Pine Straw Mulch: Pros and Cons Comparison
Last updated: 06/21/21
If you’re new to gardening, then you may be wondering what mulch is and whether you should use it. Pine straw is a popular product used as a mulch — especially in vegetable and herb gardens. Some people use it for its aesthetics, while others use it because they want to keep their vegetables from having dirt on the surface of the soil.
This will help improve your soil structure for your vegetable garden or flower bed, keep your plants roots warm, and prevent compaction.
So, without further ado, here’s my list of pine straw mulch pros and cons.
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What Is Pine Straw Mulch?
Pine straw mulch is a natural product that can be used to enhance a variety of outdoor landscapes. Most commonly, though, it’s used to create a ground cover and winter insulation for all sorts of plant gardens, as well as to provide a weed barrier.
Pine straw mulch is ideal for plants that thrive in acidic conditions and for use with plants that do well with a lot of moisture since this mulch is known for its water retention. Because of its acidic properties, it might not always be the best option for vegetable gardens but is a great option for many fruit gardens including those containing blueberries.
As the name suggests, pine straw mulch is a mulch that is made of pine needles. The needles used to make the mulch can be found outside beneath pine trees or be purchased in bales if pine trees are not readily available in your area.
Pine Straw Mulch Pros | 6 Benefits of Mulch For Your Garden
1. | Natural and Sustainable Organic Material
Coming from the shedding of various pine tree species, pine mulch is completely natural and sustainable. It’s made using the needles, also known as “straw”, that have already fallen off the tree and never from those still attached.
This means that every year there is a new source of straw to be harvested from the forest floor and used in gardens. It also means that it is a renewable resource — as long as there are healthy pine trees, there is beneficial straw mulch for human use.
2. | Low Maintenance Look
One major problem with most types of mulch is that they are quick to wash away during rainstorms. When watering gardens with bark mulches or wood chips, you’ll probably also notice that your landscape mulch is washing away and creating a mess on your sidewalk or lawn.
Using pine mulch, the surrounding areas stay cleaner as it stays put when you water your garden. Pine mulch can even stand up to rain.
Adding to its low-maintenance appeal, this kind of mulch breaks down slowly, which means that there’s hardly ever a need to reapply the product.
3. | Quality Source of Fertilizer
Since it is an organic mulch made of plant-based fibers, pine straw mulch proves to be an excellent option for anyone looking for natural plant fertilizers. As it breaks down, it soaks into the soil and turns into a source of nutrients for the plants rooted in the area.
In addition, it can be mixed with soil using a garden fork. This works the organic matter into the soil, which aids in aeration and helps ensure that plant roots receive adequate oxygen.
4. | Winter Insulation for Fragile Plants
When a layer of mulch of this variety is used in climates that see cold, frosty winters with freezing temperatures, it can serve as a handy source of insulation.
The pine needles interlock when they’re laid down, which helps them to form an air-tight layer of insulating material.
Once pine mulch has been laid down, the plant roots below it will benefit from added warmth and winter protection. During the earliest part of spring, the heat that these few inches of mulch can provide can also benefit the plants by helping them to grow faster.
Then, later on in the season, it can protect fragile roots from sun exposure.
5. | Lightweight & Easy Material To Work With
A convenient benefit of using this organic material is that it’s just as light as grass clippings but boasts more visual appeal. Even when it has been purchased in large bales, it is noticeably lighter than a bag of wood mulch of a much smaller size.
If you gather the pine needles from your backyard, this is a pro that you’ll surely notice as you bag it up and attempt to transport it across the yard to your garden beds.
6. | Ideal for Use on Sloping Ground
Since the needles of this mulch interlock, they provide a level of stability that comes unmatched by other types of mulches. After being placed, pine mulch is unlikely to move as it forms a tight-knit blanket. This makes it ideal for use on slopes and in hard-to-landscape areas.
