16 Pine Needle Straw Mulch Pros and Cons

Pine needle straw mulch is a favorite landscaping product from the U.S. South. Homeowners there have used this product successfully for more than three decades, protecting gardens and beds even along highways and in industrial locations because of its many benefits. Now this product is taking the world by storm.

There is an aesthetic appeal to using pine needle straw mulch on your property. The color quality is somewhat red and brown, muted in tone, making it a useful addition to a variety of landscapes. It provides contrast, protects against weeds, and could give your property a unique look compared to everyone else who uses a wood mulch product.

Like any other mulch, pine needle straw mulch gives you the benefits of insulation and moisture retention. You’ll find that it offers several more advantages to think about as well.

There are also some disadvantages to review before purchasing your first bale, so here are the vital pine needle straw mulch pros and cons to review.

List of the Pros of Pine Needle Mulch

1. It offers a natural and sustainable method of mulching yards and gardens.
Pine needle straw mulch comes from the droppings of various pine tree species each year. Their needles, which are referred to as “straw,” are raked from the forest floor, then baled for use as other mulch products. Nothing is ever harvested from the tree. Only the needles which drop from it are used to create this item. That’s why this form of mulch is one of the most renewable and sustainable products available today. It’s part of the natural cycle of growth for pine trees each year.

2. Pine needle straw mulch improves the soil.
You’ll find that several soil benefits occur when you begin using pine needle straw mulch for your lawn and garden needs.

  • The mulch conserves soil moisture because it reduces daily evaporation.
  • It insulates the roots of your plants to prevent extreme changes in temperature.
  • There are erosion-protection benefits when using pine needle straw mulch.
  • It prevents soil compaction by reducing the impact of precipitation from the surface.

There are chemical-balancing benefits to consider with pine needle straw mulch and the soil too. Plants which love an acidic environment, such as roses or azaleas, love this option because it creates the exact environment they require.

3. It offers a low-maintenance option for care.
If you use pine needle straw mulch, then the product does not wash away or float out of beds as other options do. You’ll find that walkways and paths around your property stay cleaner with this product because it stays put when you water plants. The straw breaks down slowly too, which means you’re not required to keep reapplying the mulch, or topping it off, at the end of each season to maintain the look and benefits the product offers.

The pine needle straw mulch always remains loose, never forming a crust on top of the garden beds like you get from leaves, grass clippings, or other organic products. That means you’re not forced to refresh, mix, or fluff the product to maintain its benefits either.

4. Weed control improves when using pine needle straw mulch.
When you place a thick layer of pine needle straw mulch around your plants, you will discover that weeds struggle to survive. Wood mulch allows the seeds from weeds to germinate within the product, eventually creating the need to restore the garden through manual labor. The straw allows the weed seeds to fall through the product to a soil base that is acidic just enough to discourage growth.

You won’t have a complete lack of weeds, but if you think about what the forest floor looks like around a tree, there aren’t many unwanted plants there either.

5. It provides an attractive visual appeal to your lawn or garden.
The overall texture of pine needle straw mulch creates consistent looks when dispersing the product around your garden. It offers a natural look which complements most landscapes thanks to its neutral look. The product highlights the impact your plants and flowers make instead of demanding attention to itself.
There are fewer splash-related incidents when using this mulch too, which means less mud attaches itself to your plants when watering. That means your beds and garden continues to look clean and fresh because of pine needle straw mulch.

6. Freezing temperatures rarely reach plants with this mulch.
The interlocking nature of pine needle straw mulch creates a barrier against colder temperatures, especially if you place young plants in your garden in the early spring. If a late frost arrives, those tender new shoots stand a fighting chance with this product placed around them. The pine needles tend to interlock with each other, holding fast to create a blanket of warmth which maintains adequate heat at soil level. The added temperatures can also help some plants grow faster or stronger in the early season to give you better yields.

7. It offers a lower carbon footprint than other mulch products.
Wood mulches come from the sawing and chipping activities of trees and woody vines. Their carbon footprint is high because of the heavy equipment required to harvest the trees, then process them into usable products. If you choose pine needle straw mulch, then you’re choosing a product which comes from raking and shoveling instead, offering a much lower emissions profile. Even when baling the product, the needles are placed in wooden boxes which require minimal processing.

