Can You Compost Pine Needles?

If you have a pine tree in your backyard, it is only natural you might begin to wonder whether you could compost the pine needles scattered under the tree.

The subject of whether or not to compost pine needles is a bit thorny. The majority of compost is naturally alkaline. However, pines are known to be acidic, and given the acidic nature of pine needles, one can wonder how to use them in compost without harming your garden plants?

Composting can be confusing at times, but if there are a lot of pine trees near you, it’s a good idea to know how to deal with them. After all, they have the potential to be a constant source of biological matter.

So, Can Pine Needles Be Use For Composting?  

In a nutshell, yes, but only within specified parameters. Pine needles should not make up more than 8 to 10 percent of a compost heap. Pine needles decompose slowly thus they should be shredded and blended with other composting materials to achieve the best results.

It is critical not to use too many needles in your compost because they decompose slowly when compared to other items you can compost for your garden.

Pine needles, which are abundant and free in most regions of the country, are an excellent source of organic matter for the garden. Whether used in compost or as mulch around your plants, they supply critical nutrients and improve the soil’s ability to retain moisture. And you won’t have to worry about any negative consequences if you know how to compost pine needles the right way.

Pine Needles pH

There’s a common misperception that pine needles promote acidic soil. Pine needles are acidic, especially when they are green and fresh. However, when they fall from the tree and are left to rot, they lose their acidity over time.

The common concern is that compost created from pine needles is slightly acidic, which can have a negative effect on your plants if you use it. However, investigations have shown that organically degraded pine needles at the bottom of years of layers of pine straw mulch become increasingly neutral over time, eventually reaching a pH of 5.6 – 6.0.

As a result, it’s reasonable to assume that you can compost pine needles without worrying about the consequences for your garden.

Using Pine Needle As Mulch

Because pine needles decompose slowly, you can use the same batch of pine needles as mulch for a season or two before transferring them to the compost pile.

Pine needles have a waxy layer that makes them more difficult to compost than most plant waste. Although you may simply toss fresh pine needles into your compost pile and call it a day, many gardeners choose to extend the useful life of their pine needles by first utilizing them as mulch. The wax layer has usually broken down by the time the pine needles wind up in the compost pile, allowing the pine needles to decompose faster.

Because pine needle mulch doesn’t compress over time, you don’t need to apply it thickly. It remains light and fluffy, allowing water to trickle through to the soil. On a windy day, though, pine needle mulch may blow out of the garden, so use it in sheltered areas rather than around a border.

Pine Needles Composting Tips

When you already have a healthy compost pile, composting pine needles is very simple. Dump them directly into the pile and proceed as usual with layering or folding in new material. Because of their neutral pH and reduced waxy covering, “seasoned” pine needles (those that have previously been used as mulch) are the best option. They’ll disintegrate significantly faster than fresh needles.

If you don’t want to use pine needles as mulch for a season or two before composting them, you can speed up the composting process by physically breaking them down first.

Rake them into a mound, adjust the height of your lawnmower, then run over the pile a few times to chop up the needles. A mulching bag attachment is advised to keep the pine needles contained, but if you don’t have one, set your pine needle pile on a concrete driveway before using the lawnmower to make sweeping up the waste easier.

Keeping Pine Needle Content In Check

Pine needles are only one sort of component required for efficient composting. According to the Cornell Waste Management Institute, all compost piles must contain a blend of green nitrogen-rich material and brown carbon-based material, as well as appropriate moisture, heat, volume, and air. Although you should always have more brown material than green material in your compost pile, experts do not recommend filling your compost pile, fresh or old, with pine needles.

Instead, strive to retain the pine needle content of your compost pile to roughly 10% of its overall volume in order to provide enough food for the pile’s microbes as the needles’ wax coating deteriorates. As extra brown materials, use dried leaves, sawdust, newspaper, paper bags, old mulch, and even old compost to fill out the bulk of your compost pile.

Advantages Of Using Pine Needles In Your Compost

Pine needles do not compact when composted, which is a benefit, because it allows air to circulate through the compost pile, and also provides bulk to the pile. When used correctly, this will aid in maintaining high moisture levels in your compost pile.

How Long Do Pine Needles Take To Compost?

Because pine needles are difficult to compost, “hot” composting methods are advised. It entails incorporating nitrogen-rich ingredients such as blood meal, chicken manure, manure, and coffee grounds into the mix. The ideal temperature range for hot composting is around 135° -160° Fahrenheit.

Hot composting can break down pine needles in around 8 weeks. After the greens decompose in a few weeks, the pine straw remains intact. Given the high carbon concentration of pine needles, adding more greens to the pile will keep it warm without making it anaerobic.

Do Pine Needles Contribute Nitrogen To The Soil?

Pine needles do not provide a good supply of nitrogen. However, they are a good supply of carbon, or “brown element,” which can be composted. Despite the fact that pine needles are acidic, they have little effect on the pH of the soil.

Best Procedures For Composting Pine Needles

  • To compost huge branches, chop them into small pieces with pruners. Use a wood chipper or shredder to compost tiny pinewood branches and needles quickly and easily.
  • As a general guideline, just add a tiny amount of needles to your compost. Your compost pile should contain no more than 8% to 10% pine needles.
  • If possible, soak the pine needles for 24 to 48 hours to speed up the disintegration process.
  • If you have a lot of pine needles, consider composting them in a different bin or large separate long-term compost pile in another part of your yard.
  • Avoid putting huge volumes of roadside pine needles in your compost. These needles may include toxins from cars or trash that are difficult to perceive.
  • To balance out the compost pile, if you add pine needles to it, add an equivalent amount of green garbage.

Final Thoughts

Many gardeners have used pine needle compost successfully throughout the decades. Just remember to use the pine needles as mulch beforehand, to extend their useful life before composting them after a season or two.

Always use them in combination with manure, kitchen scraps, and other green materials. And make sure to add them in before the pine needles.

And rather than gathering needles from trees in the spring, you might want to wait until the fall when they naturally fall off.