Lasting Landscapes by Carol

A Carpet of Pine

January reminds us to focus on the new while letting go of the old. It’s the time when we say goodbye to holiday decorations and prepare for new beginnings. I don’t’ know about you, but I dread the task of putting away holiday decorations. I think this might be a family trait. My dad often said that one of his least favorite days of the year was the day he came home from school to see that his mother, my grandmother, had taken down the Christmas tree.

I particularly dislike removing the Christmas tree. No matter how diligently I have watered it, the tree responds with a carpet of needles. Needles that perfume (and sometimes clog) my vacuum cleaner. While I am frustrated by a blanket of needles on the family room floor, I welcome a blanket of pine needles in the garden.

Recently I learned about pine straw mulch, which is created by harvesting Pinus palustris (longleaf pine) needles. Longleaf pine is native to the Southeastern United States.  Workers hand-rake needles into lightweight and easy to handle bales. Not only does the demand for pine straw create jobs to do the raking and baling, but this process is done without gas-guzzling machinery, which means a lower carbon footprint. Approximately three bales of pine straw equal one cubic yard of mulch and because it weighs less, landscapers can easily spread the material by hand, without a wheelbarrow or pitchfork. Like other mulch types, pine straw helps to insulate plant roots and preserve moisture.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Pinus palustris as a young plant

Through discussions with Mid-Atlantic Pine Straw Mulch, I learned that pine straw mulch has some additional benefits over traditional mulch:

  • Pine straw mulch doesn’t require trees to be destroyed. The natural shedding of needles creates the material.
  • The needles last for a longer period of time due to a high resin content and won’t decompose as quickly as traditional, wood-based mulch.
  • Pine straw doesn’t attract termites or support the growth of mold and fungus.
  • Because the needles are 8 to 18 inches long, they interlock naturally which makes pine straw a great mulch choice for a bank or steep slope.
  • Pine straw is free of weed seeds unlike partially decomposed wood mulch which provides a perfect environment for weeds to germinate.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A Pinus palustris forest ready for needle collection


Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Pine straw bales are smaller in size than bales of straw


Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Bales of pine straw ready for installation


Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Workers easily manage pine straw bales because they are lightweight


Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Natural pine straw mulch looks great as it insulates and protect planting beds


The next time you are thinking about mulching your garden, consider using pine straw. At just 13 or 14 pounds per bale, you’ll achieve an environmentally friendly, natural look with less effort. Both your landscape and your back will thank you.