Pine straw vs. Shredded bark

Stefanie33(zone 7 ALA)May 17, 2005

I am finishing my landscaping project. ( I plan to post pictures) Thanks again for all the great advice I got from some of you.

My question: Do I use pine straw or shredded bark. I have used both and know some pros and cons for each. I would love to have the advice from some of you. Straw seems to be harder to put down but may be better for the plants. I like the way shredded bark looks but I have read it attracts termites.

Any advice is appreciated.

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My dog tries to eat the bark, so I am moving to using more pine straw.

I think termites are only an issue when used close to the house. Otherwise, you have bits of wood, sticks, etc. everywhere in your yard ... termites are out there anyway.

I don't know that either one is any better for the plants when properly applied and refreshed as needed to do what mulch is intended to do.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2005 at 1:44PM
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Shredded bark looks rough. Shreeded pine bark should be fine around the house...don't use hardwoods.

Love pine's soft, decomposes well, attractive, doesn't float away. We use a hundred plus bales a year. It let's air and water through it and it can be fluffed up when you need to show off a little.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 9:53PM
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I use pine bark nuggets all over my yard and have never seen a termite in it. It is not a great food source for them. They prefer the wood itself. Large nuggets can be cleaned off with a blower when fall comes. You can't do that with pine straw. Straw and bark are both be pretty. The nuggets last longer and as you say are easier to put down. In my experience the plants don't care. If you have poor soil the pine straw may improve it a tad as it decomposes but if you really wanted to do that there are a lot better supplements.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2005 at 11:10AM
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Goddess_Of_Chaos(z7 GA)

I dislike pine bark nuggets personally. THe previous owner of my house used them, and we had termite damage. They also were matted down as they decomposed. I have alot of pine needles in my yard due to all the pine trees that I have, and I have yet to have a problem with weeds with them. But the flowerbeds that have hardwood/pine bark nuggets are infested with weeds. I am going back to using pine straw next year. Its cheaper and less of a hassle to deal with. (Especially since I have tons of flowerbeds in my yard.)


    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 3:09PM
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YardGal(zone 8 GA)

I recently filled one of my beds with pine bark and the rain has been falling so much and so hard that alot of the mulch is now lining my driveway instead of staying in the bed. My mom told me that pine straw won't wash like the bark does. I'm going to get some pine straw this weekend. Just my personal experience.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 4:24PM
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My favorite is cypress mulch.

I add lots of leaves, grass clippings and then put the cypress mulch on top.

It doesn't break down as quickly as other hardwoods.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2005 at 9:54PM
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Kathy Bochonko

Cypress mulch is a poor choice ecologically speaking as it is wiping out the cypress trees. Even "Hardwood Mulch" (which is what I use) is actually a bark product. Only woodchips are actually made from the wood itself so according to the people who monitor our termite bait traps (or whatever you call those things) it makes no difference what you use, it is the moisture being held near the house that attracts the termites. So don't put your mulch right up to the house, leave a few inches. That is what they told me.

I think Pinestraw looks nice, but if you are like me and dig in your beds all the time the pinestraw gets into the soil and doesn't break down as nicely or quickly as the mulc does so I just like working around mulch better. I do agree that the mulch washes out easier so that is a consideration in some places. I do use pinestraw in my wooded area since there are pines back there and pinestraw falls on it anyway.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2005 at 10:52PM
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Only pine straw here! I get some free from the trees in our yard and buy the rest. Don't care for the look or feel of bark mulch.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 2:02PM
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aisgecko(7b Raleigh)

I prefer the look of hardwood mulch, but washing away isn't really a concern here. I like the triple shredded stuff. it breaks down into the soil nicely. I also get free pinestraw from the trees but they never land where I want them. In the fall we suck up the leaves and pinstraw together to shred for compost and mulch and that works wonderfully. We use hardwood chips (free from tree services usually) for paths and the kids' play areas. Those seem to keep the weeds down best but maybe it's the foot traffic too. NOTHING keeps the weeds out of the garden areas for me but any mulch helps. It's a jungle out here! I think you just need to pick whichever you like the look of and to work with best. -Ais.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 9:42AM
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QueenBee52(z8 SE AL)

having used both i will tell you that pine straw gives you better soil in the longrun

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 11:04AM
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gurley157fs(zone 7/8sc)

I put down several layers of newspaper and then a layer of pinestraw.

