It's that time of year again when we fill our shrub beds with pine straw. We usually do this without thinking much about it; but, there are several very good reasons for throwing down pine straw and other types of mulch:
Keeps moisture in the soil, which reduces the need for watering
Controls the growth of weeds, which reduces the need to pull out those nasty invaders
Insulates the soil from temperature fluctuations, which protects roots and budding plants
Controls erosion, which protects your yard from washouts
Another nice feature about pine straw is that it is sustainable. Trees are not harvested to produce it. Pine needles on the ground below pine trees are simply gathered and baled.
To dispel some myths - pine straw does not attract termites and is not too acidic for plants. Although pine straw is slightly acidic, with a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5 (7.0 is neutral), this level is fine for most plants.
There are several different types of pine straw based on the tree from which the needles come. The three most popular types are longleaf pine, slash pine and loblolly pine. All of these are varieties of the Southern Yellow Pine species. Longleaf pine needles are about a foot long and have a thick waxy coating. Although longleaf pine needles last a long time and have a shiny finish that some people prefer, they tend to shrink. Slash pine needles are about nine inches long and maintain their shape. Loblolly pine needles are about six inches long and also keep their shape. If you are trying to decide which type to use, slash pine needles are a great place to start.
Pine straw should be applied annually to a depth of about 3 inches. It is typically applied in the spring. Some people apply it again in late fall; particularly, if it is used for decorative purposes.