Learn / Ask The Landscape Professional
I notice that nothing ever grows under my white pine tree. My neighbor said it is because the pine needles make the soil too acidic. Should I rake them up and throw them away? Anne
Actually Anne, what your neighbor told
you is not correct. It's an old garden myth
that pine needles make the soil acidic, but
that is not the case. Pine needles, green
and on the tree, are very slightly acidic.
But once they're brown and fall off the tree,
they are not acidic at all.
So, why won't anything grow under your
pine tree? There are several reasons.
Pine trees (and all trees for that matter)
take up massive amounts of water into their
shallow root systems. The tree out-competes
a plant's need for water and plants trying to
grow nearby struggle. Secondly, evergreens
have dense shade beneath them year round
which is inhospitable for grass and many
other kinds of plants. So what do you do if you
want plantings under your pine tree? There are
1) Add more water through irrigation or frequent
2) Use plants that thrive in deep shade such as Christmas
Ferns, Barrenwort, Lowbush Blueberry (among others) and
3) Have Sprigs & Twigs
professionally prune and thin your evergreen to allow
a bit more light to filter to the base of the tree.
Pine needles have a number of great uses around your
garden. They compost well; add them to your compost
pile with plenty of moisture and they will breakdown
into wonderful organic compost. They are also outstanding as garden mulch and are
especially great under strawberries or other fruits or vegetables you want to keep off of
direct contact with the soil. They are stiff but don't compact and allow air and strawberry
runners to penetrate and get to the soil. Thick layers of pine needles also help retain
garden soil moisture and help keep down weeds. Mixing some pine needles into the soil
will build up organic content and help aerate the soil as well. If you struggle with slug
damage to your plants, a ring of pine needles around the plant(s) will help keep the slugs
away because they do like to climb over objects with sharp edges.
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About Linda Lillie
Linda K. Lillie is the President of Sprigs & Twigs, Inc, the premier
landscape design and maintenance, tree care, lawn care, stonework, and carpentry
service provider in southeastern Connecticut since 1997. She is a graduate of
Connecticut College in Botany, a Connecticut Master Gardener and a national
award winning landscape designer for her landscape design and landscape installation work.