Pine straw is a specific type of mulch that remains popular across the entire United States. The mulch is environmentally friendly and easy to use for autumnal feels and landscaping techniques. Most gardens use some form of mulch; many of these turn to pine straw mulch because of its availability and versatility.
But you should be careful when you make your purchase. Even though mulches appear to be in a broken-down, processed form, certain insects still love to wreak havoc on it. Most devastating are termites, which can destroy plant matter in a garden when they work their way up through the soil.
We’ll explore the attraction of termites to mulch in general, whether termites are attracted to pine straw, and the overall benefits of using pine straw.
What Is Pine Straw Mulch?
Pine straw mulch is mulch that has been created from pine needles rather than through the breaking up of wood chips. Dead needles that have fallen from pine trees are harvested and turned into the mulch.
Producers and harvesters of the mulch don’t need to cut down trees to get access to pine needles, which makes pine straw much more environmentally friendly than wood-based mulches. The level of waste and environmental damage that’s a part of the logging industry isn’t present when pine needles are harvested.
Home owners and gardeners find pine needles useful for the protection of soil. The needles help to regulate the soil temperature and eliminate or slow down the pace of overall erosion. Usually the mulch will be placed on a slope or a hill due to the benefits of the interlocking needles keeping soil from eroding vertically.
What Are The Benefits of Pine Straw?
These are the major advantages that gardeners and home owners are privy to when they use pine straw as opposed to wood-based mulch:
- Many garden-variety plants such as flowers and shrubs grow better with a pine straw coating. You’ll see improved growth rates in geraniums, snapdragons, magnolias, hydrangeas, camellias, azaleas, and other common flowers and shrubbery.
- The mulch protects your yard and garden against brutal cold weather. When a blanket is poured 6-inches thick, it acts as a blanket for your plant and tree roots. They’ll be less susceptible to ice, snow, and killing frosts.
- It’s the same as any other mulch in its ability to keep weeds from germination. Sunlight doesn’t reach the soil underneath the yard or garden, so the infant seeds of weeds never have a chance to sprout.
- The interlocking needles won’t be blown away like other mulches, making it ideal for climates and environments that experience high wind speeds.
- Needles absorb rain water instead of being washed away by it. They’ll also keep the rain water locked in the soil layer beneath the mulch, minimizing the risk of evaporation. This makes it great for hot and dry climates.
- The cellulose count is very low, which means that it’s resistant to termites.
Do Termites Love Pine Straw?
Pine straw is a unique mulch in multiple different ways. Unlike wood mulches, which are less environmentally friendly and less effective, it’s made of fallen pine needles which interlock to provide blanket protection.
There isn’t anything in pine needles that termites can eat. That said, it hasn’t been proven that pine straw mulch will keep termites out of your garden entirely. It’s very possible for termites to germinate in the soil beneath the mulch layer. The insects can thrive down there, but the mulch will provide a protective layer between the insects and your plants.
Termites can’t extract any nutrition from the mulch itself, but they are very attracted to the moisture which the mulch entraps. Termite colonies thrive in wood and soil where they can extract large amounts of water. This is especially true regarding subterranean termite families.
Some studies have shown that termites will eat pine straw mulch just like any other mulch. But it’s unlikely that a termite colony can thrive through the consumption of pine straw mulch alone. You should be concerned about the soil layer beneath your garden, but your risk level is low as long as you have the blanket protection level.
Why Termites Eat
Termites have bacteria and protozoas in their intestinal tract. These single-celled organisms break down plant matter and extract the starches and sugars. Without these single-celled organisms, the digestive system of a termite cannot function.
For this reason, many termite killing products (such as borate treatments) target the digestive system rather than the termite itself. It’s easier to kill the digestive system and let the termite colony starve than to try to poison the insects to death.
Keeping Pine Straw Safe in Your Garden or Yard
Any mulch has the potential to attract termite colonies, whether they’re attracted to a wood mulch or to the lower moisture of the soil. It’s important to protect your home from a potential infestation. Follow these tips to minimize your risk level:
- Make sure no part of the mulch touches your home. The mulch line should stop one to two feet from the foundation.
- Create a barrier between the house and the mulch using a resistant substance. Gravel is the most common option for this.
- Unless you live in a climate with garden-killing winter temperatures, use 2-3 inches of mulch in your garden instead of a 6 inch blanket. (A 6 inch blanket is good for areas that experience extreme cold, though.)
- Purchase mulch that uses standard length or long pine needles. Longer and heavier pine needles will interlock better with each other, which minimizes the chances of termites breaking through the barrier.
Resistance: Fact or Fiction?
Pine straw mulch is resistant to termites insofar as the pine needles won’t give termites the nutrition they need to grow. That said, they will attract termites to the deep soil beneath the mulch. Take precautionary measures when gardening.