Can You Compost Pine Needles?
The pine tree can seem like a basic species that populate nearly every nation around the world. It has been around for a really long time and has more than 120 species peppering backyards, foothills and mountains. Although the majority of pine trees can be found in the Northern Hemisphere, the hardy tree loves to be in full sun and you can find some in certain desert climates as they are drought and pest resistant.
The pine’s acicular-shaped pine leaves are mostly referred to as needles for their spindly and sharp shape. The needles grow in spirals around the branches of the pine tree and they can last for two years before turning brown and falling off to leave room for new growth as the pine tree grows. What should you do with these pine needles once they fall? Maybe try composting them? This article looks into composting pine needles.
- Are Pine Needles Good For Compost?
- How Long Does it Take For Pine Needles to Decompose?
- Are Pine Needles Good For a Garden?
- Can You Burn Pine Needles?
- What Can I Do With Old and Dead Pine Needles?
Are Pine Needles Good For Compost?
The short answer is yes, but within limits. Pine needles make good compost that can be of added advantage to the garden and plants. However, there are several caveats to using pine needles for composting.
First, they decompose really slowly and should be mixed with a good variety of other composting material for best results. Pine needles have a waxy coating that makes it difficult for the bacteria and fungi to break them down.
Additionally, the low pH of pine needles inhibits the microorganisms in compost and slows down the process even more. Pine needles break down so slowly that you can use the same batch as mulch for a season or two before transferring them to the compost pile. As a result, the recommended level for pine needles in a compost heap is no more than 10%.
Secondly, there is the notion that pine needles are acidic, for which they truly re. they have a pH of between 3.2 and 3.8 when they fall from the tree, they have a nearly neutral pH after composting.
The acidity levels might cause harm to the bacteria and microorganisms that help with the composting process, and that is why you can only add a small quantity of the pine needles to the composting heap. The finished compost will not acidify your soil but working pine needles into the soil without composting them first may temporarily lower the pH of said soil.
To counter these issues, use aged pine needles, or needles that served as mulch for a season. This is because they speed up the process, and chopped pine needles compost faster than fresh ones. Just make a mound of pine needles and run over them with a lawnmower several times to chop them. The smaller they are, the faster they will decompose.
An advantage of composting pine needles is that they do not compact, keeping the pile open so that air can flow through. The result is a hotter compost pile that breaks down more quickly.
Remember, the pine needles break down more slowly than other organic matter in a compost pile, even when the pile is hot, so limit them to about 10% of the total volume of the pile.
How Long Does it Take For Pine Needles to Decompose?
Pine needles can take incredibly long before they fully decompose. Evergreens like pine trees shed their needle-shaped leaves continuously throughout the year. The needles are resinous and have a waxy coating which helps protect them against the cold during winter.
Unfortunately, the waxy coating also makes sure the needles break down slowly and decay occurs over a long period. It is for this reason that most gardeners tend to extend the serviceable life of their pine needles by using them as mulch first. By the time the needles end up in the compost pile, the wax coating will have broken down, and they will decompose quicker.
Now, compost is all about decomposition and most people want this to happen relatively quickly. To make successful compost, you need a sufficient level of moisture, adequate structure for oxygenation and a good mix of green and brown feedstocks.
Moisture makes the bacteria responsible for decomposition feed correctly. Good structure, and correct density, mean that air can circulate through the compost and the composting microbes need oxygen to do their job properly.
Finally, compost needs a good variety of organic waste material which can be broadly divided into “greens” and “browns”. The greens provide the compost with nitrogen while browns offer carbon to the compost.
The mixture of the two helps with providing structure to the compost. Pine needles have relatively low moisture levels, poor structure and are a brown feedstock. For them to decompose adequately, you need to improve on their deficiencies as well as add nitrogen-rich content.
Are Pine Needles Good For a Garden?
Yes, pine needles are good for the garden. There is a notion that has been there for years, that pine needles can alter the soil’s pH levels. Yes, pine needles have an acidic pH of between 3.2 and 3.8, whereas neutral is 7.0.
However, the acidic pH levels are only when the pine needles drop from the tree. If you take freshly fallen needles, before they decompose, and turn them into the soil right away, you may see a slight drop in the soil pH, although the change would not be damaging to the plants. Pine needles do not acidify garden soils or affect plants.
