Ensley: Pine straw makes good fall mulch

Pine straw is already starting to fall – right on time again. There’s no better time to apply pine straw mulches than in the fall. If you’re like many people and you wait until spring, you might be a little late getting it done.

It has been dry all this year, so conserving water is a big reason for mulching. Sunshine and wind will take away much less water if the soil surface is covered with a layer of mulch.

It gives you a more constant moisture level in the soil. It can keep the soil from getting so dry that it damages the plant. By keeping more moisture in the soil and insulating the surface from direct sunlight, mulches also help keep the soil from getting hot enough to damage roots.

Mulches help control weeds, too, which provides two advantages; one, you don’t have to get out there and pull weeds yourself, and two you don’t have to spray chemical herbicides around your yard.

Pine straw will fall from the state’s pine trees until around Thanksgiving. But, most will be on the ground by the end of October. If you don’t have pine trees in your own yard and cannot get it from a neighbor, fall is a good time to buy pine straw, too.

However you get it, here’s how to make the most of it as a mulch:

♦ Don’t remove the old pine straw. Don’t replace; replenish. Don’t throw away the valuable organic matter of last year’s partly decomposed straw, although you may need to break it up. Just add however much you need to make the mulch at least two to three inches.

♦ Don’t pile it on too thick.

♦ Don’t push it up close to the stems. Especially with azaleas, mulch piled around the stem can lead a second root system to develop, often at the expense of the deeper one. That leaves the plant more susceptible to drought.

♦ Don’t just stuff it under the branches. Spread it out beyond the “drip line”.

♦ Don’t put plastic or landscape fabric under the straw unless your main purpose is complete weed control.

In most cases an adequate thickness of the pine straw itself does 90 to 95 percent of what you would expect the fabric or plastic line to do.