Mulching straw

Ever Had What Looks Like Grass Sprouting in the Garden from Straw Mulch?

In 40 years of gardening I’ve had it happen to me twice (maybe three) times.

The good news is that it’s NOT grass.

What is Straw?

Straw is a by-product of growing grain. It’s usually the stems of either wheat, oats, rye or barley. So those sprouts that look like grass are one of those grains.

Why Does It Have Seed In It?

Seed of grain in bales of straw can be a result of it not being harvested properly. Or perhaps the grain head on the harvest machine was not set right.

Another reason can be the use of older combines that leave grain in the field that are then picked up by the baler (machine) collecting the straw.

There are probably other reasons that are beyond the farmer’s control.

Know Your Source If Possible

If you buy straw from various sources and/or big box stores you have no way of knowing the origin. There’s no way to even take an educated guess at what your chances are of getting seed-free straw.

I’ve gotten my (wheat) straw from the same family for 40 years. They know what they’re doing when it comes to proper harvesting, but in spite of that I’ve had seed sprout in the garden at least 2 or 3 times over 40 years.

What To Do When It Sprouts

It pulled out easily and I took out a little each day until it was all gone.

As long as you don’t let it form seed you can just pull it and leave it on top of the bed to decay.

Another Way to Handle Things

I’ve read that folks who raise rabbits often cut these clumps which encourages more growth. Each time they cut — that’s free rabbit food.

And while it continues to grow the roots mine nutrients from the soil.

Will Covering Them Kill Them?

In a recent comment left on this post, friend and reader Susan also asked if covering the clumps would kill them.

Probably would if the mulch was deep enough to smother it. The main thing you don’t want to chance is having it continue to grow and set seed. My preference would be to pull it.

How About Using Pine Straw?

I had a brief email conversation with Susan right after she left her questions which included “should I consider using pine straw this summer rather than straw from Lowe’s?”

Pine straw makes an excellent mulch. When Bill was alive he would go to a forested area and rake up as many pine tags (a/k/a pine needles or pine straw) as could fit in the back of the truck. Over the years they’ve always been my favorite mulch.

Final Thought

If anyone has more questions about straw mulch (or any other kind of mulch) feel free to ask.


All content including photos is copyright by All Rights Reserved.


  • I appreciate this post as I have had the same with quite alot of growth, way too much to pull out. I was wondering, did I get hay vs straw or what? Do I need to find sterilized straw or does that even exist? So perhaps I need to make some calls ahead of purchasing and hopefully be assured there aren’t a lot of seeds in what I buy ….

  • Graham, the notion that pine needles make the soil acidic has been around for a long time. It’s not accurate. It is true that pine needles are acidic when they fall from the tree, but when you lay them on the soil the soil life neutralizes them.

    In all the years I used pine for mulch I NEVER had it turn my soil towards acidic. The pH always runs around 6.8.

    I addressed this in my book on Organic Gardening on page 167.

    “When organic materials are added to the soil and decay, the resulting organic matter tends to change the soil pH towards neutral.”

    Cathi, indeed you may have gotten hay instead of straw. One indication of hay would usually be a variety of different plants sprouting. With straw — it will be the one plant (wheat,oats,or whatever grain it’s from).

    I don’t know that there is such a thing as sterilized straw.

    Calling ahead may help to one degree or the other. Depends on your source. I would call and ask as many questions as they’ll answer.

    My situation is an example of what can happen even with folks who don’t intentionally mislead you:
    As you and I know — once this sprouting event happens to us, we get rather paranoid about straw.
    I addressed it with the farmer from whose family I’ve bought straw for 40 years. He is very emphatic about it not happening with his straw BUT the fact remains that it has and did happen 2 or 3 times over 40 years.

    All we can do in any of life’s situations is “the best we can”. Do our homework and everything we can to make sure it turns out ok. That increases our chances of a good result, so most of the time things will be fine. But there always a possibility – even if small – that things won’t go according to plan. When that happens there’s nothing else to do but work through it.

    I hope you’ll keep me updated on what happens. If you have more concerns as things progress, just email me with questions.

  • I’m so glad you mentioned that pine needle mulch does not contribute to a lower pH. This year I had been neglectful about my asparagus bed so after cleaning it up I used left over pine needle mulch on top. Then I worried because I read that asparagus prefer a higher pH. Your information has eased my plant conscience. Thank you.

  • I was JUST dealing with this on Sunday. I’m thankful it pulls out easily. I looked at the bright side of the problem being happy it wasn’t crab grass.

  • About 30 years ago before I knew better I bought hay instead of straw to put on my garden.

