does straw keep weeds from growing

Controlling weeds with hay is not a new idea. It was at the heart of unconventional garden guru Ruth Stout’s 1961 book “Gardening Without Work,” a longstanding cornerstone of natural gardening techniques. Her recommendation is to grow entirely in layers of mulch, but you don’t need to do that to benefit from hay’s ability to keep weeds down.

Mulch does a lot of good things in your garden, but the type of mulch you choose is often dictated by your priorities. For example, bark mulch and wood chips work well for landscaping and ornamental use, while building soil and suppressing weeds might call for hay in the garden. In a vegetable garden, that makes hay a better option than most.

Hay in the Garden

A more significant issue is the possible presence of persistent herbicides in the hay. Farmers who grow hay commercially spray to minimize weeds, and unfortunately, those herbicides remain in the hay and can kill your vegetables. Even worse, they’ll stay in the soil and could impair your crops in future years as well. Virginia’s Cooperative Extension offers a detailed explanation of how this all works.

Preparing the Hay for Use

Your hay will compress and flatten through the season as it decomposes, but by then, your plants will be able to outcompete any late weeds.

Straw suitable for use as a mulch contains no seed heads and is generally seed-free, otherwise it may introduce weeds into the garden. If you have a choice between straw or hay for garden mulch, choose straw. Hay is not a replacement for straw because hay generally still contains the grain heads. Chopped straw works well in gardens because the shorter lengths allow it to break down faster and make it easier to arrange around your plants.

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.

Choosing Straw for Mulch

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.

The type of straw also determines its propensity for weed problems. Rice straw contains no seeds, while wheat and oat straw require a month-long exposure to winter rains so the seeds are rendered unviable.

Straw on Garden Beds

Store any extra straw in a dry area so it doesn’t decompose. You can use the extra straw to replenish the mulch later in the season or to cover empty beds in winter.

Does straw keep weeds from growing

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.

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.

Best Types of Straw Garden Mulch

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.

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.

Tips for Using Straw as Mulch for Vegetables

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.