Best Ways to Pick Up Pine Needles: The 8 Most Effective Methods

By Brian Mounts | Aug 05, 2020
best way(s) to pick up pine needles

Despite the beauty of evergreen trees, cleaning and picking up pine needles can be a hassle. The wind isn’t going to carry all of those tiny needles away, and they somehow manage to multiply in the blink of an eye. Every situation is different, so it helps to know some of the many different ways you can pick up pine needles.

The best ways to clean up pine needles are by raking, using a leaf blower, sweeping, vacuuming, power washing, using duct tape, picking them up with a small garden shovel, or using your hands. Some methods will work better than others, depending on the situation, landscape, and where the bulk of your pine needles fall.

Each method comes with its own set of advantages and challenges, and you’ll likely need a combination to get the job done.

We’ll go through your options, how and where each method works best, and what you’ll need to do to minimize those pesky needles and even repurpose them for better use.

Pine Trees – Evergreen, But Not Entirely

Pine trees are beautiful trees, especially since they stay green all year long. They give many landowners shade and privacy, whether in the midst of a heatwave or a long winter filled with seemingly subzero temperatures. That’s why they carry the name “evergreen.”

But despite their ability to stay green all year long, the leaves of a pine tree still die and fall off, similar to most other trees. And, depending on the health of your pine tree and the time of year and growth stage, the needles will fall off at varying rates and degrees.

Every spring, new needles are produced at the ends of each branch, while older needles are pushed back closer to the inside of the tree.

As those older needles age, they don’t produce energy for the tree as well as the newer needles do, thus becoming less efficient each passing year.

Eventually, those older needles will turn brown and fall to the ground, making room for new needles to grow and provide food and energy for the tree.

So, despite the fact that these trees are called evergreen trees, their leaves do not live forever. It’s simply that their leaves last longer than other trees — anywhere from two to five years before shedding — rather than falling each autumn season (source).

That is why you’re likely to see quite a few pine needles on the ground outdoors throughout the year. If you are celebrating the winter holidays with an indoor tree, you’ll also find an abundance of pine needles on your floor each day, especially if the tree is older and as it dries out.

Now that we know why those needles are falling, we’ll figure out how to clean them up once they do.

Raking

Removing and raking pine needles is a bit more of a challenge than raking leaves from deciduous trees. The needles are a lot smaller, thinner, and lighter than other leaves, and there’s usually a large gathering of them hiding in small spaces.

Still, raking, above all other methods, is the most effective and most common way in which to remove pine needles from your lawn. Before you rake, though, you may want to pull out your lawnmower if you have a bag mower.

While mowing is not necessarily going to remove all, or even most, of the pine needles, a standard bag mower will catch some of them. Don’t worry about the pine needles ruining your mower — they’re so small that those that are caught will simply get cut up.

If the pine needles have damaged your lawn in any way, and you want to learn more about planting new grass and when and how to water it, take a look at “When to Stop Watering New Grass Seed.”

Once you’ve used your lawnmower, you’ll then need to use a rake to remove the remaining needles. Sure, this method requires a little muscle and is labor-intensive, but it is the most efficient.

Some rakes, however, are specifically designed to remove pine needles and may work better than others, so you may choose to invest in a good one to make your job easier.

You’ll want to take a look at the handle material and length, the size of the rake head, and the tines (the part of the rake that catches the needles).

Rake handles are made from various materials, including steel, wood, plastic, or even fiberglass.

While the plastic and fiberglass varieties are lighter in weight, they’re not as sturdy as other options, making them less ideal for this particular job. Your best bet: choose a steel or hardwood variety.

The rake’s head size is also important and can make your job easier, or a lot longer and harder. Essentially, the larger the size of the head, the more it can gather in one movement. The smaller it is, the less it is going to pick up.

On the flip side, however, a larger head is going to make getting into small spaces more of a challenge. There are rakes available with adjustable head sizes, and those are going to be your best option for picking up pine needles.

When it comes to the length of the handle, you will want a longer one rather than a shorter handle. A longer handle simply allows you to reach further without bending over as much, making raking a little bit easier while also saving you from needing a deep tissue massage later in the day.

Finally, the tines should be made out of metal. Metal tines are more durable and longer-lasting, especially if they are rust-proof. The spacing can also be important; the more spaced-out the tines are, the more grass the rake will leave intact, causing less damage to your lawn as you rake.

