Ask the master gardeners
Q: A big white pine on my property sheds its needles every September. Can I use them as mulch?
A: You are very lucky to have a free source of pine needles. Although they are not commercially available, they are an excellent mulch for certain acid-loving plants. Put the needles to good use!
Rake them up and place them 2 to 3 inches deep around plants that will appreciate the acidic boost, including azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.), mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia), andromedas (Pieris japonica), bayberries (Myrica spp.) and American hollies (Ilex opaca).
Edible plants that would like a pine needle mulch include blueberries, certain herbs, onions, tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries and potatoes.
For a complete list of acid loving plants in your area, consult your local cooperative extension. Because many of these are foundation plants, you’ll be less likely to bring wood-borne pests next to your home when using needles as mulch.
Mulch in general has many garden paybacks, but one unique to pine needle mulch is that the needles discourage slugs. These soft-bellied pests hate crawling over pine needles.
Pine needle mulch is slow to decompose but should be renewed annually. Finally, a bed of pine needles on walking paths makes an excellent footpath and discourages weeds.
Ursula Woolley, New City master gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland