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When To Use or Avoid Pine Straw as Mulch In Your Garden

Pine straw close up.

When To Use or Avoid Pine Straw as Mulch In Your Garden

With its rich chestnut color and airy texture, pine straw mulch adds a striking natural touch to your landscape. 

But does pine mulch have more to offer than just good looks? In this article, we’ll examine what pine straw is and the pros and cons of using it. We’ll also take a look at where you can find this versatile and interesting mulch. 

What Is Pine Straw?

Pine straw consists of fallen pine needles. Have you ever walked underneath a pine tree and seen a blanket of reddish-brown needles? If you have, you’ve seen pine straw in its natural habitat.

Thanks to their shallow root systems, pine trees are vulnerable to damage during the cold winter months. Pine trees produce and shed needles on a seasonal cycle to form a protective covering for their roots.

So if you think about it, pine needles are literally nature’s mulch!

Pine straw producers use a satisfyingly simple process to make the end product. 

  1. Rake up fallen needles
  2. Remove any debris like branches or pinecones
  3. Bundle the needles into bales, rolls or boxes

Although some suppliers offer dyed pine mulch for more vibrant color, most pine mulch is totally unprocessed. 

The Pros of Pine Straw

Pine needles are pretty amazing in their own right, but why would you want to spread them in your yard? 

In fact, using pine straw as mulch has several advantages to offer. 


If you have a large area to mulch, purchasing hardwood mulch or using compost as mulch can quickly get expensive. 

RELATED: There are still a lot of benefits to hardwood mulch though, so don’t write it off just yet!

Pine straw typically costs less or about the same as a bag of standard mulch. But area coverage is where you really get more bang for your buck with pine straw vs mulch:

  • 1 bag of mulch = roughly 12 square feet at 2 inches deep
  • 1 bale of pine straw = 45 to 50 square feet at 3 inches deep
Pine straw bales ready to be spread on landscaped beds.

Unique Color and Texture

A lovely cross between red and brown, pine straw landscaping can add a pop of color to your flower beds. 

Especially in darker colors, standard mulch may appear dense or flat. On the other hand, pine mulch’s thin needles have a light, fluffy appearance. 

Easy to Apply

You’ll need a shovel, wheelbarrow, rake and a heavy dose of elbow grease to apply standard mulch. Also, you’ll likely need to set aside an entire morning or afternoon for your mulch-spreading task. 

On the other hand, pine needles are light enough to spread by handfuls. (Just make sure to wear protective gloves to avoid getting poked or scratched!)

Even if your mulching area is large, applying a layer of pine needles probably won’t take long. 

Excellent Drainage and Breathability

Pine mulch is a network of thin needles, so rain or hose water easily makes its way into the soil. 

These same spaces that allow water through also provide excellent airflow. This reduces your risk of root rot and mold growth. 

Environmentally Friendly

Pine straw recycles discarded needles and requires minimal processing, making it exceptionally sustainable and earth-friendly. 

Ideal for Plants that Prefer Acidic Soil

As it decomposes, pine needles release a minimal amount of acid into the surrounding soil. This acid-enriched soil is perfect for plants that prefer a lower pH

Here are just a few examples of plants that thrive in acidic soil. 

  • Azaleas
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Magnolia

The Cons Of Pine Straw

Pine mulch is a great choice in a number of settings. But there are also a couple of drawbacks to consider.

Can Be Messy

Since they’re a light material, pine needles are more susceptible to getting washed or blown away in a storm. 

You may also find that you have to rake stray needles back into place from time to time. 

One solution that can help keep things a bit tidier is to use long leaf pine straw. Longleaf pine needles tend to have a slightly rougher texture that helps them mat together, so they’re a little less likely to blow or wash away. 

May Make Soil Too Acidic for Some Plants

Pine mulch won’t acidify your soil to an extreme degree, but it may be enough to upset plants that prefer alkaline soil

If you grow these alkaline-soil plants, consider mulching them with a different material. 

  • Lilacs
  • Ornamental cherry trees
  • Hostas

Related: For more suggestions for mulch materials to use in your garden or landscape, visit our guide detailing different types of mulch!

Where To Buy Pine Straw

Given the large number of pine trees in North America, high-quality pine straw is readily available from several sources. 

1. Garden Supply Stores or Nurseries

Especially if you need a large amount of pine straw, a nursery or landscaping supply store may offer the best pricing.

You may also be able to get pine mulch delivered by the truckload.

2. Home Stores

You should be able to find pine straw in the garden departments of big-box stores.

If you have a small area to mulch, purchasing your pine mulch at a home store may be your most convenient option.

3. Online

Not too surprisingly, you can get your pine straw from online retailers. 

Amazon has a great selection, from relatively small containers to full-pallet quantities that cover massive square footage.

And pretty much every amount in between! 

4. Gather Your Own

If you have access to pine trees on your own or a friend’s property, you can easily collect your own pine straw for free. 

You’ll need just a few basic supplies. 

  • Work gloves
  • Rake 
  • Garbage bags or a tarp for transport

Frequently Asked Questions about DWC for Beginners

Both materials have their pros and cons, so it depends on your specific needs and style preferences. 

Standard woodchip mulch has a classic look and tends to stay in place better than feather-light pine straw. 

However, pine straw is a ready-renewable material that is easy to use and has a unique appearance. 

If you spread a thick layer (6 inches+) of pine straw, you may have an attractive home for snakes. 

Applying your pine straw in a thinner layer and reducing the insect and rodent population around your house can help reduce the chances of snakes taking up residence in you mulch. 

Pine straw is pretty unappetizing to most insects, so it shouldn’t bring any extra termites onto your property. 

Final Thoughts

Pine straw may not spring to mind when you’re first thinking about mulch. However, it can be a wonderful choice for a variety of needs and preferences. 

  • Cost-effective for large-scale mulching projects
  • Sustainable and eco-friendly
  • Easy to work with
  • Unique, attractive appearance

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. After all, if it’s good enough for nature, it’s worth considering for your garden or landscape.