Half acre in VA: is pine straw my best weed barrier?

shermersMay 23, 2010

Hi, I just bought a new house in Richmond, VA and I was wondering about the utility and availabilty of pine straw in Richmond. I haven't moved into the house yet so I don't have a photo, but I'll describe my situation, and I would love to get any suggestions anyone might have.

The backyard is about a half acre of selectively cleared woods, mostly poplar on a slight slope. The current owners have been keeping the ground clear and consequently there is grass and weeds grown up densely in the woods. I'm hopeful that if I mulched the half acre and stopped mowing and clearing debris, that in a couple years the weeds and grass would go away.

Does anybody think pine straw,pine nuggets, or hardwood would be the way to go? Price? availiblity? or any other thoughts?

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Check out the local supply in person, decide what to do from that. Certain weeds will need heavy mulching to be taken out, some perennial kinds are quite good at poking up through material put over them.

Keep it off the trunks of trees.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 12:51PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

IME, if you let it go, you will be replacing yard weeds with much more persistent and annoying kinds. You'll end up with the common understory plants of the area which include multiflora rose and poison ivy. It will take continuous mulching and weeding to keep them out.

Personally, if the area is mowable, I'd mow it. It really is the most effective, efficient and doable solution to keeping the woody weeds under control.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 2:17PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Pine straw mulch is a serious fire hazard. Yes, really. Do not use it close to your house.

My town has banned it in certain areas...and I wish the GC where I work wouldn't sell it. I always warn people to keep it away from structures.

Here is a link that might be useful: Chapel Hill Pine Straw ban

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 8:01AM
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jollyrd(Richmond VA)

we use lots of pine straw to start the fire outdoor (to burn old rotten wood to get ashes for the garden soil) - it fires up real easy and produces high flames and heat, heats up large logs so that they catch fire

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 1:13PM
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That is eye opening about the fire hazard with pine straw. I read several articles before making my post and never saw that mentioned. I don't want some neighborhood kids smoking it our trees and setting the place ablaze.

Not sure what to do. I might try some pine bark on one small area and HW mulch another small area and see what happens. I suppose a half acre of material weed barrier would be cost prohibitive.

I've cut enough grass for a lifetime, I'd like to find an alternative besides letting the natural plants return.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 3:48PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I've cut enough grass for a lifetime, I'd like to find an alternative besides letting the natural plants return.

Well...have you thought about hiring a kid to mow the lawn? Seriously.If you have enough sun for grass, grass will grow. If you don't, it won't...and then you'll have something else to think about.

I had a customer in the GC three weeks ago who had just "cleared his woods" but didn't know what to put in place of the scrub and brush he'd removed. Wanted enough English Ivy for 3/4 of an acre.


After I picked my jaw up off the floor I explained that EI would make him miserable...poison ivy would infiltrate it...honeysuckle would infiltrate it...not to mention the mess it makes when it goes up trees. I convinced him not to plant that. Then he asked about vinca. I told him vinca was a better choice, but with 3/4 of an acre of high shade and a reasonably level lot he could do better than 3/4 of an acre of vinca minor. (He'd still have honeysuckle and PI issues...plus English Ivy that the birds would plant...) I then suggested he call a landscape designer or architect and figure out what would make his woodland garden beautiful.

I'm hoping he took my advice. Yes, I lost (perhaps) a major vinca sale. But I'm hoping I saved a property owner some heartache.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 7:39PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Meant to mention a book in my post above. You should get your hands on a copy of The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest by Rick Darke. Your library might have it...I've linked a copy from Amazon.


Here is a link that might be useful: The American Woodland Garden

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 7:47PM
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Good tip thanks. The picture on the cover is fantastic. My brain is getting to work already on some ideas.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 12:00AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)


    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 3:04PM
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Yes, I'm not trying to get out of work completely, just minimize it. Grass cutting and weeding are way overrated in my opinion. But the consensus seems to be a weed barrier that large is almost sure to fail. I'm thinking a second lawn mower for my son might actually do the trick as I envision a multiyear process to replace the grass with other plantings. If that doesn't work maybe a zeroturn mower.

Maybe I'll use the weed barrier/cinders idea for a central path. An outer perimeter I'll let grow in naturally and separate that from my planings with a 3 foot strip of grass/weed.

If nothing else the book seems like a good read.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 4:48PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Oh, it is. Lots of lovely pictures. In fact...I've gotten my copy back out. I'm really going to do something with my backyard this year.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 9:18PM
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Here in my area the only mulch used is pine straw which falls in copious amounts from our tall southern pines. Most homes have vast, shady areas under trees which we do not wish to maintain and yet want to keep tidy. Our approach is to run a weed eater about three times a year during the growing season over the pine straw, knocking back the weeds. We have about a half acre under pines/oaks and do the weed eating in sections as needed.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2010 at 10:25AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Nandina...have you had the fire troubles we've had here in NC? Or are people more careful with their cigarettes? (That's what started the Raleigh fire a few years ago...a tossed butt.)

    Bookmark   May 28, 2010 at 8:57PM
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Mjsee, very seldom hear of fires started in pine straw around homes. Open burning is allowed here in SC except when it is banned due to drought situations. Sometimes in the early spring a homeowner's burning cleanup fire will be picked up by the wind and jump into adjoining woods needing attention by fire departments. However, it is also important to understand that the health of our extensive pine timber acres depends on deliberate slow burns through them in early spring when burning conditions are right.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 7:39AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Nandina...I know that longleaf pine forests need a slow burn every few years...just as sequoias do. Perhaps pine straw becomes a problem when it is taken from it's native habitat and placed in an urban situation...and piled up against buildings...particularly buildings with vinyl siding? I know Raleigh and Chapel Hill banned it as mulch around multi-family buildings after a couple of really scary fires...

    Bookmark   May 30, 2010 at 3:32PM
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