Spruce Needles, Cedar Needles as mulch

toddfialaNovember 18, 2007

It is known that pine needles are useful as mulch for blueberries to help maintain an acidic soil ph. I was wondering if anyone has any knowledge or experience using spruce or cedar needles as mulch-they are plentiful on my yard. Also, I am planning on cutting down a lot of cedar trees in my parent's pasture, as they are getting out of control there. Do cedar needles and/or wood chips from the branches have any use, or should we just burn the trees on a pile?

Todd

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austransplant(MD 7)

Todd,

This spring I had a red cedar at the back of my yard cut down and chipped. I used the wood chips as mulch (not tilled in) on a new bed of blueberries I put it in a little later in spring, though with some misgivings since I had read of problems with cedar. But so far, so good. The blueberries have grown well (they are growing in a bed very well prepared with peat moss). As for acidifying the soil, I don't think the wood chips have had any effect.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2007 at 11:36PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

I would think you could use either spruce needles or cedar needles/chips. The spruce would be very similar to pine. Cedars have properties that tend to repel some insects, which is why woolens are stored in cedar chests to keep the moths away. I don't know that they really cause any problems with plant growth--although others on this site probably have first hand experience.

Pine needles/conifer needles are often recommended to help acidify the soil. I don't know that they are better at acidifying the soil than other organic materials, but they do look better as a mulch on the ground. The main effect of the needles is that as they decompose, they release mild organic acids which act like all acids on the soil and lower the pH. Other decomposing vegetation will do the same thing. As you build up a heavy layer of decomposed organic mulch/humus in the soil, it is thinning out/replacing the soil parent materials and minerals which tend to stabilize the pH to whatever it usually runs in your area, and the mulches tend to the acid side rather than alkaline. To make a long story short, the needles will help lower the pH of your soil, but if your soil naturally runs to the alkaline side, you may need to create a peat bed or apply other acidifies to get and keep the pH down.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 1:33AM
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toddfiala

Thanks for the input. I did prepare the planting site by tilling in some peat moss. The blueberry plants are doing fine so far. My area does have neutral soil, so that is why I am looking at mulches with acidic properties. It is good to know that cedars might be good for something, as they are a pain in the neck here in Nebraska. Farmers here are having a problem with birds spreading the seeds in the pastures, resulting in a lot of lost grazing acres-not to mention a cedar apple rust problem in this area!

Todd

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 2:21AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Not the same cedar but still applicable.

Here is a link that might be useful: Myth of Allelopathic Wood Chips

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 11:01PM
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toddfiala

Thanks bboy. It was helpful and I appreciate it.

Todd

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 2:18AM
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alan haigh

I once sampled soil underneath some old white pines that had been blanketed with its own needles for over half a century and compared it to nearby soil that had been maintained as turf far enough away not to be under the connifer influence. To anyone with a basic understanding of soil chemistry (which I'm not) it should come as no surprise that both soils had identical pH

It may be that blueberries are able to get the iron they need from the roots right at the interface of mulch and soil where there is a very thin layer of more acidic soil.

Not much research has been done about how much of the root zone needs to be in acidic conditions to draw necessary nutrient for acid lovers. Carl Whitcomb has done some research that indicates that pin oaks suffering from chlorosis in a base soil quickly recover after a sulfer application even though only a tiny portion of the soil has been changed.

Peat moss has very little long term affect on pH because it rapidly breaks down and the existing soil has overwhelming buffering power in comparison. I use it for establishing blueberries anyway, don't ask me why. Blueberries in their natural environmet seem to always exist in very high organic content soil so every bit of OM helps.

Sulfor is what the commercial folks use to lower pH. I have consistantly been surprised, however, how blueberries often thrive in nearly neutral soil if there is sufficient OM.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 7:31AM
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toddfiala

Thanks harvestman! Some of what you said reminds me of what a local nurseryman once told me. He said that his blueberries at home, now established, recieve little care and are doing fine. He now does not worry much about soil ph. I do fertilize a little bit with ammonium sulfate, which probalbly lowers the ph somewhat.

Todd

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 3:27PM
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