Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#50 - Pine Needles - Don't Throw Them Away!

Pine needles...years ago, at our first home, I saw them as a menace. Yard maintenance became more intense as I would try to scoop up and bag all of the fallen pine needles covering our manicured yard. After a while, I learned that the pine needles were high in acid and great for certain roses and azaleas. So, we would pile any pine needle excess into our garden beds and we did have the most spectacular blooms.

Not the time of year for blooms, but here is
my oldest, she's a beautiful bloom in her own right.
Then, we bought our acreage deep in the heart of The Piney Woods of East Texas. Actually, our land is in the midst of the Big Thicket which is exactly as it sounds. The land is indeed thick with growth and towering trees.

The first time we were able to actually hike around our land, we found trails that were deep in the forest. The trails were covered by trees that seemed to touch the sky and a thick canopy overhead would make a sunny day seem overcast as you made your way down the shadowed trail.

At our feet were layers of pine needles with other decomposing forest matter. Initially, I groaned and moaned over all the pine needles that were scattered for as far as we could see and I was overwhelmed because I didn't know how we would be expected to "maintain" this property that had such raw, untamed greenery. Back then, I had not yet understood that I could just LEAVE much of the raw land in its natural state. I didn't "need" to do anything. The beautiful natural state of our acreage knew how to maintain itself.

Back at our house, located in master-planned neighborhood, we had meticulously planned landscaping and everything was gorgeous, yet under control. On our land, as I walked through acre after acre while feeling small. My sense of having a little yard that I could rather easily tackle dissipated. My comfortable mindset toward traditional landscaping in the suburbs was under attack. The land seemed to rebelliously scream, "Just TRY to tame me!"

I realized that we often take control of our property and we landscape it as a reflection of who we are on the inside of the house. Some people take hundreds of acres of land and bulldoze it clean. But, I can't do that. Our land is timeless. I can't disturb that kind of majesty.

Back in the suburbs, I began to notice more intensely that some yards have plant after plant that are full of blooms, others have prickly plants, others have flowing plants that have no particular sense of direction, then we have other people who don't care about their yards and avoid them at all costs. I realized that my property in the country simply reflects the part of me that is in love with nature. Of course, I'll cultivate the area around our cabin after it is constructed and will probably have plenty of tropicals and blooming shrubs, but most of our land will be allowed to grow and be free to remain as a forest should be. Our farm animals will have plenty of shaded areas to retreat to. And, I'll be harvesting some of those pine needles for other parts of my landscaping.

My girls at one of our homes that had a few pine trees and
we did use the pine needles wisely.
Strolling through our land, we could see the beautiful, soft natural trail the needles and decomposing leaves had made. They were also useful in keeping any undergrowth from appearing, so the pine needles were acting as a barrier and ultra-mulch to keep out any weeds. The trails were inviting and would not need man-made interruption.

I am such a nature lover that I could cry tears of joy when I see such natural beauty, not produced by man, but created by all things of God.

As time passed, I began to think about pine needles in a different manner. The house we now live in is rather close to the bay as part of the Gulf of Mexico. This means...very, very few pine trees. It's weird, I've found that I miss them. I miss the fresh pine scent, their year long greenery and the free mulch that the needles provide. On the other hand, I like having a front yard that is free of pine needles and pine cones so that the little ones can run through the yard uninhibited.

In doing my research, I read some results from the Texas A&M University System studies in Forestry. Their research shows that pine straw has been gaining popularity as a ground cover mulch in landscaping because it does help to insulate the soil from temperature extremes. It also helps protect the soil against loss of moisture and the pine straw helps to prevent erosion by wind and rain. Additionally, pine straw can decrease soil compaction and it encourages healthy soil conditions.

Further important distinctions the university made for pine straw is that it is harvested as a by-product after it has been naturally dropped by host trees. Other kinds of mulch require that the tree be ground up whole. Pine straw mulch and pine needles intact do not require that the tree be disturbed. Beautiful.

An interesting tidbit of information about pine needles that this research shares is that pine needles tend to interlock while remaining loose. While other wood mulches will form a top crust, pine needles allow water to penetrate into the soil, yet runoff of irrigation water is prevented, so moisture is better retained beneath the pine needles. More beautifulness.