I put a new layer of each down in two years if it needs it.

At the end of the first year for a new bed I can peel back the decomposing layer of newspaper and find lots of earthworms.

Also, the layer of newspaper and then pinestraw helps keep me from having to water so often. I am often out of town for a few weeks at a time and I don't have an automated way to water.

I don't do this around camellias though - thier root systems don't like to be too covered up.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 9:55PM
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Goddess_Of_Chaos(z7 GA)

Another question: Fact or Fiction?

Does pine straw acidify the soil as it decomposes or is it the tree itself? My mother and I are locked in a debate about it because she says it is a horrible mulch because it hardens the soil and acidifies it.

I have some bark nuggets down, and pine straw in flowerbeds. (plus this may help the original poster in his/her question)

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 10:17PM
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aisgecko(7b Raleigh)

According to this site, ALL mulches do and pine straw slightly more than others. It sites pine bark as the best overall mulch but says that if you are trying to add nutrients that pinestraw is best. This is just one site though... -Ais.

Here is a link that might be useful: comparing mulches

    Bookmark   June 17, 2005 at 4:28PM
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RonnieW(z8 MS)

Pine straw does increase the acidity of the soil and doesn't add much in the way of nutrients. but it's still a good mulch. It doesn't compact and allows nutrients in the air and rain ready access to the plants roots. As for the acidity that nothing a little lime won't cure.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 9:09PM
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Goddess_Of_Chaos(z7 GA)

*smiles* thanks yall. I have learned that I prefer pine straw over bark or cypress. (I didn't know about the Florida ecosystem being in danger before I bought 6 bags earlier this year)

It just looks more natural and since I found out I can add lime, makes it all the better! Don't have to cut down any trees for it. My pines in the front provide me enough straw for a lifetime!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 1:09PM
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Pandalou(9 California)

I am trying to make a soil mixture that includes Pine Bark Fines. I am having trouble finding it, can I use anything else? I need soil that promotes good drainage. I am suppose to mix perlite, Miracle grow potting mix and pine bark fines.
Thanks in advance for your help.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 10:44PM
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I am fortunate enough to have a wooded lot with 4 large mature Oak trees and two very large Pine trees. I use a great tool called a Leaf Hog, which is from Black and Decker. I got it at Home Depot. It acts like a vaccuum
cleaner/mulcher. It will suck up leaves and Pine needles
and grind them into a fine mulch. I can take 10 lawn bags
of unmulched leaves and Pine straw and turn them into 1 bag
of finely chopped mulch. I spread this back into the flower beds.
It looks good, keeps weeds to almost non existance, and
breaks down into soil well. It does tend to acidify the soil a bit, but most of the shrubs, like Azaleas,prefer acidic soils.
I never have to purchase any type of mulch, because of what my trees provide for me.
I HATE pine bark nuggets. They float away into the yard , whenever heavy rains occur. They are hard and difficult to dig arround when you are planting bedding plants. I really
Hate shredded hardwood mulch, looks rough, and has lots of splinters to deal with.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2005 at 7:57AM
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holcombee(6b Mid TN)

I decided to give pine straw a try last year after I grew tired of hauling huge bags of compost, top soil, and then mulch!!! Bales of pinestraw are so much easier to tote through the garden and flake off into easy to handle portions. Plus, I really do enjoy the natural appearance of pinestraw over shredded or bark mulches.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 12:37PM
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Dieter2NC(z7b NC)

