The coarse texture of straw helps it trap air, which provides soil insulation and protects the garden bed from temperature fluctuations. The straw is also porous and allows moisture to seep down into the soil, notes University of California Sonoma County Master Gardeners. Like most mulch materials, straw helps conserve soil moisture and prevents rapid soil drying and drought stress.
Straw or hay for garden mulch improves the soil and protects your plants from drought stress and weeds. Using straw on garden beds is a low cost option that works exceptionally well in most applications. Straw comes in compressed bales and even a small bale usually provides enough mulch for a small garden. Selecting the best type of straw and using it correctly provides the most benefits to the soil and plants.
Straw on Garden Beds
Straw breaks down quickly, so it will need to be replenished throughout the growing season to maintain the depth. It’s also not the most attractive mulching material, which makes it most suited to vegetable gardens, according to Clemson Cooperative Extension. If you want to use it in ornamental beds, consider covering the straw with a thin layer of a more attractive mulch, such as bark chips.
Using straw to kill weeds is also effective, as it suppresses most unwanted plants so they can’t grow and establish in the bed. Straw keeps developing fruits clean, especially vine varieties like melons, tomatoes and squash that usually sit directly on top the soil.
A 2-inch-thick layer of straw is deep enough to provide the most benefits, including moisture retention, weed suppression and temperature control. When spreading the straw, pull it back from the base of the plants so it doesn’t rest against the stems. If bare soil shows through the straw, you aren’t using enough.
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.
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.
Best Types of Straw Garden Mulch
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.
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.
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.
Potato crops are huge when grown in a foot or two of straw on top of the soil. The blueberries in the background benefit from straw mulch, because their roots are shallow, and the plants are moisture lovers.
Everything in the vegetable garden is mulched with a 6-inch layer, including blueberries, Alpine strawberries and cranberries. I use a foot or two of straw atop the potato bed to grow clean potatoes that can be easily harvested. Tubers form in the straw and crops are always bigger when I use the straw mulch.
Water Less Often
Straw also saves crops like tomatoes, peppers and squash from developing blossom-end rot and cat-facing; blueberries from shriveling; and sweet peppers from turning hot.
Straw mulch at the base of tomato and pepper plants also prevents that transfer of soil-borne diseases such as early blight to plant leaves. No water splashes up from the soil to leaves, because the straw absorbs it.
If you’ve already seeded your vegetables, don’t lay straw on top of the seeds or seedlings. But everywhere else there is exposed ground, lay down a nice thick layer of straw