Pine Straw and Pests: What You Need to Know This Fall

Pine straw is a popular feature of outdoor autumn décor all around Alabama, and more people across the country are also beginning to use it as an eco-friendly, organic mulch. There are a lot of reasons to use pine straw, but before you start raking it up, keep one thing in mind. Bugs that are looking for somewhere warm to settle down for the winter also love pine straw.

That’s right, insects like pine straw even more than avid gardeners. Here’s why.

3 Reasons Insects Love Pine Straw in the Fall

Pine straw itself doesn’t attract insects. Bugs don’t eat dry pine straw, but other qualities draw in bugs including termites, centipedes and earwigs. Some of these insects help break the pine straw down, which is good for deterring weeds, but for the most part its best to keep critters away from your house.

Like other types of mulch, pine straw can serve as a hideout as well as a route for bugs to get in or near a home. As we mentioned in an earlier post, when the weather cools off bugs will be attracted to your warm home for hibernation and are looking for a way to get in. If pine straw is right up against the foundation, on the porch, etc., insects will see it as an invitation to venture further inside.

Even if they don’t get inside, the pine straw acts as a ground insulator, which is another reason it attracts insects that are looking to stay warm. Homeowners use mulch to protect roots from freezing like a blanket. Just know that insects may also snuggle underneath.

Yet another double edge sword of pine straw is that it can hold in moisture. This is preferable for your plants, but it can also cause rot in wood, attracting different types of ants and other bugs in the early fall. The moisture also makes pine straw edible for a variety of insects, and termites need high moisture levels to survive.

But don’t worry if you’ve already spent the time to collect a pile of pine needles and have covered your garden beds. When placed properly pine straw can be used to give you all the mulch benefits without the bugs.

Tips for Keeping Pine Straw from Causing Pest Problems

With pine straw it’s all about placement and upkeep. Where you put it directly affects how many troublesome bugs start hanging around. Follow the tips below and you’ll have a lot fewer pests to worry about this fall.

Don’t put pine straw right up against the house. This makes it much easier for bugs to get inside where they don’t belong. Instead, stop the mulch line at least a foot or two away from the foundation.

Create a barrier between the house and the pine straw. Just as with other types of mulch, it’s best to put a barrier between any structures and the pine straw. Pea gravel is an excellent option to use as a barrier.

Only make it 2-3” deep. In Alabama and other areas with somewhat mild winters that’s all it takes to keep root structures warm. It’s also shallow enough so that the pine straw won’t retain moisture and attract insects.

Keep pine straw mulch shallower in moist areas. If an area is typically moist (spots that are shaded all day or near the gutter outlet) the mulch needs to less than 2” deep.

Opt for long or standard length pine needles that are on the heavier side. Pine needles come in three lengths: 12”, 9” and 6”. The longer and heavier the needles are, the better they will interlock without compacting. This decreases the chances of the needles blowing out of place closer to the house when the first strong gust of wind comes along. Denser pine straw is also less likely to retain high levels of moisture.

Rake the pine needle mulch every now and then. Raking helps to aerate the pine needles so it’s less likely to lock in moisture. This will also help prolong decomposing, which typically occurs within 2-4 months.

Skip natural pine straw decor. If you love the look of pine straw wreaths and house decorations, it’s best to fake it. Synthetic pine straw decor won’t attract insects and you can use it again next fall.

Even if you are careful when placing pine needles so that they don’t encourage bugs to hang around, the safest bet is to schedule regular pest control treatments even when the weather cools off. The experienced techs at Vulcan Termite and Pest Control Inc. know where all the fall pests like to hide and can treat the pine needle mulch without harming your plants.

Give us a call for more tips on using pine straw in your yard or to make an appointment!

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