    You are doing a great service to your readers. Thanks


  • Thanks for the response and I feel better somehow knowing I’m not the only one perplexed about this topic. I have considered using the kind of pine bedding around my garden beds that we put in our chicken coop. But that could get pricey and I worry it might just blow all over the place once I spread it….

    So is there really any cost effective way to avoid all the weeds that sprout up everywhere short of building a boardwalk? (Which isn’t a bad idea except for the cost and labor.) Sand maybe? We’ve used free mulch in the past but are so done with that by now. Eventually there are sticks everywhere! (And weeds… ) : (

    With my native landscaping ( in Colorado) I fight weeds pretty successfully with ground cover and prairie grasses. But of course around garden beds there would be too much foot traffic for most of those.

  • Thanks Theresa. It will be easier to throw the straw grass on top of the garden than to put it into a trash can. I just hope I can get to all of it before it goes to seed. I was anticipating a heavy rain this past weekend so I could cover my “de-strawed” garden with pine needles but it didn’t happen. Heavy rain is forecast again for this Friday so hopefully, I’ll get to put down the pine needles. Also, now that I know what to look for, I found a garden center that not only has pine straw but also seedless straw AND it also looks a bit chopped up. Yay!

    I’ll keep you posted on how things go and I hope to get some things growing soon.

    Susan in E Tn

  • Christine, your asparagus will love the pine mulch. Glad the topic came up so you can rest easy.

    Patricia, you’re right – that’s the bright side. Definitely not crab grass.

    I did the same thing those many years ago Don. Hopefully I’ve been able to help others avoid that mistake.

    Cathi, my reply – with several suggestions — is a bit long for the comment area. I’ll try to get a post up within a day or so. (See update in comment below this one.)

    I want to mention here however, that sand will not stop weeds. Neither will gravel.

    It’s excellent that you are fighting weeds with ground cover and prairie grasses.

    Susan, what great news that you found a garden center with pine and also seedless straw!

    Hope you didn’t get rid of your straw that was in garden. Assuming you still have it (I hope so)
    rake it to one spot and the seed will germinate and can be easily pulled. Then you can use the straw.

    Hope you’ll get that nice rain so you can get your pine down.


  • To Cathi and everyone —
    I started writing about all the things to do in order to have very little weeding and it can easily be a major piece — so I’m not going to try to do it now when I have so little time.

    Cathi, if you have access to wood chips (not chips of bark, but actual wood that has been put through a chipper) it makes a good mulch. And even better once it’s been aged. It works better than almost anything for border edges. It can have big chunks of wood in it, but for flower borders that’s usually not a problem.

  • Last year, I bought what was labeled…I think, 94% weed free straw to mulch my vegetable garden. It was fantastic. This year, I was not able to find the same brand or type of straw and bought something else. I was assured it would not sprout. I had my doubts but bought it anyway. It took a couple of weeks to start sprouting. Marone! Do I have my work cut out for me. Be careful about what you buy. Thanks for allowing me a place to vent.

  • Thank you for this thread! I’ve spent a week spreading what I hope is not hay…. but little grass sprouts are popping up all over my raised beds. It’s all the same sprouts, and I do see a lot of seed from something in this straw/hay.. should I pull it off my raised beds immediately?

  • If it all looks the same David, you probably have straw that had seed in it. I’ve received numerous emails from folks having this same problem.
    Pulling them up when they’ve just sprouted would be what I would do.
    Also, reader Kathleen’s questions and my reply to her on June 5, 2020 might be encouraging to you. Read them in the comments section of this post:
    Let me know how you do.

  • Dorothea, thanks for “venting” here. It will help others to know they’re not alone with this.
    And welcome to TMG.

  • I also have what is supposed to be a straw bale, with lots of partial seed heads in it, which are cheerfully sprouting. Looks like wheat to me. I read a suggestion somewhere that you should deliberately saturate the bale with water and let it sprout, before you use it as mulch. Sounds like a clever idea, but I was concerned about it getting moldy, and triggering allergies. What do you think about that?

    At this point I’ve only put it over potatoes. I’ve been pulling some of the sprouts, but then I thought, I’m going to dig them up anyway, then I can add the wheat grass in the compost. I’m new to vegetable gardening. I’d like to use the straw elsewhere, but read that you shouldn’t put it over new seedlings. Is this your experience?

    I also have a problem with slugs – I’m on the Oregon coast. I thought straw would interfere with hunting for slugs, but it’s pretty easy to pull it up and put it back down.

    Thanks for your suggestions.

