Pine trees, as well as other evergreens, often pose a serious challenge to gardeners. While pine trees keep their needles year-round, helping your garden look more fresh and green in the winter, they can also pose challenges for other plants growing nearby because of their fallen needles.
You should rake the ground under pine trees to remove excess needles that may have fallen, but you don’t need to dispose of the needles. Pine needles can be harmful to grass and some plants but can provide nutrients for other plants. You can use them as mulch or add them to your compost pile.
Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of pine trees and pine needles is important for caring for your lawn, especially if you live in a place where pine trees are native. Read on to learn more about caring for the ground underneath pine trees, including why you should rake the ground, how you should rake pine needles, how they can be used to benefit other plants, and when to consider destroying the needles.
Why You Should Rake the Ground Under Pine Trees
Pine trees are unique from most deciduous trees in almost every way. Compare a maple tree to a pine tree, for example. Pine trees typically grow faster than maples, maintain their needles year-round, and only drop needles that are too old.
Maple trees, on the other hand, only drop leaves during the fall as they enter their period of dormancy. The only real reason for raking maple leaves is to make your lawn look prettier.
While it’s true that raking pine needles will help make your lawn look nicer, there are also a number of important reasons, other than aesthetics, that make it necessary to rake them.
- Pine needles can damage your lawn. When they fall on top of the grass and between blades, they can prevent your grass from absorbing all of the nutrients available in the soil and can crush them from their weight as they pile up.
- Pine needles can invite unwanted animals into your garden. Many animals like to use pine needles as a sort of “insulation” in their homes. If they see plenty of Pine needles on the ground, they might start coming into your lawn and, eventually, might destroy other plants. Raking them after they fall can prevent you from dealing with animals that might damage your plants.
Some gardeners rake the pine needles because they worry about how they can affect the soil quality. However, contrary to a common gardening belief, pine needles don’t significantly acidify the soil. Pine trees tend to grow in acidic soil, and the needles themselves often are highly acidic. Over time, as the needles decompose, their acidity depletes.
If needles fall year after year in one spot and are left to decompose, they can slightly alter the soil pH but not enough to significantly affect neighboring plants. For more on this topic, check out this article on pine tree acidity: Do Evergreens Make Soil More Acidic?
Tips for Raking Pine Needles
Now that we understand why it generally is a good idea to rake up pine needles from underneath pine trees, you might be asking yourself how exactly you can rake them. Here are some tips that you may find helpful:
Use the Right Tools
Most rakes are wide-mouthed, with only small prongs that extend out. These are great for raking leaves but not so good for pine needles.
The best way to rake pine needles is to use an iron rake or even a hoe. If you use one of these tools, try and remove any large rocks or pieces of wood that might be in the way. These rakes will simply pick them up with the rest of the pine needles, making it hard to sort through the mixture later.
Always rake in one direction and try to make a large pile. Once this is done, you can shovel pine needles into a wheelbarrow to remove them.
Observe Proper Timing When Raking Pine Needles
Another important tip is that you must be careful when raking pine needles. Raking pine needles in the winter, for instance, can tear up the soil under the needles. Raking in the spring can cause you to unintentionally kill sprouting grass.
The best time to rake pine needles is in the summer after grass has sprouted or in the fall when the grass is dead but the ground isn’t frozen yet.
If you’re unsure that you can rake up the needles without damaging the grass or soil, try using a leaf blower and blowing the needles away. This doesn’t always work, especially in tall grass, but it can be a good start.
Benefits of Pine Needles
While pine needles can cause serious issues for grass and can invite unwanted pests or other animals into your garden, they also present some benefits when used properly.
Pine Needles Release Nutrients Into the Soil
As pine needles break down, just like any other form of organic matter, they release certain nutrients that plants can use in order to sustain themselves.
For instance, many kinds of berries can benefit from the nutrients pine needles can contribute. When the needles fall on the ground, small microorganisms in the ground slowly start eating away at the needles, converting them into raw nutrients.
Pine needles are full of Vitamin C and Vitamin A, which are great for humans but can also be used by different kinds of plants.
Pine Needles Make an Excellent Mulch
These nutrients might not be acceptable for all plants but you can still use pine needles as mulch in some instances.
Another advantage of using pine needles as mulch is their shape. They can conveniently cover the ground to regulate the soil temperature and moisture levels, and their shape also allows air circulation, allowing your plant’s roots to receive as much air, water, and nutrients as they need.
Pine Needles Can Be Composted
Sometimes, pine trees just produce too many needles to be used effectively. You don’t want to apply a very thick layer of mulch to any plant, and the same goes when using pine needles. In this case, you can use some of the needles but should allow the others to decompose naturally in the ground.
Alternatively, you can add the excess needles to your compost pile. After all, they’re a good source of nutrients that can be safely reintroduced to your garden through compost.
Mixing pine needles with compost can cancel out their high acidity. They’ll also be easier to work into the soil for a more efficient release of nutrients.
When To Destroy Pine Needles
Most gardeners love to help mitigate waste creation and do what they can to reduce, reuse, and recycle, especially when it comes to organic material. Unfortunately, there might be some instances in which you will not be able to reuse all organic material.
If your pine tree has been infected by some sort of disease, using the needles as mulch or for other purposes could be incredibly damaging to your plants. This increases the risk of spreading the disease to the other plants in your garden.
If this is the case, move the needles to a spot where they won’t impact other plants, treat them with an antifungal spray, and let them decompose on their own. Alternatively, you can burn them right away to prevent the spread of disease.
When it comes to growing pine trees, the needles they drop can be a pain for gardeners to take care of.
You should rake the ground under pine trees to prevent the high concentration of needles from harming your plant life. Make sure to rake pine needles in the summer or fall and be careful not to harm the soil.
You can reuse pine needles as mulch for plants when temperatures drop in the fall or add them to your compost pile to decompose and share their nutrients.