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Using Pine Needles in Your Garden


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December 15, 2009

Needles and LeavesEvery year in autumn, trees shower gardeners with an abundance of falling leaves and pine needles. To not take advantage of them in our gardens is to waste some valuable (and free) renewable resources. Here are some tips on how to use pine needles and leaves in your garden.

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Leaves, Pine Needles, and pH

Changing the pH level of the soil can inhibit a plant's ability to absorb some nutrients, but tests have shown that leaves and pine needles can only create a very small change in the soil's pH when used as mulch or for winter protection. Whether or not these small changes will affect your plants depends a lot on your local climate conditions (how fast the leaves and pine needles decompose) and the pH of your existing soil.

If you use nothing but large amounts of leaves and pine needles over a period of several years, adding lime every few years will help counteract any acid buildup. Always let a soil test be your guide to making any adjustments. Fully composted leaves and pine needles are considered neutral and will not add to the acidity of your soil.

Using Pine Needles

As a mulch. Because of their shape and rigidity, pine needles naturally lock together, which allows air and water to circulate while preventing the needles from packing down and forming a dense mat. This means your plants are far less likely to experience the rot and oxygen deprivation that sometimes occurs under thick layers of bark or leaves. The shape and rigidity of the needles also helps the mulch stay put during high winds and steady rains. Pine mulch can be used around vegetables and perennials of all kinds including roses and raspberries.

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As winter protection. Add 3 to 5 inches of pine needle mulch to your garden beds in the fall. This will provide protection against sudden and extreme dips in temperature and allow plant roots to remain active until the ground freezes.

As a slug barrier. Create a ring of pine needles around the base of your hostas to help prevent slug damage. Pests like slugs and snails are known to avoid crawling over prickly objects that could injure or irritate their soft bodies.

As a walking path. Use pine needles to create walking paths between the rows in your vegetable garden. After you walk them a few times the needles pack down nicely. Not only do pine needles make an attractive path, but it will also help to keep the weeds from growing in-between your rows.

Using Leaves

On your lawn. Run a mulching mower over them and let the leaves fall where they may. By chopping them up you'll be adding a thin layer of organic nutrients to your lawn, and you'll also save yourself some raking. If you don't have a mulching mower, simply raise the front wheels of your lawnmower by a notch or two and take several slow passes back and forth across your lawn. You can also put them in a tall plastic pail or garbage can and chop them up with your weed whacker.

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To make leaf mold. Leaf mold is sometimes called garden gold and making it is simple. Collect leaves and drop them into a holding cage made from poultry wire wrapped around stakes pounded into the ground. If the leaves are dry when you collect them, wet them down with a hose. Now leave them there to decay. Next fall you can use your one-year-old leaf mold as a mulch, or allow it to decay for another year and use it to condition your soil.

As winter protection. Newly fallen leaves can be used as winter protection around plants, but need to be removed in spring to avoid smothering plants. Shredded leaves will decompose faster, but may also still need to be raked out in the spring. To prevent leaves from blowing away, cover them with pine branches.

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February 5, 2021

Will pine needles break down in my compost bin to useable compost, or are they too tough?


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Gold Feedback Medal for All Time! 949 Feedbacks
February 5, 20211 found this helpful
Best Answer

Yes - you can - but there are some ways that work best.
There is a lot of information about this subject online as this question is very popular with many homeowners.

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I think one of the main reasons some people do not put it in a compost bin is that it is slow to decompose.
There are many suggestions shown such as running over the needles with your lawn mower to break them down into smaller pieces that will help the decomposing process. You also have to be sure you layer it with what is called 'green' hot materials to help the process.
If you are not familiar with keeping/using a compost bin it may be a good idea to read a few articles or ask your local Extension Service this question as they can tell you exactly how to do this for where you live and what type of pine needles you have.

helpmecompost.com/.../
www.growertoday.com/.../

ask.extension.org/ask

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Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 131 Feedbacks
February 15, 20210 found this helpful
Best Answer

There are hundreds of studies about pine needles decomposition for a simple reason : There are more than 110 species of pines worldwide, and pine is the major tree of the Northern Hemisphere.

