LSU AgCenter Engineer Offers Choices For Raking Pine Straw

Richard L. Parish  |  4/22/2005 12:42:55 AM

News You Can Use For March 2005

Pine straw – dead pine needles – is a valuable resource in the Deep South. It makes excellent landscape mulch and is in high demand, says Dr. Dick Parish, an engineer at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.

Commercial operators bale pine straw and sell it to contractors and garden centers, who in turn sell it to homeowners. If you own some land with pine trees, you can easily rake your own pine straw, Parish says.

If you have a limited area to rake, you can use a garden rake or a leaf rake to collect your pine straw and then move it by hand or in a garden cart to where you need it.

"But if you have a larger area and want to collect a considerable quantity of pine straw, a small tractor rake will save a tremendous amount of work," Parish says.

The engineer notes that many commercial operators use an old dump rake, which consists of a series of teeth set 4 inches apart between two wheels with a lever attached to dump the straw at a given spot.

"This has the advantage of allowing the driver to back and maneuver among trees, but it tends to tear out grass and may even act like a harrow and tear up sod and soil," he says.

Dump rakes are also becoming scarce.

As an alternative, many companies make 3-point-hitch landscape rakes with strong spring teeth. Parish warns, however, that the teeth on these implements may be too aggressive for raking pine straw.

"They will do even more damage to the soil than the old dump rakes," he says.

Another option is a small landscape wheel rake, which consists of a series of offset "wheels" tipped with tines to progressively rake the pine straw into windrows.

"These rakes are sold for use on lawns – raking leaves, grass clippings, and pine straw," the engineer says. "They do an excellent job of windrowing pine straw and, if properly adjusted, will not damage the grass or gouge the soil."

They’re also easy to use and are available in widths from 4 to 8 feet.

"They aren’t popular with commercial operators because they’re not as maneuverable as dump rakes, nor are they as tough," Parish says.

Parish says a wheel-type pine straw rake can be pulled by a small tractor, a riding mower, a utility vehicle or an all-terrain vehicle.

"Proper adjustment is essential," he says. "Too high, and you’ll miss pine straw; too low, and you’ll damage the turf and possibly the tines."

A hydraulic cylinder for easy adjustment is an option, but for a machine that has limited use, the standard screw adjustment is usually adequate, Parish says.

"A major concern when raking pine straw is to avoid hitting the trees with the rake," he warns. "Since pine straw is found only under pine trees, you’ll be constantly dodging trees while raking. Sideswiping a tree can easily bend the rake tines."

The rake will leave a neat windrow of pine straw. Normally, a homeowner will just pick it up by hand – using a leaf or garden rake – and haul it to wherever it’s needed using a garden cart or utility vehicle or just carrying it by hand.

"Most farm hay balers are far too big, heavy and expensive for occasional use on a homestead," Parish says. "A few companies make small balers aimed at the pine straw market, but even they’re pricey for a homeowner."

If you rake up and use a lot of pine straw on your place, you might want to look into the use of a wheeled pine straw rake. It can also be used for other turf raking tasks.

For related information on landscape topics, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. In addition, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/
On the Internet: www.louisianalawnandgarden.org
Contact: Dick Parish at (985) 543-4125 or dparish@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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