking up debris and raking your mulch back into place, pine needle mulch might be just what you need.
How To Make Pine Needle Mulch
Now that we’ve run through the benefits of pine needle mulch, I’m sure you’re curious about just how easy it is to make your own mulch. Spoiler alert, it’s very easy! Let’s take a look.
How To Source Your Pine Needles
Having an abundance of pine trees on your property can sometimes come with some frustration. Yet beautiful, these trees can get pretty messy.
According to Utah State University Forestry Extension, new needles are produced every spring and summer and can last between two to four years. As your pine tree grows, you’ll see the newer needles in the front of the branches while the older needles sit further back.
As time goes on, these needles become more shaded and less beneficial to the tree. So, then they fall off. The tree is constantly producing new needles and losing old needles. And as you know, all those old needles end up scattered all over your yard.
As you’re sprucing up your yard, use those old pine needles as new mulch! Then, sit back and relax in your tidy yard, knowing you are reusing material and your plants are in good hands.
As you prune your pine trees, collect the pine needles from the limbs you cut off. You can also harvest pine needles from dead or dying branches before they even hit the ground.
Bonus tip: If you don’t have pine trees in your yard, try taking a walk around the neighborhood and ask your neighbors if they would like you to take some pine needles off their hands. They will probably be happy you’ve offered. You get free mulch and make new friendships; it’s a win-win for everyone!
Be resourceful! Don’t be afraid to use needles from the branches you prune through regular pine maintenance.
Making Your Pine Needle Mulch
If you’re collecting pine needles in your backyard, you will want to thoroughly rake the pine needles into a pile. It’s important to note that your average leaf rake may not do the trick with pine needles. As I’m sure you know, having the right tools for the job will make you more productive.
When picking the right rake for pine needle collecting, you must keep two things in mind. First, choose a rake with tines with a smaller spread so the needles don’t easily fall through. Second, a rake with a broader rake head will allow you to collect more needles per rake pass.
Either the Amazing Rake Back Saving Garden Rake or VIVOSUN 2-Pack Adjustable Garden Camping Rake would be our top recommendations!
After successfully raking up all of your pine needles, you will want to break them down a bit. You can do this by going over your pile with a mower or running them through a shredder.
If you don’t have access to either of these tools, you can leave your pile to let it naturally break down before spreading your layer of mulch around your plants and trees.
Applying Your Mulch To Plants And Trees
Now that you’ve gone through the hard work of preparing your pine needles for mulch, you must apply your mulch in a way that will help your plants thrive.
Here are a few guidelines for laying mulch, according to the University of New Hampshire:
- Lay mulch whenever you establish new plants. The mulch will allow the roots to develop by blocking competition with weeds.
- Keep the mulch two to three inches from the base of the plant. Not doing this can create an environment for disease and pests.
- Mulch trees and shrubs up to or just past the drip line of the plant canopy.
If you grow plants under your pine tree, you can simply let them fall right underneath if you’d like!
Yes – You Can Buy Pine Needle Mulch!
If you’re lucky enough to have a pine tree in your yard, you don’t have to worry about purchasing pine needle mulch. If not, don’t worry because pine needle mulch is relatively easy to come by. You can buy it locally at most plant nurseries, home improvement stores, or garden centers.
And if you love convenience, you can have pine tree mulch delivered right to your front door! This USA Pine Straw- Premium Pine Needle Mulch is highly rated and easy to use. This is an excellent option if you’re in an area where pine needle mulch is not locally sourced.
Pine Needle Mulch Best Practices
Your work is never really done when it comes to gardening and tree care. Maintenance is half the battle!
Once you’ve created or purchased and laid out your mulch, it’s time to make sure you’re taking care of it and replenishing it as needed.
Let’s review the best practices to keep your pine needle mulch lasting long.
Test Your Soil’s pH
Some gardeners like to avoid pine needle mulch because they fear that it makes your soil acidic or that it is only suitable for acidic plants. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.
Yes, with a pH level of 3.2 to 3.8, pine needles are acidic, but they don’t necessarily make your soil acidic,
According to Oregon State University, when pine needles are left to break down naturally, the decomposers in the soil will neutralize them.
It is only when you turn the freshly fallen pine needles into mulch right away that it could potentially change the pH of your soil, but even then, it won’t make that big of a difference.
If you ever feel worried about the pH of your soil, you can always keep some soil testing pH strips on hand to ease your mind of any worry.
These Plants Love Pine Needle Mulch
Pine needle mulch is excellent for all your acidic and nonacidic plants. You can use it in your flower beds, vegetable beds, or around your trees and shrubs. Here are a few plants that love pine needle mulch:
- Berries like strawberries and blueberries
When To Add More Mulch
One of the many benefits of pine needle mulch is that it is light, easy to move around, and easy to add. Also, it can last for quite a while!
If you’ve ever taken a hike or stroll through any piney forest, then you’ve probably felt the bouncy-like mat created by the pine needles. It’s nice and sturdy, and it’s not easily blown away.
It is a slow-to-decompose material, so you won’t need to refresh it as much as other mulches.
A good rule of thumb is to ensure that the mulch stays at a level of about three to four inches. Once it starts dropping below that, it may need a refresh.
To keep it healthy, give it a good raking to loosen up the mulch a bit in the springtime. Other than that, it doesn’t need much care!
That’s A Wrap!
As you can see, mulch is a terrific addition to any garden bed or tree, especially if it’s pine needle mulch. Now for quick recap.
Pine needles make excellent mulch because:
- It does a great job of recycling local nutrients.
- It’s cost-effective, especially if you have pine trees!
- It will keep those pesky weeds away.
- It’s nice and tidy due to its ability to stay in place more than other mulches.
- It lasts a long time.
- It won’t change your soil’s pH.
- It’s easily sourced.
We hope we’ve given you all the resources (as well as some relief because those pine trees love to drop a lot of needles!) to help you get started on your mulching journey. Enjoy!
Bhatt, L., Rana, R., Uniyal, S. P., & Singh, V. P. (2011). Effect of mulch materials on vegetative characters, yield and economics of summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) under rainfed mid-hill condition of Uttarakhand. Veg. Sci, 38(2), 165-168.
Chandra, S., Singh, R. D., Bhatnagar, V. K., & Bisht, J. K. (2002). Effect of mulch and irrigation on tuber size, canopy temperature, water use and yield of potato (Solonum tuberosum). Indian Journal of Agronomy, 47(3), 443-448.
Nwosisi, S., Nandwani, D., & Pokharel, B. (2017). Yield performance of organic sweetpotato varieties in various mulches. Horticulturae, 3(3), 48.
Skroch, W. A., Powell, M. A., Bilderback, T. E., & Henry, P. H. (1992). Mulches: durability, aesthetic value, weed control, and temperature. Journal of environmental horticulture, 10(1), 43-45.
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