Straw mulch is a popular way to mulch a garden. There are different kinds of straw mulch to choose from, including straw from alfalfa plants, straw made from the stubble left after harvesting cereal crops, and pine straw mulch made from pine needles. Pine straw mulch is far different than typical straw mulch in both appearance and use. Pine straw aside, straw mulch is great to use for several reasons.
1. Straw Is Organic
Straw comes from harvested crops and fields and is a naturally occurring substance. It doesn’t have to be manufactured. It's usually available in abundance and it replenishes itself too. Straw mulch is truly a green, organic mulch to choose for your garden.
If you choose other mulches like dyed mulch or manufactured mulch, the dyes, processes, and materials used to make them could contain potentially harmful chemicals like the arsenic that's present in CCA pressure-treated lumber. Using straw mulch eliminates these worries.
2. Straw Has Few Potential Problems
As organic mulch, the biggest problem straw is likely to cause is sprouting. Depending on when you purchase or acquire your mulch, there could be weed seeds mixed in with the straw. Straw made from meadow hay will often contain these seeds which can cause a weed problem—one of the problems you're trying to prevent with the mulch in the first place. Opt for cereal straw or Lucerne hay (which comes from alfalfa) to avoid this problem, or choose meadow hay that has been composted first. Straw from cereal crops may contain some grain seeds that sprout once the mulch is spread.
There’s only one thing that loves straw mulch more than gardeners and that’s pests! In the winter, a layer of straw mulch seems like a comfy bed to all sorts of critters including slugs, rabbits, moles, and voles. If you live in a critter-prone area, keep an eye out for pests using your garden as a winter getaway (and nibbling on your perennial roots while they're at it). If this becomes problematic, remove the mulch before your first hard frost, or find yourself a great rodent-eating cat!
3. Straw Mulch Gives a Natural Look
Some people like the look of red or black mulch in their gardens, but the dyes used can be tracked to other areas, can stain hands, and can fade over time, not to mention the potential dangers of some companies' chosen dyes. But for those who prefer a more natural look around their plants, it's hard to beat straw. Straw won't take away from the look of your plants and flowers the way dyed mulch, rubber, or colored rocks can.
Tip: The light color not only looks good, but reflects light to your plants and away from your soil, keeping soil temperatures consistent.
4. Straw Adds Nitrogen
Soil that lacks nitrogen can cause problems for many plants and trees. Lucerne hay that comes from mown alfalfa breaks down easily and adds nitrogen to the soil as it does so, helping to nourish your plants. Some wood chip mulches can actually pull nitrogen from the soil and should be used with care.
5. Straw Prevents Weeds
A layer of straw mulch inhibits weed growth—usually. The best mulch to fit this purpose is Lucerne hay from alfalfa or meadow hay that has been composted to kill weed seeds.
Tip: Covering your garden with one layer of newspaper (five to seven sheets per layer) before spreading your straw mulch seriously cuts down on weeds. This is especially true on the off chance that your straw contains some stray seeds already. These days, newspaper ink is soy-based so there is no chance of contaminating your soil with anything toxic. It’s also a great way to recycle.
6. Straw Prevents Erosion
Straw mulch will protect your garden from possible erosion caused by rain. Mulching with straw also keeps your garden soil cool, which seriously cuts down on your need for frequent summer waterings.
7. Straw Is Convenient
Straw mulching is a great alternative to regular soil tilling with a rotary tiller. Tillers can be heavy, difficult to control, and time consuming to use.
Once you apply this organic mulch, you're probably done for the growing season. In most cases, you won't have to reapply straw mulch unless winds scattered much of it soon after it was spread. Straw mulch is extremely easy to work with. You can mold it and pull it apart to make rows and holes for planting. It is also very comfortable to kneel or sit on as you work, unlike jagged wood chip mulch.
To start, put on your gardening gloves and conceptualize where you want your straw. Pull three-inch-thick sections off of the bale, fluff, and apply two to three inches deep. Keeping the straw layer fluffy allows air and rain to penetrate. You can mulch any time of year, but the straw will be most useful in the summer for moisture retention and heat protection. This is a fun and easy project for gardeners at any level of expertise