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They produce litter all year round in big quantity, the decomposition of their needles is slow and not much influenced by climate, which means that many countries of the northern hemisphere are facing the same problem : large quantity of pine needles decomposing very slowly into a product of no interest as very poor in nutrients. It also means large surfaces of forests where very few other plants manage to grow because of the constant shadow created by pine trees, the dryness of the soil created by the thick mats of their needles on which rain waters only slide away. All this creating the ideal conditions for real disasters in case of fires.
To me the answer to your question is in fact : What for ? if you manage the decomposition of pine needles in your compost it will not give you a good rich soil to use to feed your plants. It will take a lot of your time because you will have to wait for the end of the 3 to 4 months period during which the decomposition of the needles acidifies the compost and makes it bearable only to plants that like acidic soil.
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On top of having to wait 4 months you will also have to take time to :
. put only little quantities of needles at a time and mix them well with others trees or vegetables leaves because the pine needles alone do not create the chemicals necessary to its decomposition,
. turn the compost regularly to aerate it for the needles not to stick together creating a mat that can nest and protect fungi which are not all harmless to plants. Watering the compost will not help nor speed up the decomposition of the needles as dry pine needles are nearly waterproof (that is one of the reasons why pines needles decomposition is not much influenced by climate)

Why all these worries for a compost that will not, in the end, be richer if not worse ?

I would use pine needles for what they are good for : in a thick layer round a plant to protect it against snails and slugs, in an alley to walk on them because it is nice to walk on them, and as mulch in a place where you do not want any plant to grow. In my opinion that is enough for gardening to stay a nice and fruitful leisure.

Hope this helps !

Catherine

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February 22, 2014

I tried to burn massive amounts of pine needles; what was left resembles charcoal. Can I use this in my garden?

By Pat M.


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Silver Feedback Medal for All Time! 472 Feedbacks
March 3, 20141 found this helpful
Best Answer

As long as you didn't use any lighter fluid or anything like it to start them burning, you can absolutely use it. Biochar is great for gardens.

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November 27, 2004

Please share your thoughts and "Do's and Don'ts" for composting pine needles. I have to circle the wagons and the troops and rake up all of them. I want to fill up the new 'wiz-bang' recycled plastics composter I purchased from the local landfill district office (It's about 42" high, and 4' across).



Thank you!
~Ooo~
Bill in SE Mass.

Answers

November 28, 20040 found this helpful

Hi Bill,

Just mix with other compostable materials in layers and you're good to go. Compost does best when there is an equal mix of greens (fresh plant trimmings, kitchen veggie trimmings and grass clippings) and browns (shredded newspaper, brown pine needles, fallen leaves, etc.). Take a look here.

www.mastercomposter.com/.../orgmat1.html
www.gardenguides.com/.../dynamic.htm
www.oldgrowth.org/.../
faq.gardenweb.com/.../2000042647001285.html

Oh, the pine needles would be a brown.

You are very fortunate to have 'troops'! :-)
Newt

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Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 104 Feedbacks
November 28, 20040 found this helpful

Pine needles can acidify the soil so are best around acid loving plants - or presumably on alkaline soils!

Regards

Jo

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By nowax (Guest Post)
December 29, 20040 found this helpful

As long as you truly "compost" the needles (that is, that you put them into a mix with several other compostable materials and let them break down into compost or dirt) the acidic ph of the pine needles will be neutralized.

You can use pine needles as mulch (that is, not composted) around acid loving plants: rhododendreons, evergreens, azealas, etc....

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By Becky (Guest Post)
October 2, 20070 found this helpful

Should you shread the pine needles before adding them to the compost pile to speed up the process, or does it make a difference?
Thanks!
Becky

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By (Guest Post)
November 5, 20080 found this helpful

How long does it take for pine needles to compost?

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October 23, 20170 found this helpful

Pine is slow to break down so chipping it before the pile can be useful. Shreading thing to be small before putting in the compost is true for everything in the compost pile. This helps make the process happen even faster. I have had temps around 300. which may be on the too hot side. you can bet that pile was steaming and no weed seed could live thru that. Pine does not raise ph levels enough to even talk about. If you really want to get that pile going a good ratio of green to brown is needed. also size matters. at least 4 feet tall.

I think the best use of pine is around plants for mulch because it breaks down slowly. you can use thus ti your advantage. be mindful they can be sharp they are called NEEDLES for a reason.

Keep making beauty and stay connected to the earth.

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