How to Protect Gutters from Pine Needles

Gutters filled with twigs, leaves, and dirt are typically easier to manage than other types of materials such as shingle granules, pine cones, and pine needles. Since this is the Pacific Northwest, many homes in the lower mainland are a part of communities that are near forests or stands of conifer trees. When left for a long period of time in a gutter system, pine needles can have a damaging effect Here are some simple ways you can protect gutters from pine needles.

Conifer Needle Shedding

Unlike deciduous trees that shed their leaves throughout four to six weeks in autumn, most (one season) conifer needle shedding follows a different seasonal schedule (multiple seasons), depending on the species.

Some coniferous trees, like the White Pine, shed their needles starting in summer and continue dropping needles into mid-fall.

Other species of conifers shed their needles primarily during the spring and summer.

Whether coniferous trees shed most of their needles during the spring-summer or summer-autumn seasons, they can drop needles throughout the year, specifically to get rid or dying or dead needles to make room for new growth.

There are some species of coniferous trees like the spruce that drop their needles once every ten years.

Then there are conifer species that are deciduous such as the bald cypress and larch that shed all of their needles in autumn.

The pine needles of different species have different shapes and drop in clusters, which can impact how efficiently a gutter system works. If you have conifer trees growing on your property, knowing what species they are will help you create an effective gutter cleaning schedule.

Looks can be Deceiving

Sitting in eavestroughs, pine needles are thin and individually don’t weigh anything at all. But looks can be deceiving. After collecting for a while, they can weigh down a gutter system. Pine needles typically clump together due to the sap they are covered in when falling from the trees. They “cling” to surfaces like gutter troughs, driveways, and lawns, forming a blanket.

Because the needles don’t move through the gutters as easily as other types of organic debris, pine needles often form blockages, preventing rainwater from exiting the downspouts. Generally, they can’t be flushed from the gutters either by a natural rainfall or when rinsing the gutters with a garden hose during a gutter cleaning – the only way to remove them is by hand. Don’t forget to protect your hands; pine needles can be sharp.

Regular Inspections and Maintenance

Once sticky pine needles enter the gutters, they can cause real trouble. Regular inspections and routine maintenance will help your gutter system to continue functioning the way it should. Inspect the gutters before a scheduled gutter cleaning and at each change of the season. Look for:

  • Loose hardware
  • Wood rot (fascia)
  • Rust spots (aluminum gutters)
  • Noticeable or extensive denting (aluminum gutters)
  • Leaking corners (seamless aluminum gutters)
  • Fading (vinyl gutters)
  • Damaged gutter troughs

Routine maintenance such cleaning the gutters twice a year and making repairs as required is an inexpensive way to avoid expensive fixes caused by water damage.

Sweep the Roof

Even if you don’t have coniferous trees growing near your house, clearing the roof first before cleaning the gutters or after a windstorm is a good habit to develop. But if conifers are growing near your home, remove pine needles from the roof with an outdoor broom, shop vac/regular vacuum, or a roof rake designed to handle leaves and pine needles. If your roof is not low sloping (less than 30°), avoid standing on it – use a ladder and an outdoor broom or roof rake with an extension pole or handle.

Trim Back Conifer Branches

There should be no overhanging limbs. The most preventative measure in keeping pine needles off the roof and from entering the gutter system, clogging downspouts is to trim back conifer branches when they grow at roofline level or higher. Plan on trimming back the limbs of conifers growing ten to twenty feet away from the house, since even a slight, steady wind can cause needles to drop. Trimming branches and properly caring for your coniferous trees will help prevent needle shedding.

Install Gutter Guards

If your home and property is surrounded by conifer trees, installing gutter guards might be a good investment for you and your home’s exterior. But make sure you purchase a gutter guard system that is specifically designed to manage pine needles. Gutter guards for deciduous trees typically have larger holes – the best type of gutter guard for pine needles is a micromesh screen constructed of high-grade steel or stainless steel.