See this post for my recommendations on which rakes are best for pine needles.

Leaf Blowing

Your next option for removing pine needles is leaf blowing. However, this is going to be a two-step process because, while using a leaf blower is efficient, fast, and pretty fun too, you’ll likely still need to rake the needles once you’ve gathered them into a pile.

If you have a lot of rocky terrain in your backyard, leaf blowing may be the easiest way to remove needles. Just be careful that you aim properly to avoid sending the needles deeper into crevices.

You’ll also want to make sure that the amount of power you are using is strong enough to blow the needles where you want them to go without uprooting plants and smaller rocks at the same time.

You can see this post to see my thoughts on the best battery leaf blowers on the market today if this is an option you think you might take.

There are plenty of different types and versions of leaf blowers out there from small handheld, electric varieties to larger backpack styles. Both are perfectly suitable for removing pine needles.

When making a purchasing decision, you may want to think about other jobs you can use a leaf blower for on your property and consider the size of your lawn. The larger your lawn, the more likely you’ll want a backpack blower that is capable of higher output and can be powered on for a longer period of time.

See this post to learn the difference between a leaf blowers’ CFM and MPH ratings.

Sweeping

Sweeping, like raking, is one of the simplest, most straightforward cleaning methods. Different iterations of the standard broom have been around for ages, primarily because they work well.

When it comes to sweeping pine needles, however, whether it is the best method will depend on where you are sweeping and how much. You’ll need to take into consideration the terrain as well as how many pine needles you are dealing with.

If it’s a lot, sweeping is going to take a while, so you might want to consider a leaf blower first, followed by a broom.

But if you have pine needles in between rocks or on pavement or your patio, a broom is an ideal tool. Not all brooms are created equal, though, and certain types of brooms are particularly helpful when it comes to pine needles — specifically a power broom.

Similar to a leaf blower, power brooms range from manually-operated push sweepers to ones that actually tow behind a tractor.

Unless you have a considerable lot of land, you likely do not own a tractor. So, for smaller lawns, a powered push sweeper will suffice. These tools range in price, but they have pretty good reviews as to how well they are able to pick up pine needles, as well as acorns, leaves, and other lawn debris.

If you are not interested in a power sweeper, you’ll want to get your hands on a manual broom that is designed to be pushed, unlike the one you likely have in your closet for your kitchen floors.

Push brooms are much more efficient because they have a long, flat surface that covers a larger amount of ground. You’ll also want to make sure the broom you use has strong, stiff bristles. If the bristles are too soft, the broom is not going to be able to pick up much outside.

When it comes to sweeping up pine needles indoors, you will want to consider purchasing a rubber broom.

What makes a rubber broom ideal is that it will naturally conform to the surface it comes into contact with and create a bit of static, helping to keep all of those pine needles together — whether on a hard surface or carpeted floor.

Vacuuming

Many would agree that vacuums are by and large one of the greatest inventions for cleaning floors. They make life a lot easier by picking up spilled cheerios, and lots of other debris life throws our way.

One thing to note, however, when it comes to vacuuming outdoors is that you’ll want to be pretty careful if you plan to pull out your standard indoor vacuum to clean up pine needles.

If your vacuum sucks up debris such as tiny rocks, sand, and pebbles, you could very easily break the vacuum as most are not designed for these types of substantial jobs.

But if you are using your indoor vacuum outside, do not run your vacuum directly over the pine needles. It doesn’t actually work all that well, and you may do more damage to the vacuum. A better option is to use an attachment on the end of the hose.

Your best bet is a vacuum specifically designed for lawn care and outdoor use to avoid running the risk of ruining it within a few uses.

There are a couple of vacuums that are made for both indoor and outdoor use, and those will certainly be better-suited for pine needles than your standard indoor upright.

You can see this post for my thoughts on which outdoor vacuums are best for picking up pine needles.

You will want to do a bit of research into the various types, including smaller handheld vacuums and a few that are both vacuums and leaf blowers in one machine.

One of the biggest benefits of vacuuming is that it is far easier than sweeping or raking and requires a lot less energy. But if you are working with small spaces, rocky terrain, or delicate gardens and flower beds, a vacuum may not be the ideal choice.

