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Old May 12, 2016   #1
tarheelchick
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Default mulching with hay and straw?

I've been reading online and I have just about gotten myself so confused that I don't know if I'm coming or going .

I have several (about 10 months old), bales of something that someone gave me. I'm guessing it is straw and that it came from Home Depot, but I'm not sure. It has been sitting in the back of my lot all this time, and it has been rained on etc for all this time. It has some long grass growing out of the top of it, and it has some mushrooms trying to grow on the inside of it. It's wet and smooshie.

I also have some dry, straw bales (I am sure this is straw) that is dry and newly purchased from a local nursery.

I need to cover some areas of my garden (primarily the paths) with something as I ran out of my leaf mulch/compost which I placed directly around my plants. I was thinking about laying down some old yard waste bags that I have (brown paper bags), then layering on the old wet bales, then putting the dry straw on top of that.

I keep reading about how straw can drain the nitrogen from my soil as it decomposes and how weed seeds can be present in the bales. So confusing!

Am I overthinking? Good idea? Bad idea?

Thoughts anyone?
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Old May 12, 2016   #2
BigVanVader
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Never ever ever never use hay for mulch, unless you enjoy weeds covering your garden. Straw is the bees knees though.
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Old May 12, 2016   #3
Father'sDaughter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BigVanVader View Post
Never ever ever never use hay for mulch, unless you enjoy weeds covering your garden. Straw is the bees knees though.


Unless you buy something labeled "straw" that really turns out to be "hay." Happened to me two years in a row, so now I stick with mulched leaves.
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Old May 12, 2016   #4
pmcgrady
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A bale of straw and a bale of hay, if they are small square bales are easy to tell apart...
It's those big round bales, wrapped in Kentucky Blue Grass on the outside, with corn husks on the inside, that you need to worry about...
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Old May 13, 2016   #5
Mike723
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I use straw for my paths, but I don't use it on my beds as I haven't found an organic source just yet. I use a 50/50 blend of my own grass clippings and ground leaves, as I know where they've "been" lol..
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Old May 13, 2016   #6
mecktom
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I always use hay and it works fine. Straw has weed seeds unless it is certified and then you still don't know for sure.
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Old May 13, 2016   #7
Mike723
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I always use hay and it works fine. Straw has weed seeds unless it is certified and then you still don't know for sure.
I think that you may be confused. Hay is the entire harvested grass, including the seed heads. Hay is more commonly used as an animal feed, but is also good for compost (more nutrients than straw) so long as your pile gets hot enough to kill the seeds. Straw is simply the plant stalk that is left behind when the seed heads are removed.
To sum it up: Hay= Seeds, Straw= NO seeds
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Old May 13, 2016   #8
ChiliPeppa
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Alfalfa hay rarely has seed in it, tho you may occasionally find a weed or two. And if you are laying hay or straw on the top of the soil you don't need to worry about nitrogen getting robbed from the soil as you would if you were digging it in.
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Old May 15, 2016   #9
Lee
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Another point to note is the possibility of broad leaf herbicide residue on the hay/straw. Take a seedling or two that you have extra and mulch it (in ground or in pot) with some of your straw/hay material. Water it well and wait a week to ten days. (You may need longer to be really certain.) Examine the growth habit of the foliage on the tomato plant. If it is deformed,twisted, and or distorted, do not put the straw/hay around your plants. 2-4D is a common broadleaf weed herbicide used on grass that can seriously damage your tomato plants, no matter their size!

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Old May 15, 2016   #10
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I had a friend in MO who used hay pretty much exclusively. He would treat it by watering it to get the seeds to sprout then put it sprouted grass side down in the garden. He had some of the most beautiful veggies I have ever seen. I'm pretty sure your partially rotted hay will work fine as mulch/next year's soil builder. I'd use it and be grateful. Just smother the new grass growing on it. The fungi won't do anything harmful, either, except help rot the hay faster.
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Old May 15, 2016   #11
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I first put down a couple layers of newspaper as a weed barrier then 6-8 inches of straw. Some straw will have seeds still in it but they are easy to get rid of since they do not grow into the soil because of the newspaper barrier. Works well in my garden. Then at the end of the season it all gets tilled into the soil to add organic material.

My entire space gets mulched, not just the pathways. Never have had an herbicide residue problem; until now never gave it a thought. As the straw and paper are decomposing they will draw some nitrogen but then release it all back later. Decomposition only takes place after it has all been tilled into the soil after the growing season. Additional N is added as needed before the next season begins.
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Old May 15, 2016   #12
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I've used hay before and would again if I can get it cheap enough, LOL! Put it thickly and keep the "flakes" tight together and it is great. Never had a lot of problems with weeds, a few now and then, easy to reach down and snatch out.

A;so keeps the plants nice and clean.
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Old May 15, 2016   #13
mecktom
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Well aware of the difference in hay and straw. I have a herd of Angus cows and bale a large amount of hay for them and also sell quite a bit to neighbors. As another poster stated, put it down very thick....it will do fine. There is no way to eliminate or protect a garden from all of the seeds that are around.
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Old May 16, 2016   #14
tarheelchick
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Thanks everyone. I did use the old hay. I put down the brown paper bags first, then the old wet hay, then layered the new straw on top. It will just be an experiment for me I guess. My garden isn't that big, so if I end up weeding, it won't be that bad. I don't plan to till or plow the garden, so I will have to see what things look like at the end of the season. If things don't look like they're decomposing, I may have to rake it up before planting my winter cover. Trial and error I suppose!

Thanks for all the responses!
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