Pine needles are common in many yards and gardens, but you may not know you can also compost them. The green pine needles are an excellent nitrogen source, while the dry ones provide the compost with carbon.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Keep reading to find out all there is to know when composting pine needles.
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Why Compost Pine Needles?
Pine needles are helpful in improving water retention in the soil, thereby preventing soil erosion. Additional benefits include improved aeration and drainage.
Pine needles are rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, according to a study by the University of Florida.
Other nutrients from pine needles in compost include:
Although pine needles are acidic, their levels aren’t so high that they can lower the soil’s pH. Decomposed pine needles and cones have pH levels between 5.6 and 6.0, which won’t affect plant growth much.
Fresh ones have slightly higher acid levels, often within the 3.2 to 3.8 range.
How Long Does It Take for Pine Needles to Decompose?
Pine needles take a really long time before they decompose. Fresh pine needles will probably take up to 3 months to decompose.
Their waxy exterior protects them from the harsh winter conditions but also hinders decomposition by taking longer to break down.
One way you can overcome this challenge is by using them as mulch before making them into compost.
Mulching gives the wax coat time to break down, allowing it to decompose quicker.
Composting Pine Needles
To compost pine needles, you’ll need:
- A compost bin
- Shovel or pitchfork
- Garden soil
- Plenty of air or an open field
Brown organic matter:
Green organic matter:
- Vegetable scraps
- Fruit peels
- Coffee grounds
- Grass clippings
Here’s how to do it:
1. Get a Good Location and Mark the Exact Spot
First, identify a good spot in your lawn or garden with excellent air circulation and proximity to a water source.
2. Assemble Your Materials
Once you have a location, take your bin and assemble your materials, starting with the light ones. It’s the same process if you’re doing it in the open.
The light base helps with draining water.
3. Shred the Pine Needles
Chop the fresh pine needles into smaller portions to increase the surface area for decomposition. Next, lay down your pine needles, alternating between dry and fresh leaves (the dry ones at the bottom).
The green pine needles are an excellent nitrogen source, while the dry ones provide the compost with carbon.
Alternatively, you can use other green materials such as grass and fresh leaves. All the pine straw (fresh and dry) should make up no more than 10% of the pile.
Lastly, add a layer of garden soil on top of the compost.
4. Moisten the Pile
Water is an essential factor for healthy compost. First, ensure the compost heap has enough water by watering it or letting the rain help.
Then, to test the moisture content, take a handful of compost and squeeze; a bit of water should come out.
5. Turn Your Compost Regularly
Use a shovel or pitchfork to turn over your compost for proper air circulation if you’re composting in a bin. On the other hand, those using a compost pile have the upper hand because earthworms do the heavy lifting.
Turning the pile regularly also helps mix up the components and compost faster.
6. Cover the Compost
Covering your compost keeps the heat and moisture levels at the proper levels while protecting it from rain.
A plastic sheet or wooden covering works just fine.
Pine Needle Composting Tips
Pine needles can be an issue when composting for two reasons:
- The waxy resin coating
- The low pH
Although these two qualities make them resistant to the microorganisms in charge of decomposition, we’ve gathered a few tips to speed up the composting process for you.
1. Use Manure
Fresh manure speeds up the composting process due to its high nitrogen content. Animals like turkeys, chickens, sheep, and pigs produce waste that’s rich in nitrogen.
Mix it with pine needles and brown material such as hay and dried twigs because it is highly corrosive when added directly to the compost.
The rule of thumb for composting pine needles is 10% needles out of the whole portion of green and brown material.
2. Chop up the Pine Needles Before Adding Them to the Compost
You can either shred them into smaller pieces using a shredder, lawnmower, or lawn tractor.
Remember, the wider the surface area, the faster the decomposition during composting.
3. Let the Pine Needles Rot for A While before Composting
Allow the pine needles to decompose for a while before adding them to your compost. Then, simply pile them in a heap and let them sit for a few seasons.
Exposure to the elements will break down the resin coat on the needles and raise the pH levels.
Other Uses for Pine Needles
1. As Livestock Bedding
Here’s one way you can use the pine needles in your garden, by turning them into livestock bedding. Their lovely pine scent helps neutralize animal waste’s odor while keeping pests away.
However, please don’t put too much of it because they aren’t absorbent; you’ll want to mix them with the rest of the litter.
2. Animal Feed
Another way you can use fallen pine needles is by converting them into animal feed. Livestock like goats and sheep love to feed on the different parts of pine trees, including the needles.
They come in handy during the winter when getting fresh feed for your animals might be difficult.
Pine needle mulch is great for trees and regular plants. Mulch holds in moisture and protects plant roots. What’s more, pine needles work just as effectively as artificial mulch, and they are free!
Be careful with how much you put out because the resin on the pine needles is flammable. So don’t use the pine mulch near open flames, fire pits, or grills.
4. To Acidify Soil
Pine needles have a pH level of between 3.2 and 3.8. Contrary to popular myths and misconceptions, pine needles have minimal effect on soil acidity.
However, they take a long time to decompose, so they acidify the soil slowly.