I like to use pinebark fines (aka soil conditioner & Nature's Helper) as mulch because I am constantly moving plants and replanting annuals. This way I improve my soil everytime I move/replant.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2005 at 10:50AM
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I learned the hard way that a nice, thick mulch helps to keep down weeds... but it's REAL value is keeping the soil around the plant cooler. This may not be vital for older plants with deeply established root systems, but young plants, or plants that tend to have shallow root systems can easily be BAKED TO DEATH after a few days in the hot Southern sun.
I think choosing nuggets, straw, etc. is all a matter of taste. The real test is how well it insulates the soil from the sun's heat.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2005 at 12:02PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Can't find pinestraw bales in Jacksonville, Florida. Any one know of a source?

    Bookmark   August 13, 2005 at 10:07PM
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pinakbet(z9 FL)

I'm from Jax as well. Lowe's carries the pine straw bales. It is usually setting in a truck outside and so you just have to ask that cashier in the garden center.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2005 at 1:39PM
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I use soil conditioner (very fine pine bark)in all my full sun gardens because I am also trying to add lots of organic matter into my soil and figure it breaks down faster. In my shade/woodland gardens I use my own pine straw since it falls there all the time anyway. I am finally building up some good compost piles and use that too.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2005 at 6:04PM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

Personally, I like using pine straw and best of all it is free! I just rake up what I need and then put it down. This is no hassle since it is so light.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 1:26PM
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Termites don't eat bark. Go into the woods and you'll find dead tree after dead tree infested with termites but you'll notice they're not touching the bark.

And buying cypress mulch just encourages the timbering of those beautiful trees.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 7:29AM
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For my first 3 years in the south I used double cut hardwood- I loved the look, and it stayed put pretty well. However, this spring (the first year I didn't have to add any!!) it got infested with artillery fungus that shot spores all over my light colored siding. I spent 30 hours pressure washing, getting some but not all of the stains off. Now I'm removing the hardwood mulch near the house and replacing with pine straw. I'll leave the hardwood mulch in the distant beds, and now have some to add-- the fungus isn't harmful except to light siding and cars.
For more info just google "artillery fungus"; the best mulches to avoid it are large pine bark nuggets, pine straw, and cypress mulch. Cedar and redwood mulches are also supposed to be ok. Hardwood mulch is the worst!!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 11:50AM
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The parking area (curb to sidewalk) under my 70 y/o Schwedler Maples was red breeze:low maintenance, boring and impervious. Wanted to return to grass like in the early years of the neighborhood but landscapers nixed the idea due to very heavy shade. Decided on PINESTRAW after a lot of reading. Most ppl in Colorado have never heard of PS as a mulch so it's getting a lot of attention. (World class Broadmoor golf course uses it exclusively in rough areas). It's quite expensive when you add in shipping (Southern gardeners are smiling now since you probably gather it up for free!). Will see if the meshing aspect of the needles prevents blow in away in our very windy Spring. So far, so good...will follow up next Spring.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 10:55AM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

First you have to decide your reason for mulching.
Is it because the bed is mostly unplanted? Is it because you like the 'finished,commercial look of mulched plantings'?
Surely it's not to conserve moisture because that's the job of amended soil. That artificial mound of mulch is actually a barrier to light rainfall . It protects varmints and fungi and , too deep, it holds in too much moisture and too much is worse than too little.
Pine straw in pine forests deters undergrowth and in some cases of certain evergreens provides a fire starter so certain cones can release their seeds.
Most people around here use pine straw to deter weed growth but many overdo the depth of pine straw as mulch or remove the old to replace with fresh for a more pleasing look or color.
Bark chips and wood chips are a faster way of normal soil feeding where weather and forest floor insects and fungi would break down dropped twigs and dead branches to add nutrients to the soil. But nature moves slower and not exactly where you want that rotting wood to be.

