Pine straw (dead pine needles) is a valuable resource in the Deep South. An excellent mulch, it is much in demand for landscaping. 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.
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.
Pine Straw Rakes
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. Many commercial operators use an old dump rake (Figure 1). 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 the sod and soil. Dump rakes are also becoming scarce and hard to find.
Many companies make 3-point-hitch landscape rakes with strong spring teeth. The teeth on these landscape rakes tend to be too aggressive for raking pine straw, they will do even more damage to the soil than the old dump rakes.
Another option is a small landscape wheel rake (Figure 2). These rakes are sold for use on lawns – raking leaves, grass clippings and pine straw. They do an excellent job of windrowing pine straw and, if properly adjusted, will not damage the grass or gouge the soil. They are easy to use. They are available in widths from 4 to 8 feet. They are not popular with commercial operators because they are not as maneuverable as dump rakes, nor are they as tough.
Use of a Wheel-Type Pine Straw Rake
A wheel-type pine straw rake can be pulled by a small tractor, a riding mower, a utility vehicle or an ATV. Proper adjustment is essential: too high and you will miss pine straw; too low and you will 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.
A major concern when raking pine straw is to avoid hitting the trees with the rake. Since pine straw is found only under pine trees, you will 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 is needed using a garden cart, utility vehicle or just carry it by hand. Most farm hay balers are far too big, heavy and expensive for occasional use on a homestead. A few companies make small balers aimed at the pine straw market, but even they are 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.