Power Washing

Power washing seems a bit aggressive for cleaning up pine needles, but it’s not a bad idea for decks, patios, and areas with stonework. It will definitely bring you some enjoyment while cleaning since it immediately makes a messy outdoor area look like new.

But don’t break out the power washer as a first resort unless you are using it for these types of surfaces, and using it on your roof is not recommended since it may not only cause damage but also nullify any warranty you may have as well.

One benefit of power washing is that, in addition to taking care of the pine needles, it’ll also help to get rid of the sticky sap that comes with fallen pine cones and needles.

If you do decide to use a power washer, just remember to be careful with the pressure setting; medium is ideal, but a too-high setting will almost definitely damage your deck if it is made of wood.

Using Duct Tape

The thought of crawling on your hands and knees with a roll of duct tape to pick up pine needles sounds not only like a chore, but practically a punishment.

Still, it’s worth mentioning, especially if you are trying to figure out how to best get rid of those last few lingering pieces from your living room floor or even outside in between rocks.

For indoors, you can simply wrap a large piece of duct tape around your hand, and let the adhesive do the work for you as you pat the floor.

You can do the same thing with a broom. Simply wrap the duct tape around the end of it, adhesive side outward. You might need a couple of rubber bands to keep it together.

And if you want to get really creative, try using a paint roller. Paint rollers are similar to large, adhesive lint rollers, which are also great tools for picking up lingering needles.

If you have a paint roller with a longer handle, it’ll cause less of a backache. Just wrap the end with duct tape in the same way you would a broom, adhesive side out, and start rolling.

Small Garden Shovels

Small shovels and garden tools are going to come in handy for picking up pine needles in your garden or more delicate areas. You’re inevitably going to pick up dirt with the pine needles, so just keep that in mind.

But, while a bit more painstaking than a large broom or vacuum, using these smaller tools is going to help rid smaller spaces of pine needles without harming your landscaping, flowers, or summer vegetable plants.

Using Your Hands

There’s a reason we left this option for last. It is, of course, the most time consuming, the least amount of fun, and the most amount of work.

But no matter what method you choose above, you’re going to have to use your hands at some point, and possibly a tarp or something else to collect all of the needles, once you’ve blown them or raked them into a large pile.

You can certainly vacuum, but a single pine needle has a way of sticking around, no matter how well you clean. So, just be prepared to pick a few up after you’ve exhausted all of the options mentioned above.

Once you’ve collected all of those needles, there is one last piece of advice: don’t throw them all in the trash. You can use pine needles in a lot of ways; they’re not just a nuisance to your beautiful yard.

Creative Ways to Use Pine Needles

While the aim of this article was to show you the best ways to remove pine needles, it doesn’t mean that all of the work you did should go to waste. Pine needles, once they’ve fallen to the ground, can actually serve other purposes as well.

During the summer, if you have a fire pit, pine needles make great fire starters. If you gather them up, make sure they are dry, and combine them with wood and newspaper to get your summer fire going.

You can also use them as mulch for your garden. Mulch is important in preserving the moisture in the soil and keeping weeds at bay. Once you’ve gathered all of your pine needles, place them over areas in your garden or landscaping as a natural and cheaper way to mulch.

Another way to use a few of those needles is to add pine scent to natural disinfectants. Simply throw a few pine needles into a bottle of vinegar and let it sit. The longer it sits, the stronger the smell.

Strain the needles, and then use the vinegar solution to clean a variety of surfaces in your home.

Finally, if you plan to use a charcoal grill during the summer months, save a few pine needles to throw onto the charcoal before you put your food onto the grill. The pine smoke will add flavor to meat and vegetables alike.

These are just a few ways to use all of those excess needles. There’s a lot more if you love the scent of pine and don’t want all of your work collecting them to go to waste.

Final Thoughts

Removing pine needles definitely requires a bit of work, but it can be done. Whether you are raking, sweeping, vacuuming, using a leaf blower or power washer, or even picking them up with duct tape, all of these methods work well, depending on the size of your lawn and the terrain you are tackling.

Just remember that some methods work better than others on concrete versus your lawn, and be careful not to damage your landscaping if you choose to use a leaf blower or power washer.

And, once you’ve collected them all, try to find a way to repurpose them; there’s plenty of ways to do so!

And now with that out of the way you might want to check out these related articles:

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