Weeding. “Mulches help control weeds,” he said. “That provides two advantages: One, youdon’t have to pull weeds yourself. And two, you don’t have to spray chemical herbicidesaround your yard.” Watering. “Sunshine and wind will take away much less water if the soil surface is coveredwith mulch,” Garber said. Reduce water needs with pine straw mulch around shrubs and inflower beds. Replenish. Don’t replace. Just add new straw on top of the old to make a layer at least two tothree inches thick. That’s the least it will take to be effective. You could be happy you saved it next spring; for all the reasons it’s so good in yourlandscape, pine straw can be just as valuable as a mulch in your vegetable garden. “In most cases,” Garber said, “pine straw that’s two inches deep after it settles does 90 percentof what you’d expect the fabric or plastic liner to do. Four or five inches of fresh straw willsettle to about two inches.” Don’t just stuff it under the branches. Spread it beyond the drip line, the line right underthe outermost leaves. “Getting it over the feeder roots is the key,” Garber said. Yes, somebody has to rake it all up. But pine straw can be more of a blessing than a chore,said Mel Garber, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. Don’t remove the old pine straw. “One of the benefits of mulching is the organic matter itadds to the soil as it decomposes,” he said. Don’t pile it too thick. “I don’t know that it will hurt so much,” Garber said. “But any morethan about six inches just won’t do any more good.” Pine straw can free you, he said, from having to do so much: “If you use it right, pine straw can actually help you have less yard work to do,” Garber said. Pine straw actually falls year-round, said extension forester Dave Moorhead. But needle-fall isheaviest in fall, winter and early spring. If you have more pine straw than you can use in the fall, just find an out-of-the-way place topile it up and save it. If you think of all it can do, you’ll thank those pines for the pine straw they’re raining intoyour yard. It can also help keep soil from washing from heavy rains, Garber said. That protects waterquality and keeps you from having to repair eroded areas. Here are some tips, Garber said, to help make the most of your pine straw. Mulch young trees. “It’s really important in the first two or three years,” he said. “Withshallow-rooted trees like dogwood or redbud or crape myrtle it’s good to mulch even afterthat.” Don’t push it up close to the stems. Especially with azaleas, he said, mulch piled up aroundthe stems can lead a second root system to develop. That often happens at the expense of thedeeper root system, which leaves the azalea even more susceptible to drought damage. Mowing. Contoured pine straw islands, with just a few plants, can replace large areas ofhigh-maintenance lawn. “Where you already have groups of shrubs or trees, use pine straw totie them together,” Garber said. “Then you won’t have to mow around them individually.” Don’t put plastic or landscape fabric under the straw unless your main purpose is completeweed control. If that’s the case, you won’t need as thick a layer of straw. It can help keep the soil moist in small gardens, raised bed gardens or small beds of vegetableplantings. It can also be good for mulching small fruits, such as strawberries or blueberries.