  • Hi Margaret,

    Others have also written to me about the possible solution of soaking the bale with water and letting it sprout. I think your concerns are ligitimate and you sure don’t want moldy stuff. If you go that route, at some point you need to loosen the straw and let it dry out.

    And yes, you can add the sprouted wheat to your compost pile if you want. Just don’t let it go to seed unless you know the pile is hot enough to kill the seed.

    That being said, pulling and dropping the new sprouts on the bed is the easiest way. (That’s what I did when it happened to me.)

    Good luck Margaret!

  • My straw bales (all 100, being used in straw bale gardening) sprouted. Uggg. I put them in in the fall for the next spring, and they sprouted them. I was hoping the winter would kill them and I could have “weed free” bales for the spring season. I think they sprout or don’t sprout, depending on the age. Old bales sprout a lot less or not at all. Mine were from that fall season, so are hairy green things.
    I’m debating spraying a very weak bleach solution on top to kill the new sprouting straw, but not permanently damage the beds for the transplants I put in. Thoughts?

  • Kathryn, sorry to hear about all 100 bales of straw sprouting.

    As I mentioned in the post seeds being in straw can be the result of not being harvested properly. Also older combines can leave grain in the field that are then picked up by the machine collecting the straw.

    For 42 years, I’ve bought my straw from the same family. Two or three times over that period I’ve had seed in the straw that sprouted. Thus, I know it can happen that even if the farmer knows what he’s doing (and this family knows what they’re doing), there could be circumstances beyond his control.

    You mentioned you were debating spraying with a bleach solution. My gut feeling would not allow me to do that.

    If the straw was mine — the first thing that would come to mind for the future would be to use a different farmer as a source of the straw.
    Then I would open up these bales and as the wheat got some length to it (to make it easier to remove), I’d pull it and throw it in pile to die.
    After that process was complete, I’d spread the straw where I wanted it.

    I’d be interested in knowing what you decide and what the results are, Kathryn.


  • This has just happened to me in my vegetable patch. All the same looking grass popping up through my straw. I was wondering can I collect them and eat/juice them?

  • Chris, I can’t advise you because I’m not there to see exactly what’s happening.
    If it were in my garden which is as free from chemicals as I can possibly get and I knew
    exactly what it was, AND I needed the nutrition and/or liked wheat juice – then I would
    feel free to juice it.
    Hope that helps.

  • I have this happening right now. I thought the crab grass I was trying to kill was growing through and I pulled it out and it’s seeds with little sprouts off the end. It did come up pretty easily. Are you saying to just keep doing that and then the rest of it should be fine? Or since I saw a seed, that’s bad… I have 3 more bales of this and now I’m afraid to use it

  • Veronica,
    If wheat is coming up from the straw, it is probably still too early for the seed to be “ripe”.
    But yes, keep pulling it up.
    If you have 3 more bales of straw just like the one that seed sprouted from, you’ll have the same problem with those.
    In order not to waste the straw, you could open the bales and leave in one place and allow the seed to sprout. Pull those up. And then use the straw in a “controlled” area that you can keep an eye on.

  • There is a method of pasteurizing straw used by mushroom farmers that uses lime water to control mold. I can tell you it works a charm against rot and mold.
    However, it does nothing against sprouting. It was the reason I came to this site. A whole almond agaricus/herb garden sprouting like a lawn.

  • Hi! I’ve made this mistake and it’s sprouting like mad. Can I just cut it down with a weed whacker before it goes to seed or do I need to pull it? There so much! Thanks

  • Keely, you can cut it with a weed whacker to give you more time before it seeds.
    Then little by little as you see it growing again, you can pull it up and just leave it on your beds to die and decay.
    You’re in good company! Lots of us have been through this. Good luck!

  • Unfortunately, I have wheat coming up in all my flower beds from the straw. Can I weed eat it and prevent from seeding out?

  • As I wrote in my reply to Keely’s question – which was almost identical to yours, Connie —
    —“you can cut it with a weed whacker to give you more time before it seeds.
    Then little by little as you see it growing again, you can pull it up and just leave it on your beds to die and decay.”
    Otherwise — if you allow it to grow again and don’t pull it up it will most likely set seed.

  • Is there any usefulness in letting the sprouts stay and grow seed heads? Do wildlife feed on them?

  • Faith,
    Wildlife would be attracted by the seed heads especially in bountiful amounts.
    But if food was scarce they eat what they could find.

  • I’ve had the same problem here in Wisconsin. I found straw for $12 a bale at a nursery run by a farm family. Well I didn’t know it was full of oat seeds. When the oats sprouted I pulled them and also removed the straw that hadn’t already started to decompose. Problem solved for the time being. Then at a local garden center I found bales of “EZ Straw” that is sterilized and has some adhesive (biodegradable) included to help hold it down. Was $12.97 a bale lol, well worth it. Next year I know better.

