Straw for mulch... pros and cons....

christyincoJune 6, 2011

I'm thinking of using straw for mulch. I have a large garden that my husband uses the tractor on to till every year - leveling out the whole garden, so whatever I put down for mulch will get mixed into the soil at the end of the year. I'm interested in the pros and cons of using straw for this purpose. I'm thinking of using it on my beds.

Thoughts/Advice???

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denninmi(8a)

Well, the only real "con" about it is the price, IMHO, about $6 a bale anymore around here. Wheat or oats or whatever will sprout from it at times, but they're easy to remove, or you can just let them grow, they're rather pretty and can be used in floral arrangements or fed to birds.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2011 at 3:15PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Straw, not hay (many don't know the difference) is considered the ideal garden mulch and has been for decades. It not only suppresses weeds and stabilized soil moisture levels but is an excellent soil amendment when tilled in at seasons end.

You'll find many discussions here about using it and even more info over on the Soil & Mulch forum here.

I agree with denninmi that the only con is cost and availability. It is rare and expensive here so since we grow and bale our own hay, that is what we use.

Dave

    Bookmark   June 6, 2011 at 3:51PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I have some straw in a pile that was extra pulled off the strawberries....I don't dare use it until late June....just so wet too often...nearly 2 inches of rain Saturday evening. Am i the only reluctant mulcher?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2011 at 5:15PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Christy will have a much higher price to pay, as the spring winds will send that straw to Kansas, so she'll have to anchor it down someway somehow...

Dan

    Bookmark   June 6, 2011 at 6:14PM
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gjcore

The biggest problem I have with straw is that it tends to stick to my shoes and gets tracked into the house.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2011 at 8:18PM
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christyinco

Dan - you seem to understand the winds out here. What would you use to protect young seedlings and tender veggies, like peppers and tomatoes?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2011 at 8:57PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Lots of discussion over the years on the RMG forum about wind. Choose your favored solution.

Dan

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 12:03AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

I have used hay--not straw, I know the difference--for over 40 years. The key is to get spoiled hay or old hay--not hay cut too late and filled with weed seed.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 6:23AM
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kr222(6b)

I have now switched over to using hay almost exclusively. the only exception is my front flower beds, but only due to aesthetics. I figure bagged mulch sells for around 4 bucks a bag around here. The large bale of straw that I bought at the local nursery for $6 covered the equivalent of 4 bags of mulch. I figure I save money by using straw.

Positives: Mixes into the soil nicely at the end of the season.
Goes further for the money.

Drawbacks: Hay in my car. :)
I can only find it at my local nursery.

Kim

Here is a link that might be useful: My Garden

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 6:43AM
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christyinco

I do have old hay - we actually grow our own and there are a couple of bales we've left out to basically rot. I could easily use those, I was just always concerned about it going to seed in my garden.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 10:21AM
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rrrusty

@wayne_5, we're in the Pacific NW and had the same problem in 2011 -- the only time I've used straw. I don't think the summer was hot enough, but I was very disappointed with mucky soil under the straw...and very little weed suppression. This year we're going to try either straw-bale gardening, or storage bins on slapped-together wood frames.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 5:10PM
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jonfrum(6)

My brother used to use salt marsh hay - great stuff. No weed seeds, and free to pick up from the shore. Hay - the regular stuff - can attract slugs in our neck of the woods, so I stay away from it.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 7:46PM
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ltilton

For weed suppression, I put a layer of newspaper down under the straw.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 8:55PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

OP, just rake it off in fall and use it again. Straw is ok to get worked in as mulches go, but really there is no reason to work the garden to starting over point every year.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 9:28PM
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yukkuri_kame(Sunset 19 / USDA 9)

Biointensive method emphasizes growing small plots of grain (100sqf) of course for grain yield, but also because in their book straw makes the very best compost.

But as for mulch, they are more into the living mulch concept. Plants are spaced close together to shade the soil and create a microclimate. I try to fill every nice in the garden as much as I can with living plants, even if it's just sprinkling some arugula or lettuce seeds in the odd spot. Clover makes one of the best living mulches, because it also fixes nitrogen and feeds the bees.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 5:22AM
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emmers_m(9a/Sunset 7 N Cal)

I had voles set up shop under the straw when I tried, which was bad for the melons, squash, potatoes, beets, carrots, bush beans....but good for the red-tailed hawk who would perch on my trellis ðÂÂÂ

My garden is generally on the wet side, so I had forests of grassy sprouts from the straw. I concluded it's a better idea for drier areas with fewer voles.

