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.
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.
Best Types of Straw Garden Mulch
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.
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.
Tips for Using Straw as Mulch for Vegetables
The first key to using straw as mulch is in finding the right types of straw garden mulch. Some straw mulches may be mixed with hay, which can weed seeds that can sprout in your garden rows. Look for a supplier that sells guaranteed weed-free straw.
You never know what plant combination you’ll get in a random bale of hay. More often than not they contain weeds that you can inadvertently introduce to your property. I’ve seen such tenacious perennial weeds like thistle come into a garden as a result of their seeds hiding inside a bale of hay.
Granted, there are exceptions to the rule. You can find weed-free hay, such as 100% alfalfa or timothy but these can be expensive. Sometimes straw can be highly contaminated with weeds if it was grown in less than optimum conditions.
Straw on the other hand, is much better for use as a garden mulch. Since wheat and other grain crops are so competitive in a field, they suppress the growth of many weeds. Farmers also will control weeds one way or another to ensure the highest yields they can get of valuable grain. That results in straw with no or very little weed contamination.
In a garden, however, getting the two confused can lead to problems in the future. Hay and straw are often both used as weed control mulch in the garden but the results you get can be quite different.
Hay is a crop that is grown and harvested as a feed crop for cattle, horses and other farm animals. Straw on the other hand is a byproduct of a grain crop; in our area it’s usually usually wheat straw that we see.
Using straw to kill weeds is also effective, as it suppresses most unwanted plants so they can’t grow and establish in the bed. Straw keeps developing fruits clean, especially vine varieties like melons, tomatoes and squash that usually sit directly on top the soil.
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.
Straw on Garden Beds
The coarse texture of straw helps it trap air, which provides soil insulation and protects the garden bed from temperature fluctuations. The straw is also porous and allows moisture to seep down into the soil, notes University of California Sonoma County Master Gardeners. Like most mulch materials, straw helps conserve soil moisture and prevents rapid soil drying and drought stress.
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.