I'm not a proponent of any mulch except temporarily over the root zone of a recently transplanted tree that was root pruned before moving.
Build the soil, pull the unwanted plants. Don't merely cover it so it looks like you care what's going on under all that artificial landscape. Sorry to sound harsh and judgmental but farmers don't mulch and neither does Mother Nature.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 12:29PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

A 2 to 4 inch layer of an organic mulch layer over as large an area as possible around plants is one of the single most beneficial things a gardener can provide.

-Mulch certainly does prevent the evaporation of water from the soil surface; an essential function at some times of the year, in much of the country.

-Mulch can keep the mowers and weedeaters away from the trunks of trees, and from shrub/perennial beds.

-It prevents soil splashing, a cause of erosion.

-It prevents the surface of the soil from crusting and repelling water. A mulched soil has much improved percolation of water through the surface. Yes, light rainfalls can be captured by the mulch, but that effect is countered by the evaporation prevention.

-Mulch buffers soil temperature, perhaps one of the biggest benefits. In cold or hot weather, the soil temperature remains comfortable for the shallow essential roots of trees and other plants AS WELL AS FOR the microorganisms that abound in a protected soil system.

-Soil texture is improved as mulch breaks down into smaller particles and become part of the soil.

-Mulches have a nutrient value as they decompose, both for the plants and for the beneficial microbes. Those microorganisms are essential for the plants' growth and development, for their very existance.

-Mulched plants have more roots, especially where there is that important mulch layer. This is important for plants of all ages. The shallow, non-woody roots are very short lived and need to be replaced constantly. Where do you think that this will occur on a much larger scale? Under mulch.

-Mother Nature DOES mulch. In a natural setting the entire first layer of a soil system is the "O" layer (for organic). The only place where the "O" layer exists anymore is in an untouched native woodland or natural area. Mulching with ANY organic substance (bark, wood chips, pine straw, leaves, etc.) is our way of replacing what has been taken away.

-Using the farmer analogy is probably not the best, lol. They would mulch if they could, believe me! Wind and water erosion like crazy, soil depletion of nutrients and water, weed invasion, YIKES! Drive by a newly plowed and planted field and see if you don't agree. If it weren't for herbicides......

-Most would agree that a mulched landscape is much more aesthetically pleasing than a parched soil surface.

My mulch of choice is a load wood chips delivered to my door by my favorite arborist. Since they are composed of the woody part of an assortment of trees and not the just the bark, they break down much faster than pine bark, but top dressing isn't a big chore.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 3:48PM
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fireweed_1947(Western Wa 8)

I use Pine Straw in the summer to keep root zones cool and moist. On HOT summer days I have often slid my hand under a 3" blanket of needles in direct sun and the soil is COOL. In winter it is a fantastic insulator. Rain passes through easily and air can circulate through the needles. I don't use bark mulch because I don't like bark slivers. I ordered 3 bales 2 years ago and have 1 left to use this year. The cost, to me, is well worth it.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 1:01AM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

UPDATE: I have started using a layer of shredded leaves, then a layer of either hardwood mulch or pine bark with a nice top cover of pine straw. This has made my palms, bananas, gardenias, magnolias, camelias, loquat and eucalyptus trees very happy. Since I started doing this 5 years ago the growth has been tremendous as you get a triple layer of benefits from each layer of mulch. The shredded leaves add good nutrients and turn into a compost-eventually humus in the soil and help the older mulches decompose. The hardwood mulch gives bulk and soil building along with moisture holding benefits. The pine straw keeps weeds away almost completely while lookg great with the ease of application and local availability.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2013 at 12:01PM
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topsiebeezelbub(z7 Al)

I used pine needles once and it was so ugly and messy I raked it all back up. I prefer "soil conditioner" as it looks more refined than bark chunks, is good for the plants and is very cheap. It looks like chocolate cake. Might not work on a steep slope, but not much does. Most all mulch will require you add nitrogen to the soil to compensate. A ph test is a good idea for all gardens.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 12:32PM
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