  • I was told that some grains have been treated with herbicides, to maximize crop yield.
    Do you think that straw might have chemical residues (that might affect broad-leaf vegetable plants?

    I have been using it as an insulator for several years.

  • Mike, in this day and age it’s always best if you know your source for anything that goes into your garden. If you can check with the farmer who grows the straw you have a better chance of getting a truthful response about what was done in the growing process.

    So yes, some straw will definitely have chemical residues and other straw might not. It depends on the farmer.

    Here are some post that will start you off on learning the facts about residual herbicides.


  • I used straw mulch and noticed it had tons of seed head but spread it. Now I have what appears to be wheat sprouting. I anticipate 32 degree temps tonight and tomorrow. what should I do? rake it off or put pine straw or leaves (north Florida oak leaves) over it?

  • Diane, I’m not sure I’m correctly understanding your email.

    It takes a while for freezing temps to kill wheat.

    Since the seed is already sprouting, I would just pull it up. It doesn’t
    all come up at once but over a period of time. So just keep taking it
    out. It’s easy to pull.

    And pine straw and leaves make great mulch.


  • I am wondering if merely plowing it under will kill the sprouted seeds.

  • Joanne, probably some will make it through and some won’t.

    Also, don’t know where you are in learning about the soil, but ploughing
    is not good for it. You may find it helpful to take a look at this post under the section entitled Tractors, Ploughing, Tilling, Discing and Hoeing.


  • Mary S. left a great question on another post that is even more important to this post.
    Mary wrote:
    October 15, 2023 at 4:43 pmEDIT
    Hi Theresa. You have been buying wheat straw from the same place for about 35 years. How do you prevent it from turning your garden into a wheat field if none can be guaranteed seed free? The last two bales I bought locally and placed under a tarp are growing. Arghhhhh!

    Below is a cut and paste of my reply to her question: OR read it here in the comments area:

    October 16, 2023 at 9:04 pmEDIT

    Mary, this is such a good question.

    Just for the benefit of other readers — I believe you are referencing a statement I made when we were emailing back and forth about bales of straw you had recently purchased. The bales had been supposedly “guaranteed seed free”. But after you spread the straw, wheat sprouted all over your garden area.

    I have forgotten my exact reply but in essence it was: “No bales of straw can be guaranteed seed free.”

    I should have added more to that statement to further clarify. Thus, the following:

    Specifically when purchasing seed from any place (be it a big box store, farm supply store, or private source) that is not the original source of the straw bales, there is no way for them to claim the straw to be seed free that I know of. Maybe there would be a chemical way — but you and I would not be at all interested in that option (if it exists).

    So, my question to them would be — “How do you know that for a fact?
    In other words – “how can you “guarantee” that straw to be seed free?” And furthermore – “What will you do if it’s not seed free and wheat sprouts all over my garden?”

    Anyone who’s been around as long as you and I have are going to know that last question is futile. I would go so far as to say “nothing” would be the answer to that 100% of the time. It would indeed be most unusual to have them do anything.

    The very best we can do is to buy from a source we know and trust. That can be a hard to do — especially if you’re new to an area and don’t yet know any farmers.

    As of this year I’ve purchased wheat straw from the same family for 42 years. As I mentioned in the post (

    They know what they’re doing when it comes to proper harvesting, but in spite of that I’ve had seed sprout in the garden at least 2 times over 40 years.” (now 42 years)

    I don’t recall the exact problem they were having but whatever it was was beyond their control.

    Here are some reasons I stated in the above mentioned post I linked to:

    “Seed of grain in bales of straw can be a result of it not being harvested properly. Or perhaps the grain head on the harvest machine was not set right.

    “Another reason can be the use of older combines that leave grain in the field that are then picked up by the baler (machine) collecting the straw.

    “There are probably other reasons that are beyond the farmer’s control.” But I don’t know them.

    Anyway – the bottom line and short answer to your question is — 42 years with only 2 years of bales containing seed is about 95% seed free over 4+decades.

    Although I’d prefer a full 42 years without that happening — life has its hurdles. But I’m lucky to have a good source that allows me to be relatively sure I won’t have to go through that scenario again of wheat sprouting all over.

    Hope this better clarifies my initial reply.

  • Can you eat these early sprouts from oat straw? I used the straw to cover a new area of clover and was surprised to have these sweet tasting sprouts! Haven’t been able to find if they are edible for humans?

Leave a Comment