~emmers

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 8:33AM
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barrie2m_

Not all types of straw are equal and not all sources produce the same quality so if you plan to use straw be a little selective in what you choose. Although wheat or rye straw are likely to have less weed seeds than oats or barley you really need to open a few bales and examine it for weed content. Lots of weeds translate into lots of weed seeds. Knowing your source can go a long way in preventing an outbreak of a new weed specie that you had never seen before.

Don't rule out a legume hay that you may be able to obtain cheaply because the hay got rained on one or more times before the grower could get it off the field. A mulch quality alfalfa hay is comparable in nutrients to alfalfa meal which many organic growers will pay a premium price for.

Rarely you might find any plant residue mulch contains pesticide residue. It take only a small amout of some herbicides to ruin your vegetable crop. Again, ask the supplier as many questions as you can.

If your objective is to build soil organic matter than definately a "Green manure" crop is a good idea. Many of the cereal grains (straw providers) as well as some legumes and brassicas can be plowed down after partial growth to boost soil structure, organic matter and nutrient profile. The options are almost limitless.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 8:58AM
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kingfarm(z10 Long Beach)

I had so many problems with weeds here (quack grass) that I made raised beds. I put down newspaper, weed block and straw on the paths. We had some good rain after I did that and the straw was sprouting everywhere. Figured out it's just wheat and it pulls out easy. I do not stress about it and let some of it grow.

No other weeds have popped up but I did do some extreme measures haha.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 9:55AM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

I bought some oat straw January of last year very cheap. $1.50 a bale. It was damaged by being the bottom layer in a partially open barn. Not the bright stuff that most people want.

I left it on my trailer, covered to start with, but I didn't realize it was uncovered until I was going to use it. It was parked out in the woods behind an old barn.

It was damp, kind of composted, a little moldy. I cut the strings and it would divide in to sheets about 1" thick so I just layered down the rows next to the plants.

The best straw I ever used!

Easy to put down, no blowing away, and kept the weeds out!

I gave the farmer that I bought it from my phone number and he said he would call as soon as he gets down to that bottom layer this year.

He hasn't called yet, so I will be calling him soon.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 2:52PM
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RpR_(3-4)

I used both straw and hay in the same manner Wertach did and it worked very, very well in last years dry spell to keep the soil more moist.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 3:01PM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

Woo Hoo! I called the farmer this morning and he said that he had lost my number or he would have already called me.

I got 47 bales from the farmer this morning!

I told him I only wanted 20 @ $1.75 a bale ( he had raised his price this year), since I didn't want to spend that much. He said pay me for 20 and haul the rest off! He said he needed the room in his barn. A real good deal!

More than I can use but I have storage space where I can keep part of it dry until needed.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 3:19PM
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UPucker(4b)

I used straw last year for the first time with great success.

I planted seedlings and some seeds in May/June and let everything grow for 4-6 weeks before I found straw in my area(St. Paul, MN) on Craigslist. It was cheap $6 a bale i think, compared to $10 at local nusuries, and it was delivered to my door. I spent a lot of time pulling and hoeing weeds in between rows and next to plants. After the plants were at least a foot high i cut open the first bales and pulled it apart to lay a loose layer 1 foot thick around everything. 3 bales were enough to cover my 1000 sq ft garden very well. It worked great. No more weeds and no more weeding. I will be doing it every year. I have voles and mice in my area, but never saw a problem with them. I left it in place this fall, and will be raking it back and reusing it this year, and then tilling it in at the end of this season.

If anyone in my area wants the straw guys #, let me know. I think he is in Maplewood. I know how hard it is to find in the cities, but as I said I found it on craigslist after looking for a few weeks.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 9:21PM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

Why till your land every year. It ruins the soil structure, kills the organisms and waste your time.. Tilling in high carbon material pulls nitrogen out of the soil, depleting nitrogen. You noticed in nature, no one tills, and al the mulch is on top soil? Dig a hole in a virgin forest, see how rich the soil is... Any plant is good for mulch as long as it doesn't have seeds, for the most part. The most weed free "straw" you can get us rye straw.. Why not just grow a cover crop of winter rye. Leave it on top the soil and for the price of the straw you would buy/ the fuel you would use for the tracter, buy some high quality compost spread it on top the soil, you have fertility to sow seeds and you can use your rye straw as mulch. Always mimic nature. Hope this helps.

