Use pine needles in compost pile

By Staff
Jan. 21, 2001
Dear Gardener,
We have a couple of pine trees in our yard that drop an abundance of pine needles and cones on the ground. Can I use either of these in my compost pile? My husband says yes, but I'm not really sure. Won't they throw off the pH? What about pine needles as mulch?
Dear Reader,
As long as the pine cones and needles are not the main ingredient in your compost pile, the pH should stay regulated. Pine cones are actually a good addition to the pile's interior. They help aerate the compost reducing the need for turning.
Pine needles make excellent mulch, especially for naturalized areas. They also work really well around acid loving plants. As with any mulch, do not layer too thickly. A one half-inch layer is sufficient.
Dear Gardener,
I want to try an easy method for making new flower beds. I had read that layering an area with newspapers and leaving them over the winter could produce good results. Have you tried this method?
Dear Reader,
I have not personally tried this, but I had a neighbor that frequently used it with good results. The easiest way is to spread your layer of newspapers (one to two pages thick), then cover with a layer of compost (one to two inches thick). By spring, the papers should be decomposed and the grass underneath should be dead.
Another easy method is to outline your new bed and shovel down one to two inches. Horizontally scoop out the sod. Then flip it over so that the roots are up and the grass is down. Also leave this till next spring. By then the roots and grass should be dead. Add compost, till and plant. Remove any large clumps of roots that remain.
Dear Gardener,
I am not sure if I should cut back my butterfly bush. If I should, when should I do it?
Donna Morris
Dear Donna,
Butterfly bushes (Buddleia sp.) are wonderful plants. They now come in several colors, including yellow and an almost black purple.
While I have seen butterfly bushes that were cut back every year, I have also seen them left to grow. I personally prefer to cut them back. Chances are that you will not have a choice this winter. The branches have most likely already been killed by the cold. Good thing the roots are hardy to Zones 5 or 6 Meridian is in Zone 7. So, you can simply cut back the branches to about a foot in late winter.
Dear Gardener,
I read somewhere that watering my indoor plants with a tea made from eggshells would promote blooming. Is there any truth to this?
Dear Reader,
By soaking eggshells in water, you are making a calcium-enriched tea. The extra calcium will promote more flowers and longer flowering.
The recipe is really simple. First crush your eggshells, then soak the pieces in water for twenty-four hours. Strain the "tea" and water your plants. The unused portion can be stored covered in the refrigerator.
Hint: If the eggshells are dry they will crush easier and into finer pieces.
Amelia O'Brian, a native of Meridian, holds a bachelor of science degree in horticulture from Mississippi State University. To submit questions, write From the Potting Bench, c/o The Meridian Star, P.O. Box 1591, Meridian, MS 39302. Or, visit her Web site at