Pine straw does not float and wash out of landscaped bedding, which reduces maintenance. It breaks down slower than other mulches so it requires less time, money and effort when it is utilized instead of other mulch material. Can we say beauty-mulch?

Camping on our land this year. I love seeing the pine saplings popping
through the soil. They grow so fast and are a beautiful part of nature.
Since our land is covered with both hardwoods and pines, I want to be able to make full use of our natural resources. I even wondered if we could use the pine needles as bedding for our chickens, but I read somewhere that the needles might stick the chicken's foot and cause "Bumblefoot." Now, I'm not sure how accurate this information had been, but I don't want to take a chance until I know for sure whether or not it is a workable material for the chicken coop. If it is, for Deputy Dave and I, it would be FREE! I like free.

Hopefully, more garden centers will start carrying pine mulch as an option.

Our acreage has hundreds and hundreds of pine saplings. I've seriously considered bringing a few home to our house by the bay so that we can use them as strategic plantings so they can provide fast environmental shading. One thing that I love about pine trees is that you can plant a cluster together and they look absolutely majestic when they grow together. I am thinking about bringing some nice saplings to our house here in the outskirts of Houston and planting 6-8 of them on the West side of our house. The trees grow so rapidly and their evergreen status helps the Texas sun to loosen its angry hold upon our home. Any bit of environmental shading we can get, we will take. The trees are free  - they are growing in abundance on our land and I do believe a few of them will finally make their way to this house to serve a greater purpose.

And, if we discover that pine needles are workable in a chicken coop as bedding, I just might be raking up the needles from our transplanted trees here in the suburb to use in our backyard chicken coop.

I wish I could go out my front door and take a nice stroll through the forest, but I'm not in the forest yet...I am in my house that was built by a developer ten years ago after he clear-cut the land in preparation for constructing all of these homes. Trees? At this house, we have three. Three that were planted after the house was built. My husband planted the third, a Magnolia that will probably go with us when we move to our acreage. I'll put another hardwood in its place. But, on our land, I suppose we have approximately 1,000 trees of varying heights throughout the acreage.

So, if you have pine trees, think about using those pine needles in a different, useful way. I am going to learn more about pine needles and will keep sharing. If you have any thoughts or tips for pine needle usage, pass it along and I'll add it to the next post about using pine needles or pine trees.


LindaG said...

Lowes had sold pine straw for years. Not sure if it's needles, but I always presumed it was. I imagine Home Depot does too, and probably lots of small garden centers.
The only thing is, as you point out, it does tend to make the soil acidic. Forests and such work around it in their own way, but if you're growing other things, acid soil may not be good.
Still, some great pictures and interesting thoughts. :)

Lana at said...

Linda --- Lowes is my favorite home improvement store. I think they carry such a wide range of items that it does make our life so much easier! I guess I'm realizing the beauty of having my own pine straw mulch, harvested from our own land. Now, I just have to figure out which plants need low acid and which ones need high acid. I have a short list, but need to work on it...

CustomPineStraw said...

I love using pine straw as my organic mulch of choice! Besides being a weed retardant, erosion controller and much more there are many plants, fruits and vegetables that benefit from using pine straw (needles) as an organic mulch. As listed on Custom Pine Straw's website some plants that prosper when using pine straw are Azaleas, Camellias, Dahlias, Daisies, Dogwood Trees, Gardenias, Hydrangeas, Mountain Ash, Rhododendrons, Roses and more.

Some fruits and veggies that like pine straw are Blueberries, Cranberries, Garlic, Onions, Potatoes, Raspberries, Strawberries and Tomatoes.

Lana at said...

CustomPineStraw --- thank you so much for helping to make my short list of plants that like pine mulch/straw to be a much longer list. I had no idea about the veggies and berries that like it. I'll definitely be adding these to our veggie gardens also. I am going to try to find your site. VERY interesting!!!! Thank you for sharing.

Rae said...

I can remember, on a business trip to NC a few years ago, seeing pine needles used in all the landscaping and thinking it was brilliant. Unfortunately, we don't have the sort of trees at our place that drop that type of needle. I'm not even sure that that sort would grow well here. :(

We don't even bother keeping the yard beautifully groomed anymore. :) We just knock the weeds down when we need to. The geese mow the front lawn, and I mow the back. Lol. Gotta love the country!