Using pine needle as mulch is a simple and affordable option for many gardeners that brings plenty of benefits to your plants and soil.
If you have pine trees in your yard, you’re probably being driven a little mad by the needles the trees seem to be constantly shedding!
However, you’re actually much luckier than you think, because you’ve got easy access to a high quality organic pine needle mulch.
Here’s an ultimate guide on how to make and use pine needle as mulch.
Benefits of Pine Needle Mulch
Here are some great reasons to use pine needle as mulch on your flower beds.
- Affordability – Of course, if you have a pine tree or two, your pine needles are free. But even if you don’t have any in your garden, bales of pine needles are inexpensive to buy.
You can also look around your neighborhood to find yards with pine trees, as I’m sure your neighbors will be happy to donate theirs for free.
- Lightweight – The needles (sometimes called pine straw) are much more lightweight than other mulching options like bark, wood chips, cocoa hulls or fruit stones.
This makes it easy to distribute around your yard and for moisture to penetrate down to the plants, trapping it near the roots and preventing fast evaporation.
- Stabilizing - The needles create quite a thick thatch too, helping to prevent erosion and stabilize bedding structure.
It doesn’t form a crust or roll away, making it one of the best mulch options on the market.
This is especially useful for trenched flower or vegetable beds, or in location with heavy rain and snow.
- Slow decay – Pine needles break down very slowly – much slower than grass or bark and wood chips.
This means that they will easily last through the winter, slowly adding nutrients to the soil below while providing seasonal protection to the plants themselves. Pine mulch can last up to 2 years!
- Protection – Plants that are slightly more tender, including winter vegetables and seedlings, will need additional protection from the cold.
Pine needle as mulch is very effective at trapping warmth, keeping the soil just a few degrees above freezing in order to protect their roots and even extend the growing season.
- Limits weed growth – A thick layer of pine needles will effectively smother the growth of weeds in flower and vegetable garden beds.
Does Pine Needle Mulch Affect Soil Acidity?
One of the biggest discussions around whether or not to use pine needle mulch is whether or not it makes soil acidic.
It’s true that acid-loving plants like holly, azaleas, and rhododendrons love pine mulch, but research has shown that it doesn’t significantly change soil pH, so it shouldn’t affect alkaline or neutral pH plants.
In general, most plants and vegetables enjoy a slightly acid soil, so pine needle mulch should work well in almost any application.
Do Pine Needles Deter Termites?
Insects like mulch of all kinds, using it as a warm home during the cold seasons. Some insects are very beneficial to your garden, while others – like termites – are not.
Luckily, pine needles don’t attract termites because it isn’t a food source for them, unlike bark or wood chip mulch.
If you are concerned about termites using pine needles as mulch is highly recommended!
What is Better – Pine Needles or Mulch?
In many ways, pine needles are one of the best types of mulch. It is long lasting, stabilizes plant beds but allows water through into the ground, effectively smothers weed growth, and is very inexpensive – often free – so it’s budget-friendly too.
Pine needles also don’t add excessive minerals to the soil the way many hardwood bark mulches do.
How Do You Turn Pine Needles Into Mulch?
The best way to make pine needle mulch is to rake up pine needles or buy a bale from your local garden center.
You can apply them directly to the bed or even mix them into your compost or run them through your shredder to help them break down a bit more.
What is the Best Time of Year to Apply Pine Needle Mulch?
Apply mulch in the fall, as you start moving into the cooler months and after you have planted your vegetable garden with winter plants.
How to Apply Pine Mulch
Mulch pine needle can be used the same way you’d use any other type of garden mulch. Start by clearing your beds of weeds and unwanted plants.
It might be a good idea to apply some form of weed control if your space is overwhelmed with weeds, although the mulch itself will work to prevent their growth.
Apply your pine needles around plants to create a uniform layer that is 2-3 inches in regular soil or up to 5 inches in sandy soil.
Apply the mulch up to one foot beyond the edge of the bed if possible. You can use our handy guide to work out how much mulch you need.
Keep a barrier of about 3-6 inches clear around woody plants to prevent the mulch from smothering the base of the plant and causing decay.
For winter vegetables, mulch close to the plant’s base, keeping about a 1-inch barrier clear. For vegetables like onions and garlic, you can apply the mulch right over the planted bulbs, as they will grow right through it.
Where you have planted seeds, just apply a very light sprinkling of mulch, and then bulk it up as the seedlings become established plants.
Pine needle as mulch will settle quite quickly into a lightweight mat that is largely wind resistant, stable and easy to remove when it comes to planting seasons.
Each year, add another inch or so to keep a nice, thick layer of mulch on your beds.
Wrapping Up Using Pine Needle as Mulch
Pine needles are much more useful than many gardeners think, with pine needle mulch being one of the most cost-effective and beneficial ways of organically mulching your vegetable and flower beds.
It won’t affect soil pH very much, so it can be used on all types of plants, it is very stable and long lasting while offering good root access to moisture.
It won’t attract termites and it will keep your more tender plants warm and nourished through the colder months of the year. So, what are you waiting for?
It’s time to grab that rake and start making your very own pine needle mulch – just follow our guide for any information you’re looking for on how to use pine needle as mulch.