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Hay or Straw – Which to Use for Mulch

Everything considered, I’d recommend straw for most gardeners rather than hay as mulch to use in your garden. Here’s why.

Hay – What is It?

As far as the farmer is concerned, the main use of hay is to feed animals in seasons when grasses are not growing. He will want it to have the highest nutritional value for the animal. Because of this he will harvest (cut) the various grasses, legumes and other herbaceous (non-woody green plant) plants that make up hay after they form seed heads.

Most Frequent Effect of Using Hay for Mulch

Herbaceous plants are called weeds when they get into your garden. :) And that is usually the effect (result) of using hay as mulch.

I inadvertently asked for hay instead of straw one year and that slip of the tongue turned into a nightmare. I had weeds everywhere!! It took what seemed forever to get rid of them.

Hay can be an Excellent Mulch if

If you have enough property to grow your own hay for mulch, you can harvest before the seed heads develop. If you can do this — you’ll be good to go using hay to mulch your garden. This is the way I would choose if I had enough property and the means to harvest the hay. An EXCELLENT source of mulch and organic material.

Examples of What Others who use Hay Have Done

_I’ve read of gardeners who let the hay bales sit for a year allowing the seeds to sprout. Then they use it to mulch their garden. I would think there would still be many seeds that would lie dormant until the following year. Considering how long most weed seeds are viable, it still might be chancy even after letting it sit a year. Unless of course, you have time pull up the resulting weed growth.

_Other gardeners open the bales of hay and let their chickens have at the seed, then use the hay for mulch after that.

_Years ago I remember reading of Ruth Stout using hay — probably because it may have been cheaper than straw. If weeds sprouted she just piled on more hay to smother them. In theory that sounds like a great plan. It certainly worked for her. But the weeds from hay seem to get the better of me — so I don’t use it. (In case you don’t know, Ruth Stout was probably the first gardener to publicize what she had discovered about gardening being so easy.)

(Note added March 2013 – After I wrote this post I found out that it was salt marsh hay that Ruth Stout used. Salt Marsh Hay is made from the grasses that grow in coastal marshes, and it contains no weed seeds.)

Straw – What is It?

When farmers grow grain like wheat, oat, and barley the grain is harvested first. Then they bale the stems (stalks) that remain which are called straw. That’s the byproduct of the grain harvest and farmers use it for animal bedding.

Why it Makes a Good Mulch

It makes a good mulch because it doesn’t contain all the weed seeds that hay might have.

Seeds that Do Get in are Easier to Deal With

When straw is baled sometimes some of the grain gets into the bales. (And possibly a few weed seeds now and then.) So if you see what looks like green grass coming up at various places where you have your straw (mulch), it’s the newly sprouted seeds of grain. They’ll be easy to pull out and not a big problem if you do it in right away. And that will be the end of them. It will be much easier to deal with than weeds from hay.

Final Words

As with everything, there can always be the exceptions to the rule. But – all things considered – I’ll go with straw to mulch my garden.

P.S.

I’m adding this note after receiving an important comment by Beppy.    You need to be aware of residual herbicides, so please read her comment to this (below) and my post on residual herbicides so you’ll be prepared.

At the beginning of the season I have at least 4 rolls of straw, but I always try to keep at least 1 roll on hand.

Related Posts:
10 Reasons to Mulch

Mulching Your Fruits, Vegetables, and Perennials

Why Mulch your Garden Paths

3 Things to Keep in Mind When You Mulch

Compost – Mulch – Residual Herbicides – What you Can Do About Them in Your Garden

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Organic gardening is easy, efficient, effective and —- it a lot healthier!

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All content including pictures is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All rights are reserved.


4 comments to Hay or Straw – Which to Use for Mulch

  • Beppy White

    Also, the farmer may have sprayed the hay field with herbicides to get rid of the weeds. If so this could be death to your garden plants because it is still in the hay and will either kill them or affect their growth. It happened to me.

  • Theresa

    I appreciate your adding this point Beppy. I even added a PS to the post so folks will be sure to read your comment. So many gardeners pay no attention to this possibility and I think that’s a mistake —– because as you say —- it does happen!

    For those interested in reading more http://tendingmygarden.com/compost-mulch-residual-herbicides-what-you-can-do-about-them-in-your-garden/
    Thanks so much for the great input!
    Theresa

  • Ann

    What about the grains now grown
    with GMO seed. Would the straw be contaminated?

    Thank you so much for your newsletters they have been such an encouragement considering I always believed I had two brown thumbs.

    Sincerely,
    Ann (from Kansas)

  • Theresa

    Ann, your question is such an EXCELLENT one and one I wish I really knew the right answer to it.

    The last time I got straw from my farmer I asked him if he was growing GMO wheat. He said no. I told him I did not want straw from GMO wheat if he did grow it. He said he would give me barley straw if he decided to grow GMO wheat.

    I know he grows GMO corn from time to time and I can’t help but wonder if some of that doesn’t end up in my garden. I hate the thoughts.
    The thing is — a lot of research has been done — and we do know that GMO products ingested are harmful to animals and humans. We know that ingesting animals that eat GMO is harmful.

    We really are not sure about residue from crops that decay in the soil. However, I would like to err on the side of caution. I want to stay as far away from them as I can —- because if damage is done because of them — we probably can’t undo it.

    That’s another thing that is so awful about what Monsanto and the others are doing with all the GMO stuff. With nature — when something goes wrong — it can be fixed. With GMOs — that are taking the very DNA of one species and crossing it with another —– they are upsetting the very balance that was built into things. This might be beyond us to deal with.

    I will write more in future posts about how I am looking ahead and planning other things I can do for mulch rather than buy straw from my farmer if GMO stuff becomes the only thing available. I’m not able to grow ALL of the mulch I need, but I am going to start growing some. One small step.

    I will continually look ahead and plan and continue to take one small step in the direction I want to go —– My goal being to stay as far away from GMO stuff as possible and become more self sustaining than I am now.

    Look to as many other sources for mulch as you can. Pine tags, wood chips, straw from other grains, etc.

    If you love gardening — I can almost guarantee you do NOT have brown thumbs! That thought — rest assured — is the result of the marketing you are bombarded with all the time. Don’t give in to it. Look to nature —- and if she is not being cooperative the day you need her — write to me with your question and I’ll try my best to help.

    Thanks for the great question Ann and for letting me know that what I write has been encouraging to you.
    Theresa

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