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Pine Needles as Mulch? Or is Straw better for the summer?

I have several beds that need some mulch to protect the plants for the summer and I'd read about using pine needles (which we have a lot of and they are free).  But I've also read in the past about pine needles not being so good, although that may have been regarding compost since they take a long time to break down.  I think being in Arizona our soil would not be hurt by acidification from the needles.

Opinions?

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Comment by Tod Nissle on September 28, 2015 at 7:48pm

I started my garden out with the neighbors pine needles, and then used some extra straw we had left over from the root cellar. Here are my findings.

Needles:  Bottom layer will break down in 6mo-1year.   They will compact from 4 inches to 1/2inch in that time.  Saw only benefits with no negatives as far as soil composition goes.  Noticed it is tough for seedlings to twist their way through compacted needles.  

Straw:  Bottom layer will start to break down in 3mo-6mo.  They don't compact as well, being as they are thicker.  So if you are looking for a thicker mulch that aerates well.  Then this is the one.  

Bottom line:  I got more initial success out of the straw, but better long term results from pine needles.  The needles turned into beautiful hummus.  As well I had more worm castings underneath the needles than I did the straw.  The straw also held more water intially, but as the needles broke down the hummus held way more.     So in conclusion...

Short term - Straw

Long term - Needles

Right now - Anything you can get on there. More the better =P

Comment by Laura Ward on June 9, 2015 at 5:18pm

I can attest to straw preventing water evaporation. It's why I removed all the straw from my chicken coop & run. It wasn't allowing the ground to dry out after a rain. Good for plants, not so good for a chicken run. Straw is abundant and not very expensive. If you can't get free wood chips/shaving, straw is probably a good alternative.

Comment by MaryMcP on May 31, 2015 at 6:39am

I have two strawberry beds.  One I mulched with mesquite needles, the other with straw that I had run through the leaf blower vacuum attachment to make the pieces smaller.  The mesquite bed dried out WAY faster than the straw bed.  They are both now mulched with straw.  That's my story.  ;-)

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