Country Living Series

Friday, September 23, 2016

One man's trash is another man's treasure

Yesterday I noticed a neighbor's driveway was covered with pine needles. This is the time of year when pines drop old needles, so roadsides and forest floors get covered.

It suddenly came over me, in a head-clunk moment, that pine needle mulch might be what I was looking for.

You see, I've had spotty success over the years with mulching garden plants for the simple reason that I always used hay. It works splendidly through the winter, but come spring, the hay grows -- and suddenly the bed is overrun with weeds. So I stopped mulching.

But pine needle mulch? Duh! Needles won't grow.

So I called the elderly lady who lives at this address and asked if I could rake her driveway and tote away the needles. I received a heartfelt approval to take as many needles as I could possibly want.

So I loaded up the car with a hay sled, hay fork, and lawn rake, and off I went.

In just a few minutes, I'd raked about a quarter of the driveway.

This gave me piles that dwarfed the hay sled...

...and there was still three-quarters of the driveway left to do.

I raked up the rest...

...and made a big pile off the side of the driveway. I wasn't sure how much I'd need, so if nothing else the needles were out of the way.

Then it was home with my "treasure," another person's trash.

Pine needles, of course, are slightly acidic, which is just what blueberries like.

So all of our younger bushes got a nice layer of mulch.

From this first load, I had enough needles to mulch 2 1/2 beds, so I went back and got more needles, enough to mulch all four beds (the fourth bed is not in this picture). I think it looks very handsome.

I couldn't be more pleased with this new (to me) mulch. In doing some online research, it turns out pine-needle mulch can be used on "blueberries, cranberries, garlic, mint, onions, potatoes, raspberries, and strawberries." (More online info here, here and here.)

I've already planted the garlic, so I'll gather enough needles to mulch the garlic bed. The strawberries are too overgrown to mulch, but I may be able to mulch the raspberries next spring when I clear out last year's growth. I'm cleaning up beds and getting ready to plant potato onions (which are planted in the fall) so I'll mulch those as well.

Yippee! Treasure indeed! This dear lady will have the cleanest driveway in the state.


  1. When the leaves drop, I gather them up by the bag full and put them on my veggie garden. I'll have to scope out some pine needles for my berry plants, thanks for the idea.
    Nothing beats free! SJ in Vancouver BC Canada

  2. I bet you'll find usage for the whole driveway's worth!

  3. I have read about pine needles as mulch, and wanted to try it, but don't know where to get any where I live. It does look very nice. Terry in California

  4. Give the hay or straw to the chickens first. They will clean out the seeds and then give it their "blessings" for garden use.

  5. Let me say this very clear, Do Not Use On any Plants Unless They Are ACID PH 4.2 - 5.5 Loving Plants. Blueberries are probably the only plants you have in that PH range. Ever notice nothing much grows under pines? It's the acid not the mulch.... Very Bad Idea!

  6. Strawberries & raspberries like a PH of 5.5 to 6.2,
    Blueberries around 4.5 to 5. I run pine needles thru my chipper/shredder and the put them around the plants. Pine needles help with slugs n the strawberries. In the rows where spuds are going to be planted, pine needles are worked into the soil.
    My garden soil has a PH of about 7,because of leaves, grass clippings and cow manure I continually work in. Keep up the good work on your productive garden. Have a great weekend at you farm.


  7. Pine straw is fantastic under tomato plants! We have used it for years with limited weeding necessary.

  8. I've often heard that pine needles are too acidic to be used for much. They are high acid when they hit the ground but apparently their acidity leaches out quickly. Also, soils will naturally buffer acidity.

    A quick internet search yielded test results showing that pine needles are very suitable for mulch. I saw no test results proving otherwise.

    I think Patrice has an idea worth trying. It may prove to be awesome. And isn't free right in the middle of our price range?

    Montana Guy

    1. Agreed, Patrice has a great idea and I thank her for sharing it. I have shied away from using pine needles because of the acidity but I never considered how fast it leached out. My garlic hasn't been planted yet here in MA (end of Oct/early Nov) so I will head over to the pine woods across the way and get myself some lovely pine mulch for my new garlic bed. Thanks Patrice!

      God Bless,
      Janet in MA

  9. Your hay sled is what we call a mud box in the tile business.

  10. Clearing pine needles can also supply another income.I know in some places in California,people are fined if they don't keep the pine needles cleaned up ,because of fire danger. I used to know people who made extra money doing this.

  11. Pile needles also make nice bedding for dog houses. I've used them for horse bedding, too.

    1. Not just for dog houses. Put a pile in a sunny spot and the dog will occupy it as a nice dry spot when the ground is wet. Insulated from the cold ground as well.

    2. My first thought was you needed a bigger box. I started collecting Loblolly pine needles from a few trees in open pasture for mulch a few years ago. You may have access to longer needled varieties in your locale.

      After the needles have weathered a bit they aren't nearly as acidic. The common knowledge comes from soil around trees that the weathering needles leach into. If concerned, you can buffer with some garden lime. Might want to get soil tester to be sure.

  12. I use pine needles from the large White Pine in my front yard as mulch - the needles should be falling pretty soon now (I'm in central Ohio). They work pretty well, and since I have blueberries, hydrangeas and hollies (all of which prefer acidic soil) I haven't seen any ill effects. But I admit I am a little nervous about them being so flammable - especially when one of my wife's friends is visiting, and repeatedly goes outside to smoke new the flowerbeds!

  13. Here in southwestern Ohio one of our local garden store bundles up pine needles and sells them for mulch. My mom has been mulching her back gardens for 2 years with them. Your beds look great!