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Straw is an incredible and magic resource for your garden. It provides so many benefits like improving soil quality, controlling weed pressure, and locking in moisture, just to name a few. In my opinion, everyone could benefit from adding straw mulch to their garden and I’m here to convince you why.
I’ll be covering everything you need to know about using straw mulch in your garden including how to apply it, where to find it, and what to do with it once the season is over.
By the end of this article, I’m sure I’ll have you persuaded that straw is a must for your garden this year.
Why you need straw mulch in your garden
In my personal opinion, everyone should be using mulch in their garden because it has so many benefits! For starters, it helps to keep your labor inputs low.
Mulching your garden helps to keep weeds at bay by burying them under a thick layer of organic matter. Mulching also locks in moisture and can be especially beneficial if you live in an area that’s more prone to drought.
Managing weeds can be one of the most time-consuming tasks in the garden. So, I let the mulch take care of the weeds for me.
Certain mulches, like straw, also add organic matter to your soil. Organic matter is important because it helps the soil store and supply important nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, all of which are essential to plant growth.
Mulching can also eliminate the need for chemical inputs in the garden and contribute to an overall healthy and abundant garden ecosystem.
It can help create a natural habitat for beneficial insects, reduce the spread of disease, and, as I just mentioned, suppress weeds.
All of this means that you won’t need to add any insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides to your garden. Pretty cool that straw mulch can do all of that for you!
How to apply straw mulch
Applying straw mulch is easy! Straw bales usually come apart in sheets that can be used to your advantage.
Your straw should be laid in layers that are about 3 to 4 inches thick. I know it probably seems like a lot but this is what will keep any weeds from growing up through it.
It’s best to plant your starts before laying any mulch down as it can be a bit tricky to try to plant seedlings into thick mulch.
Straw is also an excellent mulch for strawberry beds, and I have a detailed article on how to mulch your precious strawberry plants.
Another thing that I do before laying down any mulch is I make a pass with my soil crumbler over all of my beds that are going to be mulched.
This adds an extra layer of weed deterrent as it cuts back any young weed seedlings and kills them. That way, when you lay your mulch, you’re starting with a clean and weed-free bed.
Once you’ve gotten everything weeded and planted, you’re ready to start mulching!
Most straw bales come off in sheets that are usually the perfect thickness for laying down in the garden. But, if you feel that the sheets are too thick, you can pull them apart a bit to thin them out.
Lay or sprinkle the straw around the base of each plant but leave a little bit of space so it’s not touching the stem. Make sure you cover the entire bed with straw, not just around the plant. You shouldn’t be able to see any bare soil in your garden.
Straw mulch is a fantastic mulch for small home gardeners but it can also work on a larger scale. If you’re more of a homesteader and are working with a couple of acres of growing space, this can work for you too!
It can be a bit more labor intensive on a larger scale but that’s where equipment like trucks or small tractors come in handy.
I even go as far as to mulch my walkways too. Although, depending on how your garden is set up, this may not be necessary for you. For people with raised beds, weedy walkways shouldn’t prove to be a problem.
But if your garden is like mine and is directly on the ground, mulching the walkways may help to keep weeds from growing out of control and into your garden beds.
Some people like to use different mulches for their walkways, like wood chips, to make the space look a bit more aesthetically pleasing. But, I don’t think straw mulch is too bad to look at and it’s nice and soft to walk on too.
When to apply mulch
There’s no bad time of year to apply straw mulch to your vegetable garden, but as I mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t do it until you’ve put plants in the ground.
For me, this means that most of my mulching gets done in the spring or early summer as I’m getting most of my garden planted.
But, I still do some mulching in the summer and fall if I’m succession planting or planting fall crops like garlic, which I’ll talk about later.
Mulching young seedlings
If you’re directly seeding certain plants in your garden, then you don’t want to mulch until they become big enough to not be smothered by the mulch.
With certain plants that I direct seeds, like radishes, carrots, or lettuce, I may not even mulch at all.
As your seedlings are growing, you should be weeding around your sprouts to keep the weeds at bay until they’re big enough to handle straw mulch.
I find that using a dutch hoe is the best way to handle young weeds. The dutch hoe scratches the surface of the beds and chops back any weeds that are just beginning to sprout.
Not sure how to use it? Check this article on dutch hoes and why they’re a must for a small scale garden.
Continue to do use this tool as necessary if more weeds start to grow.
You may also consider using a different mulching medium for direct seeded plants. For the crops that I mentioned above, another option would be to use plastic mulch instead. This way you can punch holes into the plastic and plant your seeds directly into these holes.
Mulching garlic is slightly different from how I described above because it will get buried by the mulch.
I like to plant my garlic around October and let it overwinter. This way, I’ll have garlic to harvest in the early summer. Burying the garlic under the mulch instead of placing the mulch around it, will help to keep it insulated over the cold winter months.
Once my garlic is planted, I sprinkle a loose but thick layer of mulch over where I planted them. Now, I know what you’re thinking, how can you lay mulch loose but thick? Isn’t that contradicting?
