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Pine Straw vs. Pine Needles (and Common Uses)

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People sometimes refer to pine needles and pine straw interchangeably. Are they the same? What are the differences between pine straw and pine needles?

Pine needles and pine straw are not the same thing.

Pine needles are the thin and long leaves of pine trees. They are green and mostly fresh.

On the other hand, pine straw is the dry and brown form of pine needles.

While both have similar uses, pine straw is mostly used for mulching, and pine needles are mostly used for composting or making pine straw.

What are some common uses for pine straw and pine needles? How can you use them for mulching and composting?

Continue reading to find out.

side by side picture of pine straw and pine needle

Pine Straw vs. Pine Needles

Let us try to understand what pine needles and pine straw are, as well as understand their differences.

What Are Pine Needles?

When you look at pine trees, you will notice that their leaves do not look like the leaves of other trees. Pine tree leaves are called pine needles.

Pine needles are long, thin, green, and clustered at the stem.

Some uses of pine needles are:

  • Pine tea: There are different types of pine trees with leaves that make healthy tea. You can use pine needles, but not pine straw.
  • Animal feed: Some animals, like goats and sheep, eat the leaves of pine trees.
  • Composting: Composting means decomposing organic products to produce a fine soil amendment product. You can use pine straw to make compost, but you need the nitrogenous green needles if you want your compost to be nutritious.

What Is Pine Straw?

Stacked bales of pine straw in spring

Pine straw is simply the dried form of pine needles. Just as grass dries to become hay and grain plants dry to become straw, pine needles dry to become pine straw.

Pine straw has a lot of uses, but the most common are:

  • Mulching: Straw is used for mulching because it is dry and will not decompose quickly, like pine needles.
  • Crafting: You can use pine straw in crafts. Pine straw does not go bad quickly, so it can adorn your crafted baskets and chairs for a long time.
  • Composting: Brown and dry materials are essential parts of composting, because they supply energy used to decompose the green and fresh materials.

Now let us discuss the differences between pine straw and pine needles.

Differences between Pine Straw and Pine Needle

1. Moisture Content

Pine straw has less than 20% moisture, but pine needles have over 70%. The moisture content plays a role in how quickly the material can decompose, as well as its uses.

For example, one common use of fresh materials (i.e. those with high moisture content) is that they supply moisture to a compost pile.

Pine straw has very little moisture, so moisture-seeking microbes do not affect it as much. This is why farmers convert their grass into hay, as hay lasts longer than grass.

2. Other Properties

Worker carrying two bales of pinestaw

Some other differences between pine straw and pine needles are:

  1. Nutrients: Both have relatively the same amount of nutrients, but pine needles have more moisture, while pine straw has more concentrated nutrients.
  2. Color: Pine needles are light or dark green, but pine straw has a brown or orange-yellow color.
  3. Weight: Due to their high moisture content, pine needles are heavier than pine straw. They get lighter as their moisture content drops.
  4. Size: Pine needles start to break as they become straw, so pine straw pieces are smaller or shorter than pine needles.

3. Specific Uses

Pine needles and pine straw have different uses.

For example, you can use certain pine needles to make pine tea. They also serve as the nitrogenous constituents of compost.

As for pine straw, it is best used for mulch and the brown parts of compost. Pine straw is also used for crafting.

However, what are the similarities between pine straw and pine needles?

Similarities Between Pine Straw and Pine Needles

Green Pine Needles
  • Both come from the same tree: Pine needles are the leaves of pine trees, while pine straw is the dried, brown leaves.
  • Similar uses: You can use both for composting and making bedding.

How to Use Pine Straw and Pine Needles

Here are some uses of both pine straw and pine needles:


You can use pine straw as mulch. You only need to cover the soil with 3-4 inches of mulch for it to be effective. Some uses of mulch are:

  • Weed prevention: Weeds need sunlight to germinate. If you cover the soil so that sunlight can no longer reach it, the weeds below will not grow.
  • Pest prevention: Pests, such as the fungus gnat, will not have easy access to the soil if you use mulch.
  • Soil moisture control: Sunlight can cause water to evaporate from the soil. However, mulch prevents excess moisture from leaving the soil, as the mulch traps vapor.


organic soil fertilization

Compost is essential to gardeners, because it enriches the soil. For any composting to be successful, you need 1 part greens to 4 part browns.

Some examples of greens are pine needles, green leaves, and animal manure. Some examples of browns are pine straw, hay, brown leaves, and dry paper.

Mix all composting materials, and occasionally add water to the mixture. You should mix and turn the compost pile 2 or 3 times a week for aeration.

Your compost pile should be ready in less than three months.

Bedding for Animals

Bedding is important for farm animals. It keeps them warm, by adding a layer between their body and the cold ground. For young animals that have not developed strong legs, bedding helps soften the floor, so it is easier to walk on.

For mature animals, you can use either pine straw or pine needles. As for baby animals, only use pine straw, as pine needles can smell bad when they start to decompose.


Pine straw and pine needles are different, though they both come from the same tree. Remember that pine needles are the fresh and green leaves of pine trees, while pine straw is the dried version of pine needles.


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