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The Center for Agroforestry

Pine Straw: A New Mulch for Missouri

Dr. Chris Starbuck, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry and UM Department of Horticulture

Goal: The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry (UMCA), and the UM Department of Horticulture are working toward creating a ‘Pine Straw’ industry in the state of Missouri, through a process of research, product development and education, designed to encourageproducers, retailers, and consumers to adopt the use of this renewable, sustainable, natural mulch material.

Pine Straw
12 year old loblolly pines
A landowner at Heckemeyer Farms, Sikeston, Mo., discusses pine straw opportunities with a specialist in between rows of 12-year old loblolly pines. The pine straw is harvested while the trees mature.

What is Pine Straw?

  • The naturally shed needles of pine trees are known as ‘Pine Straw’.
  • It is an excellent landscape mulching material.
  • Pine Straw is a multi-million dollar industry.
  • In the Southeastern U.S, pine straw is the #1 mulching material used in landscape plantings.
  • Many sites in Missouri are suitable for Pine Straw Production.

Why use Pine Straw?

  • Because pine trees shed some needles every year Pine Straw production is sustainable year in and year out.
  • Pine Straw is actually a leaf (needle), and thus benefits the landscape in much the same way as decomposing leaves benefit the forest floor by recycling nutrients and maintaining soil organic matter.
  • Pine Straw as Mulch
    Pine straw is effectively used as mulch in this urban landscape setting.
  • Hardwood bark mulch can cause a buildup of calcium and potassium in the soil increasing pH and causing an imbalance in soil minerals that can interfere with nutrient uptake. The minerals in pine needles are balanced and therefore, their decomposition does not create an imbalance in the soil.
  • Hardwood and pine bark mulch can wash away in a strong rain. Pine Straw knits together and holds in place during heavy rain, helping to prevent soil erosion.

How is Pine Straw sold?

Pine Straw
Baled Pine Straw
Pine straw is baled in preparation for selling or use as mulch. Photo courtesy Small Farm Innovations
  • Pine Straw is sold in compressed bales ranging from 15 to 20 lbs., and retails for $9.00 to $12.00 per bale.
  • A 20# bale of Pine Straw will cover between 50 and 60 square feet at a depth of about 2 to 4 inches at a cost averaging $0.19 per sq. ft.
  • Hardwood bark mulch is sold in 2 cubic feet bags, retails for $2.00 to $4.00 per bag. A bag covers 8 to 12 sq. ft. at a depth of about 2 to 3 inches at a cost averaging $0.30 per sq. ft.

What research is being done with Pine Straw?

Twenty-five different genotypes of pitch x loblolly hybrids and fourteen cold-hardy loblolly pines are being evaluated for their suitability for the production of Pine Straw mulch.

Future Pine Straw Research Objectives:

  1. Developing clonal seed orchards and releasing seed of proven, cold hardy pitch x loblolly hybrids and pure loblolly pines for commercial production.
  2. Applied short-term research leading to the development of best management practices for producing Pine Straw;
  3. Market research to nurture the fledgling Pine Straw demand;
  4. On-farm demonstrations concerning Pine Straw production and harvest;
  5. Demonstrations of pine straw mulch in urban landscapes;
  6. Evaluation of shade tolerant nursery stock to grow between mature pines in a Pine Straw plantation;
  7. Evaluation of pine straw as a component for commercial soil mixes; and
  8. Evaluation of various pine species for edible nut production and pine straw potential.

Can I buy cold hardy pines to plant on my farm?

Proven, cold hardy seedlings of pitch x loblolly hybrids and pure loblolly pines, tested under Missouri climate conditions are not currently available.

Where do I get Pine Straw?

Retail
- Appearing soon at a local nursery outlet near you!
- Pine Straw, ask your local nursery outlet to carry it!
- Pine Straw, ask for it by name!

Wholesale (Boot Heel region)
Heckemeyer Farms
206 College Rd.
Sikeston, MO 63801
(573) 471-8198

Additional Nurseries Carrying Pine Straw:
Vintage Hill
5643 Hwy 87
Franklin, MO 65250

Bart Menning Tree & Mulch
8378 I-70 Drive SE
Columbia, MO 65201
573-474-7822
573-356-4861

For more information contact:

Dr. Chris Starbuck Steven D. Kirk
(573) 882-9630 (573) 882-9269
starbuckc@missouri.edu kirks@missouri.edu

This work was funded through the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry under cooperative agreement AG-02100251 with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The results presented are the sole responsibility of the P.I. and/or MU and may not represent the policies or positions of the ARS

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Revised: November 19 2010
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