Pine Straw: The Thing Southerners Love To Hate

Love it or leave it—it’s all over the South


If you live just about anywhere in the South, there’s a high chance you’ve dealt with utterly annoying and never-ending pine needles. My relatively small front yard is home to two towering pines, and each time the needles fall, my yard appears completely brown. The first time I came home to this, I thought, “What happened to my grass! How did it all die over the weekend?”, only to realize it was just covered in pine needles. With my meager rake and essentially powerless blower I attempted to rid my yard of the matter. After hours of back-breaking work raking and blowing the pine straw into the beds, my yard still had a brown tint. Needless to say, I now loathe pine straw. The only benefit of being fortunate enough to have pine trees on your property is an overabundance of material to cover your flower beds. Love it or hate it, it’s an unending supply! 

The irony of its abundance is that many people still purchase the stuff, including Travel and Culture Editor Tara Massouleh McCay’s husband. “Love-hate is definitely a good way to describe my household’s relationship with pine straw. My husband clearly loves it—as evidenced by the truckloads of the stuff he has delivered to the house twice a year. I, on the other hand, hate it, especially when I get the credit card bill for hundreds of dollars for something you can find on the ground,” she says. 

Covering your beds is an instant way to boost curb appeal and protect your plants, but the biggest difference between the South and other regions is that we typically use pine straw in lieu of mulch. “Apparently, the fact that we use pine straw is crazy,” says Associate Editor Mary Shannon Wells. Though endless falling pine needles can be a pain point for many homeowners, it has a few upsides—the biggest being that pine straw is less expensive than mulch and easy to spread and rearrange with no tools. Pine trees across the region shed their needles throughout the year so often that you can find pine straw free of cost (like Grumpy does) in your own yard, or you likely have a nearby neighbor who will gladly allow you to take some of theirs. And whether it’s coming from your yard or a garden store, pine straw is an environmentally friendly choice because no trees have to be cut down in the process. 

The rich, reddish color of fresh pine straw brings life and contrast to your garden that is ideal for boosting curb appeal. One of its benefits is preventing evaporation of water from the soil, and it helps reduce weed growth in beds while also keeping erosion at bay. It also works well in the South because it naturally adds acidity to the soil as it decomposes, which many varieties found around the region thrive on—azalea bushes, rhododendrons, Camellia, zinnias, dahlias and marigolds, to name a few.

Typically you’ll need to refresh your beds with the covering once a year, twice to keep it extra fresh, but if you have very needle-generous trees in your yard, chances are you might be adding a fresh layer a bit more often. So love it or hate it—you can’t escape the stuff in the South.

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