If you use pine straw right, it can save yard work. Some of the things pine straw can free you from are:
• Mowing. Contoured pine straw islands, with just a few plants, can replace large areas of high-maintenance lawn. Where you already have groups of shrubs or trees, use pine straw to tie them together, then you won’t have to mow around them individually.
• Watering. Sunshine and wind will take away less water if the soil surface is covered with mulch.
• Weeding. Mulches help control weeds. And that provides two advantages. One, you don’t have to pull weeds yourself. Two, you don’t have to spray chemical herbicides around your yard.
If you have more pine straw than you can use, find a place to pile it up and save it. You will be happy you did next spring when you need it.
In addition to using it in the landscape, pine straw can be just as valuable as mulch in your vegetable garden. It can keep the soil moist in small gardens, raised-bed gardens or small beds of vegetables. It can also be good for mulching strawberries or blueberries.
Pine straw can also help keep soil from washing away in heavy rains.
Other tips to help make the most of pine straw are:
• Don’t remove the old pine straw. One of the benefits of mulching is that it adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes. It can be a good idea to remove the old straw every three to four years if you add to the beds several times each year.
• Don’t pile it too thick. I don’t know that it will hurt that much for most trees and shrubs if you put a little too much, but it can be bad for shallow-rooted plants such as azaleas.
• Mulch young trees. It’s really important in the first two or three years. It can also save the young trees from two of the biggest predators: lawn mowers and weed eaters. But don’t do what we call “volcano mulching.” Tall, cone-shaped mulches can actually “shed” water in much the same way an umbrella keeps the user dry. The surface of mulch quickly dries, inhibiting the passage of water. When the mulch is domed up, water simply runs off and ends up well outside the limited range of the roots.
• Don’t have the straw on the stems. This causes the stems to stay moist all of the time, which could lead to fungi that could enter the plant and cause problems. Keep it an inch or two away from the stem.
Don’t just stuff it under the branches. Spread it beyond the drip line, the line right under the outermost leaves. Getting it over the feeder roots is the key.
• Don’t put plastic or landscape fabric under the straw unless your main purpose is complete weed control. If that’s the case, you won’t need as thick a layer of straw. About 2 inches of straw will do.