Summer temperatures and humidity have arrived, even though the first day of summer is a couple of weeks away. Weeds are growing rapidly, and no one wants to continuously weed in the heat. The solution is to apply several inches of mulch to ornamental beds and fruit and vegetable gardens.

Pine straw is an ideal material for mulch. It has been used as mulch across much of the southern United States for years. When we lived in Virginia in the late ‘70s, pine straw was used to mulch the boxwoods and hollies that graced the landscapes of many homes. Folks who did not have pine trees purchased pine straw from local nurseries. When we moved here in the early ‘90s, I was surprised to see pine straw was not used for mulch. Perhaps it’s hard for folks to appreciate what is common and readily available.

Over the past 20 years the use of pine straw as mulch has become more popular across Texas. It is clean, has an attractive cinnamon color, pleasant fragrance and is a better value than other mulches. Pine straw is a local, renewable resource. Needles are shed each year and are collected for home use or by businesses that bale the straw for sale.

Mulches protect root systems from extreme temperatures in both winter and summer. Water evaporation is slowed down in areas covered by mulch, helping to conserve water. Soil is protected from erosion and compaction from heavy rains. As it slowly decomposes, organic mulches help clay soil to drain better and sandy soils to retain moisture and nutrients. Mulch provides a barrier to soil-borne disease and weeds, improving the health of plants and reducing landscape maintenance time.

There are several different organic mulches available, including pine bark, chopped leaves, grass clippings and peat moss. Pine straw has several advantages over these other mulch choices.

Pine straw is more stable because the needles mesh together and don’t float out of beds like bark mulches and will even stay on sloped areas. We can all relate to the importance of erosion control during this year of heavy rains. It is loose and allows water to penetrate the soil and air pockets allow drying, so roots are not excessively wet. Grass clippings and leaves can make a crust, making it hard for water to reach roots. Pine straw controls weeds more effectively than other mulches.

The pleasing color of pine straw is an attractive background for the colors and textures of landscape plants. When added each year, it freshens up planting beds. Pine straw is light and easily applied by most gardeners. The bales are much easier to handle than heavy bags of conventional mulch.

When we installed the native demonstration bed next to the Angelina Extension office eight years ago the soil was hard packed and mostly clay. I remember folks using post hole diggers to plant the native trees and shrubs. Pine Straw Direct generously donated pine straw bales and we mulched the whole area. The next year the soil was conditioned by the slow deterioration of the pine straw. Weeds are easily removed by hand and we no longer need sharp tools to dig holes for plants.

Pine straw is ideal to mulch in vegetable beds. Under tomatoes it covers the soil, so soil-borne diseases are not splashed onto the plants during rain or irrigation. It will last an entire season, and when planting the next crop, you can simple rake back the pine straw and reapply.

Azaleas thrive with pine straw mulch. Master Gardener Connie Rhoades noticed her azaleas are healthier after switching from pine bark to pine straw mulch. The bark would float and become displaced after heavy rains exposing the shallow roots. Pine straw meshes together and stays in place protecting the roots from the sun and holds in soil moisture.

Hot summer temperatures dry out container plantings quickly. Sometimes containers require watering every day. I have noticed when I applied four inches of pine straw around container-grown citrus trees, I’m watering weekly instead of daily.

We recently received another donation of pine straw mulch for the native demonstration bed from Pine Straw Direct. Their website is pinestrawdirect.com and they will deliver, or you may pick up your pine straw order on North Timberland Drive.

The June Master Gardener noon program will be “Propagating from Cuttings” on June 18 at the Master Gardeners greenhouse in the Farmers Market. Master Gardener Marlow Shubert will be the instructor. Cost for the program is $5 to cover the cost of materials. Please call 634-6414 to reserve your spot, since space is limited.

The June edition of Forest Country Gardening, on City of Lufkin KLTX TV, Suddenlink Channel 15, is “Landscape Design.” We visited the home of Master Gardener Jeannine Stevens to see how she transformed her side yard into an enchanting garden pathway. Visit the Angelina County Master Gardener Facebook page for links. You may also visit cityoflufkin.com for KLTX viewing schedules and a link to their YouTube page.

Elaine Cameron is an Angelina County Master Gardener. She can be reached at elainecameron@suddenlinkmail.com.