As you can see, I didn’t include the ever-popular potential benefit of inhibiting weed growth on this list of pine mulch pros. This is because it’s up in the air — some say that it can provide a layer of weed protection, while others think it’s a waste of time.
Pine Straw Mulch Cons
There are a few cons of pine needle mulch that you should be aware of.
Not Ideal for Windy Climates
While pine bark mulch is ideal for rain, it’s not necessarily the best for wind. In fact, it’s in this vein that its lightweight pro becomes a con. The material is so lightweight that a large gust of wind can blow it away, rendering all your hard work completely useless and leaving your plants unprotected from the elements.
Potential Fire Hazard
As great as mulch layering is, it can become a fire hazard when you’re using pine straw mulch. The mulch is likely very dry especially in the extreme heat since it’s made of dead and decaying pine needles.
This isn’t usually an issue but for those that live in climates prone to summer fires and aggressive thunderstorms complete with lighting, the risk of fire in relation to this mulch goes up.
Unfortunately, once the much has caught fire, it tends to go up in flames rather quickly. If this is a concern for you, I’d recommend frequently watering your pine needle mulch landscape bed to maintain soil moisture and help prevent fires from starting so easily.
Too small will limit the amount of compostable material you will generate.
On the other hand, a too big bin may hinder the decomposition of the materials as it may lower the heat required to decompose the whole pile.
Creates Acidic Soil
Pine mulch is great for certain types of flowers and fruits, but often makes the soil too acidic for vegetables. If you’re an exclusive vegetable gardener, this type of mulch not be the best fit for you.
Which Plants Benefit From Pine Straw Mulch?
Despite the fact that most plants do better with alkaline soil, there is a small number that thrives in mildly acidic conditions. Keep in mind that when I say mildly acidic I mean a p.H reading of 5.5 to 6.5, anything lower or higher will not promote healthy development in these plants.
There are very few vegetables that can live in acidic soil. One of the advantages of using pine straw vs mulch made of wood is that is can help plants that prefer a more acid soil.
A few of the most notable vegetables that can benefit from straw mulch landscaping includ:
- Winter squash
- Bell peppers
If you enjoy flower gardening, you’re going to have an easier time filling your pine mulched garden bed.
It is so easy to throw some pine mulch around flowers to help improve its aesthetic appeal. You have a large variety of flowers to choose from including
Some trees even do well, with examples being spruce, fir, dogwood, and pine.
Fruits tend to be the most popular option for the acidic soil conditions caused by pine mulch.
You can plant a variety of tasty fruits including:
Now that you know a little more about my new favorite organic product, it’s likely safe to assume that you’ve made up your mind about it. But to refresh your memory before you make your final decision, let’s recap.
Pine straw mulch insulates during temperature fluctuations & late frosts, stands up against rain and sloping ground, is lightweight and low maintenance, can act as a great fertilizer, and is 100% natural and sustainable.
Is it better to use pine straw or mulch?
Nothing is ever harvested from the tree. Only the needles which drop from it are used to create this item. A pine needle lacks the surface area necessary to be effective at blocking out light.
Does pine straw mulch attract snakes?
The short answer is possibly a Yes. The pine needle mulch tends to attract pests. Insects such as centipedes, earwigs, termites, and cockroaches love to settle in this type of mulch as an ideal environment. The snakes are attracted to the these types of insects for food.
It’s a good idea to keep this mulch away from the side of your house and less than 3 inches deep.
Why you shouldn’t use pine straw?
Despite the many benefits of pine needle straw mulch to think about, the primary disadvantage it offers is a lack of nutrient value. By its very design, pine straw is a poor solution as a weed barrier.
What is the aesthetic appeal of pine needle straw mulch?
The color quality is somewhat red and brown, muted in tone, making it a useful addition to a variety of landscapes. The idea of free mulch is certainly an appealing one and depending on your situation this may be the deciding factor for you.
Do you have to harvest the straw?
You can’t just go into a local pine forest to scoop up the pine needles either, as local laws may prevent such a harvest.