Place the straw in a 3 to 6 inch (8-15 cm.) layer in between the rows and between the plants in each row. If you’re growing a square-foot garden, keep the straw to the center aisles between each garden block. Keep the straw away from the leaves and stems of the plants, as it may spread fungus to your garden crops.
Rice straw is very good, as it rarely carries weed seeds, but wheat straw mulch in gardens is more readily available and will work just as well.
How to use straw mulch in the garden is easy. Bales of straw are so compressed that you might be surprised at how much of your garden one bale will cover. Always start with one and buy more if it’s needed. Place the bale at one end of the garden and clip the ties that run around the bale. Insert a trowel or sharp shovel to help break up the bale into pieces.
Best Types of Straw Garden Mulch
The first key to using straw as mulch is in finding the right types of straw garden mulch. Some straw mulches may be mixed with hay, which can weed seeds that can sprout in your garden rows. Look for a supplier that sells guaranteed weed-free straw.
Straw will compost pretty quickly in most garden settings. Check the depth of the layer in between rows after about six weeks. You’ll probably need to add another layer, to the depth of 2 or 3 inches (5-8 cm.), to help keep the weeds down and moisture in the soil during the hottest part of summer.
If you’re not using mulch in your vegetable garden, you’re doing entirely too much work. Mulch helps to hold in moisture, so you don’t have to water as often; it shades out weed seedlings, cutting down on weeding time; and it composts into nutrients and amendments for the soil. Straw is one of the best mulch materials you can use around your vegetable plants. It’s clean, it’s light, and it breaks down relatively easily, giving your plants more of what they need to grow. Let’s find out more about using straw mulch for gardening.
If you’re growing potatoes, straw is the ideal way to hill the area around the stem. Usually when gardeners grow potatoes, they hoe the soil around the plant and pull loose soil into a hill around the potato plant. This allows more potato tubers to grow along the stem underneath the soil. If you pile straw around potatoes instead of hilling up the soil, the potatoes will grow cleaner and be easier to find at the end of the season. Some gardeners avoid using soil at all for their potato plants, and just use successive layers of straw added throughout the growing season.
A. I think it’s just another of the ‘trends’ that garden writers pick up on when they’re desperate for something ‘new’ to write about, and that they don’t subject to any critical thought. But I was raised by a homicide detective, and I’m always looking for the hole in the logic. And in this case, I came up with five right off the bat.
In other words, you have to have organic hay (or grain) before you can get organic straw.
…Which happened to me once. I hadn’t yet learned that you have to visually inspect the bales for seed heads, and picked up a batch of hay that was labeled as ‘straw’. The plants that popped up a few weeks after I spread it as mulch taught me two important lessons….
When the plants are left intact and bundled up, it’s hay. But when the seed heads are removed, the plant stalk that’s left behind is straw, a hollow tube that has many uses, including animal bedding on farms and mulch in gardens. And if the hay was grown organically—say, to feed certified organic animals, any straw made from that hay would be free of chemicals.
And that last one is perhaps my biggest issue emotionally. My approach to gardening—forged in the fires of greats like J. I. and Bob Rodale, Sir Albert Howard, Eliot Coleman, John Jeavons, Mel Bartholomew and so many others—is that HEALTHY SOIL is the basis for all gardening. The answer to clay soil is not to grow in pesticide laden straw bales (which are really heavy, by the way—so the schlepping factor is not decreased one bit).
Q. Mike knows a lot, and I love the show (I listen on KSFC; 91.9 FM), but on a recent program he referred to hay and straw as if they were interchangeable. Straw is a stalk, usually a waste product of wheat, that’s used as bedding for barnyard animals. Hay—typically alfalfa or a grass—is used as animal feed.
But the main point in any conversation about these topics is to warn people to be careful that they DON’T get hay when they buy ‘straw bales’. Straw and hay are often packaged up identically, and many garden centers—and even farmers who sell their extra bales on the roadside—use the term ‘straw’ whether the bale in question is straw or hay. And if you use hay—with all those seed heads intact—as a garden mulch, the seeds will sprout and you’ll become an unintentional grain farmer.