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Why use straw mulch?

Photo by Sebastian Kasten (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t mess with my straw bale!

Straw  provides a lightweight airy mulch,  which lets rain through, smothers weeds, and adds organic matter to the soil, improving its structure. It is a cheap mulch compared to many commercial mulches.  Hay mulch is cheaper but straw is the proper choice because it has few if any seeds.  Straw also doesn’t use up as much nitrogen in the soil as some wood-based mulches such as wood chips. Straw also works well on steep slopes where erosion might be a problem. You can “crimp it in” to the soil using a shovel.

Straw, with its light color, reflects light to your plants and helps to keep heat from the soil, keeping soil temperature steady… while of course doing the main job of a mulch–conserving moisture.

Straw just “feels good” in a garden. It generally stays clean-looking during the season and feels good under foot. Also — is there a better “natural” garden seat than a straw bale?

Problems using straw mulch

Many people find that various tunneling garden pests like moles, shrews, and voles love a good straw mulch, too.  Some of these critters are vegetarians and may enjoy feasting on your tulip bulbs or other off-limit foods.

Using straw mulch

Best practice involves applying a new layer of straw mulch in the summer for heat protection and moisture retention. Use gloves and pull 3-inch-thick sections off the bale, fluff them up and apply them. Keep the mulch layer “fluffy” for best results. Many people find a thin layer of newspaper added underneath works well.

In the spring the straw will have begun to decompose and can be pulled back to allow the soil to warm. When the soil becomes workable you can work any soft, rotted straw into the soil along with fertilizer.

If bought in the fall (maybe as part of your autumn decoration) it can be applied and left after on vacant beds or where rodent damage is not a threat.  Otherwise let the straw bales begin to rot and they will be fine to apply in late spring.

Hey, if you’re in Massachusetts, come visit us!

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