8. Pine needle straw mulch can be used with sloped locations.
The interlocking nature of the mulch gives it more stability when compared to other products of its type. It stays in place because the straw lodges in the soil, building upon itself to create a stable layer of protection. Properties with sloping gardens or yards receive the benefits of mulch thanks to this design, along with the erosion protection benefits a hillside might require because of local precipitation patterns. The water still filters through the straw, but without the ferocity of impact or heavy flows.

9. You don’t need to remove this product when it reaches its end of life.
When you use other mulch products, the manufacturers often recommend complete removal of the layer you installed before replacing it. That allows the nutrients from the new mulch to reach the plants. With pine needle straw mulch, the different layers which interlock allow the moisture and nutrients to continue dripping through to the soil. You can revitalize the color of old straw without all the work of replacing it.

List of the Cons of Pine Needle Mulch

1. There is little direct nutrient value offered by this mulch.
Despite the many benefits of pine needle straw mulch to think about, the primary disadvantage it offers is a lack of nutrient value. When you place the straw in your lawn or garden, it will not replace or restore deficiencies which could be present on your property. The mulch does release some organic matter to the soil to improve texture through aeration, but it will not add minerals or plant nutrients to the matter for your plants to consume.

2. It is more expensive than most mulch types.
You’ll find that pine needle straw mulch costs about $10 for every $3 of regular wood mulch products if you purchase it through retail. Although you can cover more space with a full bale of this product, the capital costs for some consumers may be too high for them to meet. 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.

Try to shop for pine needle straw mulch during the end of season sales at local stores for best results. You can still lay the mulch down as autumn turns to winter for strong results the next season. That’s because you won’t have the color fading issues that happen with artificially-colored wood mulch.

3. Insects love the pine needles even more than you do.
You’ll discover that the pests around your property will migrate toward the pine needle straw mulch right away. The product offers them a natural environment where they can settle down, hiding from predators. Several insects can even winter through when they settle into the soil layer beneath the pine needles, creating potential issues for the landscape in the coming spring. Whenever there is a temperature change occurring, you’ll find trails of pests headed toward your new mulch.

Because of this issue, you should never place pine needle straw mulch right next to your home. That placement will encourage more pests to work their way inside, creating potential hazards which could eventually lead to costly repairs. You can also mix some cedar mulch in with the pine needle straw mulch to encourage a higher level of pest resistance.

4. It can sometimes hold too much moisture around your beds.
If you live in a high-moisture environment, then you may find the amount of precipitation the pine needle straw mulch holds creates new difficulties in landscape management for you. The plants like the higher temperatures and additional water, but so does mold, mildew, and rot. Those elements provide destructive issues that you must remove to maintain the health of your garden. The additional rot creates even more pest issues for you to handle too, especially when there are ants living on your property.

5. Shorter needles do not interlock as well as longer varieties.
When you start shopping for pine needle straw mulch, you’ll discover that there are three standard lengths available from most suppliers: 6-inch, 9-inch, and 12-inch straw. You’ll want to opt for the longer needles whenever possible. They are heavier with their added length, which gives them a better chance to interlock properly after placing the mulch in its preferred location. The shorter needles can sometimes blow out of place during a strong gust of wind because of their lightweight nature.

6. You may require more than two inches of depth.
Warmer communities require about 2-3 inches of mulch at most because of the temperature profile present in the community. As you move further north, you’ll discover that the amount of mulch required to achieve the benefits listed here grows exponentially. Someone in Alabama might only need two inches of mulch, but someone in Minnesota might need 4-6 inches of the product to achieve the results they want.

7. It may present a fire hazard when placed in some locations.
Because the pine needle straw mulch is made from a dead natural product, there is a fire hazard to consider with this product. It doesn’t ignite easily with its moisture-retaining properties, but it can be more hazardous than similar products. You’ll want to keep the straw away from any areas where flame contacts are possible, including fire pits, barbecues, or any areas where you might smoke.

These pine needle straw mulch pros and cons will help you maintain healthier plants while reducing maintenance needs throughout the year. If you manage pests wisely with this product and plan for its initial costs, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages when using it.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.