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Agricultural Research Service

Designer Pine Straw for Mulching and Aesthetics / June 1, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Designer Pine Straw for Mulching and Aesthetics

By Tara Weaver
June 1, 1998

Colored pine straw mulch that's custom-made for gardeners, homeowners and landscapers also puts extra money in farmers' pockets.

Agricultural Research Service scientists at Booneville, Ark., developed the designer mulch, which could potentially generate 30 to 50 percent more profit—$400 to $800 more per acre—for farmers who usually grow pine trees for pulpwood and timber. North Carolina is the biggest pine straw producer, taking in more than $50 million annually from this commodity.

The mulch, commercially available in green, blue, red, brown, gold and black, is becoming more widely used in landscaping. Adding colorants to pine straw enhances its attractiveness and marketability, according to ARS forester Catalino A. Blanche at the Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville.

Like other mulches, colored pine straw preserves soil moisture, moderates soil temperature and prevents weeds from sprouting. But the colored mulch decomposes much more slowly than conventional woodchips or uncolored pine straw. Recent ARS studies show colored mulch doesn't change soil pH and is environmentally safe.

Pine straw can be harvested starting when the trees are eight years old. According to Blanche, it might harm the tree to harvest every year. Scientists are now looking at how the straw harvesting affects the tree's growth and environment. Harvesting only in alternate years might be a solution, Blanch says.

To make the mulch, farmers harvest only from those trees with needles more than six inches long. The longer needles are easier to harvest and bale. Longleaf pine, which has one-foot needles, loblolly pine and slash pine are the best trees for making straw.

Scientific contact: Catalino A. Blanche, Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center, Booneville, Ark., phone (501) 675-3834, fax (501) 675-2940, cblanche@yell.com.

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