As I explained earlier, most straw bales come off in sheets that you can just easily lay down wherever you need to. But these thick sheets can be difficult for the garlic to try and grow through.
So, you need to break these sheets up a bit. The way I do that is simply by shaking them. Giving them some shakes as you sprinkle them over your garden beds will give you the nice loose but thick mulching that your garlic needs.
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Where to source your straw mulch?
The best place to find good straw mulch is at a local farm or farm store. Where I live, I have a farmer that I buy bales from as I need them.
Farm supply stores can be hit or miss on whether they have mulching straw available. Oftentimes, stores will have bags of pine straw available for purchase.
Pine straw isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can start to turn your soil more acidic over time. A season or two of pine straw shouldn’t make your soil too acidic, but if you plan to use pine straw year after year, then consider having your soil tested just to check where your pH levels are at.
If you live in a more urban area, it may be more difficult to find a straw mulch supplier as farms can be pretty far and few in the city.
Rural areas are much more likely to have a farmer who is willing to sell you some straw bales. The only caveat is that you will need to check with the farmer if they’ve treated their straw with anything.
Some farmers will treat their fields with harsh chemicals that can actually harm your garden. I know from personal experience that straw treated with certain herbicides can wreak havoc on your garden and kill all of your precious plants.
Again, check with the farmer about how they treat their straw, if at all. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
What to do with straw once the season is over?
Another reason that straw mulch is so great is that it makes for easy clean-up. And by clean-up, I mean none at all!
Once the season is over, your straw mulch can just stay on your garden. As I mentioned earlier, straw mulch adds some good organic matter back into your soil and is a good source of carbon.
For those of you who till your gardens, straw mulch can be tilled right into the soil and won’t affect the health and well-being of your plants.
After I clean up my garden for the season, I will even add more straw to my beds to help prep them for winter and to put the garden to bed.
Adding this extra layer of straw helps to keep the ground warmer and the soil moist over the cold winter months. That way when I’m ready to plant in the spring, I have some nice good soil to plant into.
It’s also important to keep the soil covered and not leave it bare during the winter months to protect it from erosion. Straw mulch is perfect for this but if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can also plant cover crops to protect your soil over the winter.
Some people call this lasagna gardening because you’re just adding more layers of straw and organic matter every year instead of tilling, which can be detrimental to your soil over time if not done properly.
Will straw mulch blow away?
If you live in a particularly windy area, then the wind can sometimes prove to be a challenge when incorporating straw mulch into your garden. Especially in the spring when the weather can be highly volatile.
Ensuring the straw is layered thick enough will help add some weight and keep it anchored down.
You can also try watering your straw mulch a bit after you lay it down. The water will also add some weight to it and help keep it from blowing away.
Over time, especially after some rain, your straw mulch will begin to settle and just become another part of the garden bed.
Does straw mulch attract pests?
While straw mulch can create the perfect environment for insects to live in, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It may be to your benefit.
Your garden needs beneficial insects like worms, ladybugs, certain beetles, and even spiders. Decomposing insects, like worms, help to improve the quality of your soil and break down organic matter into nutrients for your plants.
Other insects, like ladybugs and spiders, are predators of insects that you don’t want in your garden. Ladybugs will help you out and take care of any aphid problems you might have. Spiders are great too because they’ll eat pretty much any insect pest you don’t want in your garden.
Does straw mulch attract slugs?
Straw mulch can attract slugs because it creates a cool and moist environment which slugs really like. They are attracted to moisture and shade, which is exactly what the mulch provides.
The mulch also keeps the soil moist, which is good for plants but also good for slugs. Plus, the loose straw gives slugs a place to hide from predators like birds and other animals.
So, if you’re using straw mulch in your garden, it’s important to keep an eye out for slugs and take steps to control their population, like place Diatomaceous Earth, egg shells or Zeolite around young plants that are at potential risk: lettuce seedlings, kohlrabi, cabbage, etc.
I think it’s extremely important for all gardens to have some sort of habitat for beneficial insects to thrive. This will greatly improve the success of your garden and show you are on the right track creating an organic vegetable garden.
Hopefully, by now I’ve convinced you that using straw mulch on your vegetable garden is the best thing you can do for it. It provides so many benefits including, improving soil fertility, suppressing weeds, maintaining soil moisture, and providing habitat for beneficial insects.
It’s easy to apply and doesn’t take up too much time. Simply pull apart the sheets of straw and lay them down on your beds about 3 to 4 inches thick.
Lastly, make sure you have a good straw mulch supplier. Some lawn and garden stores may have what you’re looking for but also check with any local farmers in your area who may be willing to sell you their straw.
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
- Grow Lights. These grow lights from Mars Hydro are super strong, yet dimmable, so they fit every stage of growth. They don’t put out too much heat and are very economical.
- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.
Browse our list of tools, fertilizers & pesticides, indoor growing products and seed shop recommendations – we hope you find our selection useful and it saves you some time!