Pine Straw Mulch: What It Is and How to Use It

Pine Straw Mulch

Prayer Turambi / Getty Images

Pine straw mulch, the dried byproduct of fallen pine needles, is a popular mulch because it is lightweight yet remains stable and cohesive.

Mulch is an indispensable part of landscaping and gardening. Mulch reduces water evaporation in soil, suppresses weeds, limits erosion, and adds nutrients to soil. Learn if pine straw mulch will work in your garden or around your property and how it compares to other types of mulch.

What Is Pine Straw Mulch?

Pine straw mulch is made from fallen pine needles. After the pine needles have dried, they become pine straw. Pine straw can be used as a yard or garden mulch, much like wood mulch, straw, or shredded leaves.

Needles are typically between seven to 10 inches long, depending on the source tree. Pine straw mulch from southern longleaf pine trees can be up to 18 inches long. Pine needles are brittle, so sometimes the needles break into shorter pieces as they dry out.


Pine straw mulch and straw mulch are different. Pine straw mulch is made from pine needles, while straw mulch is made from wheat or oat stems.

6 Benefits of Pine Straw Mulch

Pine straw mulch offers the same advantages as other types of mulch: soil temperature moderation, moisture conservation, and weed suppression. Pine straw mulch offers additional advantages, such as being dense yet porous, attractive, stable, and low-cost or even free.

  1. Dense: Pine straw mulch holds tightly together to form a dense layer that holds in moisture and moderates soil temperature.
  2. Porous: Despite its density, pine straw mulch remains porous enough for water to easily soak through. 
  3. Loose: Pine straw mulch remains loose and light even after it has been installed. It is easy to redistribute pine straw mulch if needed.
  4. Attractive: Pine straw needles are thin and brown or light red, an attractive complement that fits the look of most yards. 
  5. Stable: Pine straw mulch's needles weave together, forming a stable mat that is difficult to wash or blow away.
  6. Inexpensive: Pine straw mulch can be produced from your own pine trees, for free pine straw mulch. 

Pine Straw Mulch vs. Other Mulches

Mulches are either organic or inorganic. Organic mulch is derived from living things and imparts nutrients into the soil. Inorganic mulch, such as gravel or shredded rubber, conserves moisture and preserves existing soil nutrients, controls soil temperature, and limits weed growth. But inorganic mulches do not provide nutrients to the soil.

Organic Mulches

  • Shredded bark mulch: Shredded bark mulch is sourced from a variety of trees and comes in colors such as red, black, and brown. Shredded bark mulch decomposes slowly and lasts longer than some other organic mulches.
  • Wood bark: Larger than wood chips, wood bark mulch is made from hardwood waste. The large nuggets are an attractive ground cover, but they do have a tendency to form into an impenetrable mat that hinders plant growth.
  • Wood chips: Pruning trees or cutting down trees produces fine wood chips. Wood chips work well in areas with heavy foot traffic.
  • Compost: As organic materials decompose, they turn into a rich, dark soil-like material: compost. Compose is an excellent source of nutrients for plants and can be worked into the soil to improve its structure.
  • Straw: The dried stalks of wheat, rice, or oats are often used for mulch. Straw is affordable and readily available mulching material. Straw is good for covering large areas.
  • Leaves: Fallen leaves can be shredded and used as mulch. Like compost, leaves are an excellent source of organic matter and can help make dense soils more porous.

Inorganic Mulches

  • Rubber mulch: Recycled rubber from tires and other sources is shredded and can be used as  a long-lasting and low-maintenance mulch. Rubber mulch is an excellent choice for playgrounds or driveways.
  • Gravel or rocks: Best used as decorative mulch, gravel or rocks can be used in garden beds or around trees. Gravel helps the soil retain moisture in the soil. Because gravel and rocks are inorganic, they do not decay.

Pine Straw Mulch Cost

Bundled long-leaf pine straw mulch at home centers costs about $0.20 to $0.50 (average $0.35) per square foot at a 2- to 3-inch coverage depth. Pine straw mulch in bulk may cost less than bundled pine straw. Mulch, in general, costs from $30 to $120 per cubic yard, delivered and professionally installed.


If sourcing pine straw from your yard, avoid stripping all of the needles from around the trees. The trees need some pine needles as protective ground cover.

Where to Use Pine Straw Mulch

Pine straw mulch is an all-purpose mulch that can be used in beds, plantings, and pathways.

Because pine straw mulch holds together well, it is beneficial on slopes or banks where other types of mulch would wash or slide away.

How to Apply Pine Straw Mulch

  1. Estimate the Mulch Needed

    Calculate the amount of pine straw mulch needed. Use an online mulch calculator for fast, accurate calculations. Or estimate the amount of mulch by dividing the area's length by its width, then multiplying by the desired thickness. Pine straw mulch should be applied two to four inches thick.


    A garden bed 10 feet by 20 feet is 200 square feet (10 x 20 = 200). Multiple the area by the designed thickness (two inches) to arrive at 34 cubic feet or 17 bags of two cubic foot bags.

  2. Clean the Area

    Remove weeds, grass, and obstructions from the area with a garden hoe or rake.

  3. Distribute the Mulch

    Drop small piles of pine straw mulch around the area. Use a shovel or pick up the pine straw by hand from the main pile. Keep the piles fairly small and equally spaced.

  4. Spread the Mulch

    Spread out the pine straw mulch to an equal depth across the area. Use a pine straw mulch rake, a special rake with thin metal tines better suited for moving pine straw than ordinary garden rakes. Avoid heaping up mulch around tree bases and shrubs. Also, be mindful of covering up plants.

  5. Tamp the Mulch

    Lightly spray the pine straw mulch with water, then gently tamp it down with the head of a garden rake or the back of a shovel. Tamping prevents strong winds from lifting up and blowing away the mulch in its early stages before it has had a chance to settle by itself. 

  • Is it OK to use pine straw as mulch?

    Yes, it is OK to use pine straw as mulch. The pine straw must be dried and not fresh, plus it should not contain contaminants such as seeds.

  • What are the cons of using pine straw as mulch?

    Some of the cons of using pine straw as mulch: pine straw is slippery when placed on a slope; it requires frequent replacement; and in certain conditions it can be flammable.

  • Is it better to use mulch or pine straw?

    Pine straw is a type of mulch. Pine straw mulch is less expensive to transport than heavier mulches like compost or gravel. Pine straw provides more nutrients to the soil than inorganic materials, which provide none. Pine straw looks similar to shredded wood mulch but it will lay flatter than shredded wood.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Garden Mulches Fact Sheet. University of New Hampshire

  2. Do pine trees and pine needles make soil more acidic? University of New Hampshire Extension

  3. Adding and Removing Straw Mulch for Strawberries. UMN Extension

  4. Chalker-Scott Ph.D., Linda. The Myth of Pretty Mulch. Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University

  5. How Much Does Mulch Delivery and Installation Cost? Angi

  6. How to Spread Pine Straw Like the Pros. Wilson Bros Gardens