While doing some research during my studies yesterday, I came upon a webpage entitled "How to Use a Landscape Rake for Pine Needles."
Now at first sight, you'd think "What's a landscape rake, exactly? I know how to use a normal rake, or a spring rake, on pine needles, surely no-one would need instructions on how to do that, so it must be a special tool."
All agog, I started to read.
"Pine trees are a familiar sight, especially around the holiday season."
Huh? I thought pine trees were a familiar sight all year round. This was a good start.
It goes on to describe how terrible it is when pine needles spoil your lawn or your yard. However, panic not, they have some reassurance: "Fortunately, you can remove large quantities of the pine needles with a landscape rake" they say.
Ooh, ooh, tell me more.
First you have to assemble some essential items for the job: 1) some gardening gloves. OK, that I can believe. 2) a garbage bag. Ah, we're American, then. Where's item 3, the landscape rake? I'm hoping for a photo, but I'm disappointed.
Now we get to the instructions:
1 Wear a pair of garden gloves to protect your hands during the raking process. OK, sounds good so far.
2 Remove debris from the area you will be raking. This includes sticks, rocks, branches and other large, heavy items. Removing these items will make the raking process easier. Errr, a little patronising, but still sensible.
3 Start at one end of the area and work in small 3- to 4-foot sections at a time. Place the landscape rake with the teeth side against the ground. Really? Teeth downwards? Have I stumbled on Gardening For Complete Thickies, by any chance? This has to rate with "green side up" for laying turf...
4 Drag the rake slowly across the area in a straight line. You may have to drag the rake over the area multiple times until all the pine needles are removed. Continue raking the area to remove the pine needles. I am sniggering somewhat at the suggestion of having to do it multiple times, but to be honest, they are correct, and if you are addressing someone who really does know nothing about gardening - which would seem to be the case - then this does make sense.
5 Lift the landscape rake up and move it a few inches next to the area that you just finished raking. But, but, do I move it to the left, or to the right? *worried face* (yes, I am joking)
6 Repeat Steps 3, 4 and 5 until you have raked the needles into a pile. "Repeat steps.." lovely, absolutely lovely. Then, to finish the job up properly:
7 Pick the needles up with your gloved hands and place them inside a trash bag. Dispose of the pine needles, place them in your compost pile or use them as mulch around your plants.
Well, I don't know about you, but I would never put pine needles on a compost heap: for a start they are full of lignin and resin canals, and I imagine that they would take forever to break down.
However, the one reason that everyone knows - "it makes the compost too acid" looks as though it could be an urban myth. I've found several articles on the internet - like this blog entry - which indicate that it's not actually true.
Incidentally, I've done some research on this idea about using leylendii cuttings for ericaceous compost, and it is beginning to look like another urban myth. I am now going to do my own research, using the garden of a client who has a number of very large conifers scattered around a large garden: so watch this space, I will publish the results as soon as I have them.
And in the meantime, if you don't believe me about raking pine needles, here you go, check it out for yourself!