The acidity of pine needle mulch remains at the soil’s surface and does not alter the soil around plants’ roots. If you decompose the needles into compost, the final compost will have a neutral pH and offer more benefits to garden soils and plants.
Can You Burn Pine Needles?
Yes, you can burn pine needles, but you really should avoid it. like burning anything else, there are potential health hazards and pollution concerns that come with burning pine needles, making the entire issue controversial.
However, in certain areas small burn piles are permitted and in some areas burning pine needles and leaves is a necessary precaution for avoiding dangerous wildfires. Dry pine needles are flammable and when left unattended on your property, they pose a fire hazard.
It is therefore recommended that you collect them and mulch them or compost them before they cause irreparable damage through unexplainable fires. You should therefore undertake safety and proper planning when it comes to burning pine needles, although they are safe to burn. The same cannot be said about pine in itself as it creates creosote in your chimney, a recipe for future chimney fires.
What Can I Do With Old and Dead Pine Needles?
1. Making pine needle tea
To make pine needle tea, boil one cup of water in a pot or kettle, and clean fresh pine needles from a green white pine. Place the cleaned needles in a cup or mug, and pour the boiling water over the needles.
Finally, use a fork or spoon to scoop out all of the pine needles and enjoy your drink. Just make sure the pine tree was not treated with chemicals, pesticides or potentially toxic substances.
2. Making pine needle syrup
Pine needles are a natural decongestant and expectorant. They are also antiseptic and are great for coughs and congestion. To get the best from pine needles then, make pine needle syrup. This way, you get to enjoy all the benefits of the needles while at the same time coating and soothing the throat.
3. Make a disinfectant
You can combine a half cup of needles with white vinegar in a jar and let it sit for a few weeks. After removing the needles, you will be left with a solution that can act as a disinfectant on countertops and other surfaces.
Speaking of vinegar, you can also fill a mason jar with half a cup of needles and apple cider vinegar. If you let the jar sit for a month and then strain, the solution will work as a herbal base for salad dressing, marinades and sauces.
Needles interlock and they stay in one place, and are less likely than other ground covers to blow away. You can therefore use them as mulch at the base of acid-loving plants like hollies, azaleas, blueberries and rhododendrons.
Remember the needles are acidic at the time they hit the ground, but the acidic nature has no effect on other plants. By the time they decompose, the acidity will be over. Mulching is also vital as the pine needles have a waxy coating that makes it difficult for the bacteria and fungi to break down when composted immediately.
The waxy coating makes sure the needles break down slowly and decay occurs over a long period. You should therefore mulch them first, and by the time they end up in the compost pile, the wax coating will have broken down, and they will decompose quickly.
5. Brewing a footbath
You can also brew a footbath by boiling a gallon of water with a cup of needles. Let the mixture steep and cool for about 20 minutes and then pour it into a basin for a refreshing and deodorizing soak.
6. Making fire starters
Once pine needles have dried, they make excellent fire starters. It is all the more reason why you should be careful with them if they are on your property and unattended. Just take a handful of pine needles and put them in a muffin paper or a cupcake liner.
Put the liners into a muffin pan to help them hold their shape once the wax is added. Add some melted wax to the muffin paper and let the wax harden and then pop out all of the wax molds. When you need to build a fire, put the wax mix under your kindling. Then light it, and watch the flames start
7. Livestock bedding
You can also add pine needles to your livestock bedding, adding a lovely pine scent to the litter. It is best not to replace all of the bedding with pine needles because pine needles are not absorbent on their own.
However, if mixed with pine or aspen shavings, they add a pleasant scent to the barn or coop as well as discouraging the bugs that might try to visit livestock as they sleep.
8. Using it as livestock feed
Goats and sheep love to munch on pine branches and needles. You can therefore consider adding the needles to your livestock feed especially in the winter months. It helps to break up the boredom that they might have with just eating hay come February or March. However, do not dare feed them to cattle
9. Preventing erosion on your property
Long pine needles tend to join or knit together, creating a sort of blanket-like mulch layer. If you have a slope on your property that faces erosion issues or where other mulches tend to be washed away, try long pine needles instead. They will mat down, creating a layer of mulch that will not blow away. It is a great way to protect the soil.