Joe

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 10:24PM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

Why till your land every year. It ruins the soil structure, kills the organisms and waste your time.. Tilling in high carbon material pulls nitrogen out of the soil, depleting nitrogen. You noticed in nature, no one tills, and al the mulch is on top soil? Dig a hole in a virgin forest, see how rich the soil is... Any plant is good for mulch as long as it doesn't have seeds, for the most part. The most weed free "straw" you can get us rye straw.. Why not just grow a cover crop of winter rye. Leave it on top the soil and for the price of the straw you would buy/ the fuel you would use for the tracter, buy some high quality compost spread it on top the soil, you have fertility to sow seeds and you can use your rye straw as mulch. Always mimic nature. Hope this helps.

Joe

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 10:30PM
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Oil_Robb(3)

Raw nature

Im guessing you dont have clay soil? Every gardner worth thier weight in manure has tilled organic and carbon matter into thier gardens for thousands of years. I have no idea of what you speak when you use the phrase "ruins the soil structure". Farmers till 2-3 passes every year and seem to be able to feed earth with record production very well.Now if I lived for 500 years and didnt care what my garden produced or looked like then I would use you ice age worm waiting method. You say rye straw is the most weed free? Weed free straw has more to do with the combine and maturity of the crop at thrashing time than variety.As far as your nitrogen comment you can incorporate fresh manure in the fall or use granular 10-10-10 (12$) for my 60'x60' garden in the spring.I have never seen any evidence of this so call nitrogen pulling out of the soil, I rotate planting areas like our for-fathers did and everything grows great.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 9:42AM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

I have very heavy clay soil,well not any more... After a few years of compost,mulches and cover crops, there is really no need to fertilizer, very rich soil.... Water use cuts down dramatically. "farmers till 2-3 passes" - the same farmers uses genetically modified crops and spray/fertilize with deadly poisons... With record yields - these famers are producing the most unhealthy vegetables/fruits to this date.. Personally, I would rather have quality over quantity... And if you mimic nature and improve your soil like she does, you would have much better yield than this crap your getting fed today.. When you have a healthy foodweb - both on top and below the soil,
nature is in harmony. The "good" fight the bad" and nature has it's
. Personally, I would rather have a hole in a few leafs than eating the crap they spray on it.. As far as this weed free straw, I am talking about may-June harvest rye, before the seeds set.. Record production? - the farm lands these "farmers" cultivate is going to be uncapable of producing anything in a few decades... It might be all peachy glory know. But what's you digest that GMO corns, and your grand kids are drinking the run off from these "record producing lands" you'll think twice about this method". Maybe a few plants that the bugs ate is better than these poisons, aye? Farmers are realizing this and are transitioning to the no-till method.. With the nitrogen depletion from tilling in carbon, its common sense... Nothing will rot without the proper nitrogen/carbon balance, everyone knows that. So when you till in dry matter, you think it's really going to sit there and improve the soil stricture without damaging this delicate balance of nature... I'll tell you what buy a few bales of straw and till it up real nice a little patch innyour garden, you aren't growing too much without all the fertilizer "farmers" so desperately need.. Yea youcould till in the "straw" when it has the right balance of "nitrogen/carbon" but with critical stress to the soil... Break the tradition, look to nature, obviously somethings wrong with how they go about "farming" today.. If you want to use your chemical fertilizer, and all that great stuff, good for you. Just make sure you think about what you are doing in the long run... Anyone can grow a plant, but can you grow it in a sustainable manner? I know it's a lot to grasp and my "methods" seem a little "cavemen". But look in nature, she has the truth.

Happy growing,
Joe

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 11:00AM
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Raw_Nature(5 OH)

I want to make this clear: I am not trying to knock anybody! I am merely trying to open eyes and make you realize how unnatural and harmful our current agriculture is...

Here is a link that might be useful: Safe/Sustainable agriculture

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 8:17PM
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NilaJones(7b)

I have had great success with no-till methods on heavy clay soils.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 10:49PM
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quiltbea(5a)

I've used both and prefer straw. The hay sprouted numerous weeds in my flower beds yet the straw used in my veggie raised beds were fine.
I have wooden raised beds plus longer hilled berms especially for my strawberries, melons and asparagus and cover the areas with straw after the ground has warmed up and not before. The idea is to protect the soil and keep it cooler during the hot months and prevent evaporation besides preventing weed growth.
Since my beds are never walked on and compacted, I never till or double dig. Keeps the dormant weed seeds settled far below underground never to see the light of day. I just add another 2-3" of compost to my beds each spring. Weeds are minimal.
Straw is on my list to buy again this spring.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 1:46PM
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