A Gardener’s Diary: Pine needles get new life

Excess pine needles can be tough to get out of the garden, but Jocelyne Sewell finds a new use for them

I finally managed to get all the plants that I am overwintering into the house. We were fortunate to have enough sunshine in the afternoons to give me a chance of getting things done in the garden.

The zinnias are still putting on a fantastic show of colours and the cosmos this year are outstanding. Some dahlias which I was late putting in the ground in the spring have finally opened. One of them I thought I had lost over the years but it bloomed this year. This is a yellow and red spider dahlia which was given to me in 1995.

Some of the plants in our gardens are gifts which remind us of the donors. A lot of the plants I have, I don’t know the variety of them but they go by the name of the person that I received them from. Every time we moved, a lot of my plants came with us and a lot of the people left behind are never far from my mind.

I finally got the scarlet runner beans down. I had enough for seeds and the other ones which are past their prime for eating fresh, are being shelled and will be used for making chili. As of last Sunday, I was still picking cherry tomatoes right off the vines.

The wind is blowing the pine needles from my neighbour’s tree all over my beds. I hate to pick those as you have to work with gloves because they are prickly. The worms grab them and pull them into the soil but the ends stand up and they are a mess to clean up. Since I cannot remove the tree, I have to make something useful out of it.

From http://homeguides.sfgate.com/proper-mulch-strawberries-26206.html

“Pine needles, also called pine straw, are a proper mulch for strawberries and slightly increase the acidity of the soil as they decompose. They are an ideal alternative to plastic mulch for strawberry patches with slug problems. Plastic mulch creates a moist environment slugs love, while sharp and prickly pine needles repel these creatures. Mulch with about two to three inches (five to eight cm) of pine needles a few weeks after planting or right after the plants blossom. Add pine needles to create a depth of three to four inches (eight to 10 cm) to insulate overwintering plants from the cold.”

The Effect of Pine Straw on Strawberry Plants By Kim Joyce, eHow Contributor (http://www.ehow.com/about_6665273_effect-pine-straw-strawberry-plants.html)

Pine straw mulch comprised of dried pine needles, creates a thick, protective mulch mat over plant roots but allows both water and air to permeate underlying soil. Sometimes combined with shredded pine cones, pine straw is an excellent mulch for evergreens, strawberries and other plants that need acidic soils.

The ideal mulching depth is generally two to three inches. Pine straw mulch, like other organic mulches, will decompose over time due to contact with soil and organic matter. This helps the soil’s overall structure — or the arrangement of soil particles — by improving the aeration for clay loam or silt soils and increasing the water-holding capacity of sandy soils. Pine mulch improves and stabilizes soil structure also by reducing soil compaction due to rain, irrigation and the weight of people or vehicles.

For more information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell is an organic gardening enthusiast in the North Okanagan and member of the Okanagan Gardens & Roses Club. Her column appears every other Wednesday.