Mulch and pine straw are the crowning glory of any landscape. They both help showcase the plants while providing protection and definition to the entire garden. Both types also provide a bevy of valuable services such as keeping weeds at bay and slowing down water evaporation in the soil. However, there is a big choice to make between pine straw vs mulch. They both have their uses and fans. In this article, we will explore each one so you can determine which to use for your needs.
When you talk to other gardeners and landscapes, you’ll discover that everyone has their preference, and they can each list a dozen reasons why. You’ll just need to weigh the pros and cons of pine straw vs. mulch to determine which bedding material to use.
Pine straw looks fresh and clean in a flower bed. It also has excellent longevity. Depending on where you live, pine straw is often referred to as ‘pine needles. The conifer trees regularly shed the long tendrils and they accumulate at the tree’s base. Many people rate them up for use in the garden as a much-appreciated mulch that has rained down in a similar fashion as the biblical manna which once fell from the sky.
Most pine trees start to drop the needles from October to February, so you’ll have a ready supply. You start them in piles or place them in large leaf bags for later use. If you do not have ready access to pine straw, then you can purchase it from a garden supply store in bales or bags.
Pros of Pine Straw
- Readily available
- Easy to store.
- Does not wash away in heavy rains.
- Keeps the soil from drying out even during the hottest weather.
- Inhibits weed growth.
- Protects plant roots from the drying effects of snow, ice, and winds.
- Insulates the roots of the plants from the cold.
- Acidic which benefits hydrangeas, magnolias, camellias, boxwoods, junipers, hollies, and azaleas.
Cons of Pine Straw
- May make the soil too acidic.
- Wind easily blows the needles away. (when fresh and dry)
- Changes color over time from green to a tan
- Attracts insects.
Dry needs can pose a fire hazard.
Mulch is made from shredded pine or hardwood. Most homeowners appreciate the appearance of wood mulch because it adds a great deal of aesthetics to the garden. It comes in various colors from reddish orange to a deep, black hue. Typically, the wood product has undergone a dying process to achieve the coloration. The die is non-toxic to plants and is even suitable for use around organic gardens. However, some wood mulch is made from recycled wood material that was used in old crates or other structures. Such recycled wood mulch can contain harmful wood preservatives that can leach into the soil.
Pros of Mulch
- Available in many colors
- Readily available
- Lasts a long time in the garden.
- Does not easily wash away.
- Insulates the plant’s root system.
- Inhibits weed growth.
- Protects the plant’s roots.
- Excellent soil moisture retention
- Makes weeding easier.
- Raises the pH level.
- Decomposing hardwood mulch provides alkaline benefits to the soil during decomposition.
- Fire retardant
- Bug resistant
Cons of Mulch
- More expensive than pine straw
- Has a pungent aroma that many find unpleasant
- A yard of mulch does not go as far as pine straw.
- Heavy and more difficult to spread.
- Breaks down quicker than pine straw so it does not last as long.
- Can wash away during a rainstorm.
- Messy when it gets on walkways and driveways. (dyed mulch)
- Easy to track into the home or auto on your shoes.
Other Considerations in Pine Straw vs. Mulch
Most people would concur that pine straw is more eco-friendly. When you go to the garden and buy hardwood or pine bark mulch it is bagged in plastic bags. Plastic is a petroleum product that does not decompose in the landfill well. However, pine straw is usually baled so you don’t have to worry about disposing of the plastic waste.
One option, if you are set on using wood mulch is to buy it by the cubic yard and have it delivered to your home in a dump truck. However, dump trucks rely on fossil fuel which further pollutes the atmosphere so that might not be an ideal choice.
Dangers of Harmful Chemicals and Destruction of Old Growth Forests
Another factor to consider is where does the wood mulch come from? It can be recycled wood that may contain harmful chemicals, or it is harvested from trees on farms or in the forests. Cypress mulch is often made from trees in Louisiana that have been clear cut to shred into mulch. Sadly, the forests once lived hundreds of years and are now being demolished to create bagged mulch.
Honestly, if you want an environmentally friendly mulch that is readily available then pine straw is your best choice. The light bales cut down on environmental trauma and the cost of shipping is reduced.
Obtaining Pine Straw
In many cases, you can gather your own pine straw either from your pine trees, your neighbors or in the woods. Removing the pine needles from the forest floor can help prevent forest fivers. However, always make sure you can gather the pine straw from the area by contacting either the U.S. National Forest or the Bureau of Land Management to learn their rules and regulations. However, if you don’t feel up to raking and bagging pine needles for home use then you can buy bales of the needles.
Every homeowner and gardener are going to have their own personal favorite between pine straw vs. mulch. Honestly, they both look lovely in the landscape and are a valuable addition to any garden. You can even mix the two forms of mulch to truly reap the benefits of both.