Hay for mulch

letsskiJune 26, 2012

Is hay a good mulch material? I would be using for fruit and citrus trees.

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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I might be concerned of allot of weeds to deal with down the road.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 2:09AM
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alan haigh

I use mulch hay when I can get it (get around to picking it up). Here in the northeast you can sometimes buy huge wheels of it cheaply, half rotten bales being the next cheapest option.

For trees you can just partially break up the bales sold as stock forage and the compressed hay will subdue weeds well, feed the soil and keep it moist and loose- although it usually contains lots of viable seeds. If you plan to keep the area mulched and mow right up to the edge it hasn't been a problem for me.

Some straw is available that costs much more for its lack of seeds. If a bale of regular hay gets very wet and sits a month, seeds will either rot or sprout and will be usable as a more or less seedless mulch. That seems to me my experience, at least.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 5:57AM
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I like hay mulch when I get it cheap. Like many mulches, it can draw in voles sheltering under it.

I like it even better a bit rotted. Like Harvestman said, lay it out in flakes and the weed suppression is much better than spreading it out loose.

First-cut will have far less weed seed, but unless it is last years, or got wet in the field prior to baling it is pretty pricy for mulch... but still cheaper than straw.

depending on your volume, be careful. Under the right conditions damp rotting bales can do "spontaneous combustion"

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 10:51AM
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In Rhode Island I can buy 'seedless' hay mulch from a nursery. I haven't needed to buy it for two years so I can't give you an estimated price. But it exists. Never had a sprout!

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 2:41PM
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Here in NJ whenever I use hay as mulch I end up with a terrible weed problem (seemingly for multiple seasons).

I have been advised that salt straw (?) doesn't have weed creating seeds. Even what has been sold to me as regular straw has created problems.

I'm now using Weedguard Plus for my veggies - fertilizer impregnated paper. It's expensive, but has been working nicely. It's still a hassle with hole cutting and weeds in/at the 'X' or edges.

On my fruit trees I'm using wood mulch - weeds have been almost completely beaten. The deer haven't been beaten, but the weeds have. To small victories!


    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 4:09PM
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Thanks all. I've been able to pick up 3-4 bales at a time for free, so I'll start laying it down.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 8:25PM
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Mulch hay is very good in many ways. Can smother weeds, provide nutrients and moisture holding. On the negative side in regular hay and straw there are many weed seeds that will eventually germinate. Some of those may not be local and non local weeds may have you pulling your hair out. The very best hay type mulches are salt marsh hay and meadow hay. Both have seeds but they need a wet environment to germinate. Both of these desirable mulch "hays" are usually in short supply and expensive. I bale and sell many bales of meadow hay per year and it almost always goes for vegetable and strawberry mulch. The smell of this stuff when you are spreading it in your garden is very pleasant. Spreading wet, moldy and dusty hay of any type may not be good for your breathing components!

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 8:52PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

I never had so many weeds! I didn't even know some of them existed until I brought in hay. I put it down to suppress weeds and now I have more weeds than I know what to do with. I've finally planted buckwheat to get a cover crop going and suppress the weeds. I will never do that again.

The best mulch I've ever used is leaves.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 2:05AM
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alan haigh

Bb and MH, the questioner is talking about mulching trees, presumably with lawn adjacent to mulch. It is difficult for most invasive weeds to establish in a mowed lawn and as long as mulched area remains so I don't see how weeds are much an issue. But then, I've already got bindweed and poison ivy well established on my property- what's a little canadian thistle added to the party?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 5:22AM
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Use straw instead. It has much less seed.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 9:02AM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

First I tried straw and then hay in the rows between my trees. At first it seemed to be a good weed deterrent, but then the seeds in the straw and hay sprouted.

This was just the beginning of a nightmare I've been trying to rectify for two years; I spent the whole morning pulling weeds. Just this morning I got a pile 5 feet high of thistle, mallow, red-stemmed filaree, and some I don't even know the name of. The weeds are taller than my trees.

I am trying a different tactic now by planting buckwheat. If that does not work I will have to cover everything with black plastic and hopefully sterilize the soil.

For me, anyway, this goes down as one of my biggest mistakes.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 1:32PM
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alan haigh

But MH, how did you use the hay? Did you break it up or leave it in solid flakes? Did you use enough flakes to close up the area, and if you did, how did the weeds get established? Did they break through 3" thick flakes?

Doesn't make sense. Sometimes it's how you use a tool, but maybe you will clarify for me. Weeds don't take over over night.

I've often used hay as a mulch over the last 40 years and no horror stories in my memories.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 8:24PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

We get enough rain here that something will sprout if the soil is unmulched. Plain dirt will sprout ragweed, sunflowers, etc.

Some weeds will come up through the mulch. When that happens you can just add more mulch to choke the weeds. Around here about the only weeds mulch won't choke are dandelions, nutsedge, and pigweed.

I've used just about anything as mulch - paper, leaves, straw, hay, old cotton clothing, wood chips. Wood chips seem to last the longest.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 10:11PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

Harvestman, You are right with regard to my situation. I got the idea of using hay from watching videos of Ruth Stout, who espouses not tilling just tucking seeds under her hay mulch to plant her garden. I think the problem I had was that the soil was so bad, just clay mixed with rocks, that I could not even use a hoe on the weeds. I can just bet that Ruth never saw soil like mine. But I did not have a 3" thick layer, mostly because it was cost-prohibitive

I did end up introducing different weeds to my BYO, but my problem was that the soil could absolutely not be tilled and I could not keep up with the weeds, so then those weeds went to seed. There is really no organic matter in the soil.

I know I sounded angry, and had I not just spent several hours pulling thistles and bind weed, I probably would have been more sane in my response. I will say, however, that I had very good results with leaves, and I now make a point to collect as many bags of leaves as I can. They do block the weeds without bringing in weed seeds.

My idea now is to try to use a cover crop that will both block the weeds and add organic matter so that some day, or rather, some year, I might actually be able to put a shovel or a garden fork in the soil.

So, letsski, don't listen to anything I said and listen to the experts!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 10:18PM
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Mulchheads, here is a little experiment you can do. Put a normal bale of hay and a normal bale of straw side by side. Leave them there for a year. You will find weeds and grass growing from the top. A thick mulch of this material under trees will have less weed sprouts since it is shaded by the tree. Here in Maine some blueberry growers imported Canadian straw as a burning fuel spread over the wild blueberry fields. You might think that burning would kill all the weed seeds but such was not the case and we ended up with weeds that we had not seen before. Salt marsh hay, meadow hay and leaves make the very best mulch materials. There are some others also such as cotton seed meal, apple pomace, and other ag byproducts that will break down and be beneficial. Some of you may have read stories of the famous organic farmers using hay in vegetables gardens to eliminate weeding. It may do that if you go through the garden every few weeks with a pitch fork and fluff the top layer of hay and/or keep adding thick layers of hay to block out sun light to the seeds down under there that are just wanting to sprout. There are no majic answers to eliminate weeds. Your in a fight with mother nature and you can fool her one way but she may just call in the wind to dust your garden with weed seeds. Maybe we can be like Mr. Gibbons and eat the damn things. I hear pigweed and red sorrel are good to eat! Until then enjoy being out there and weeding is part of it.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 10:25PM
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alan haigh

Mile, I like using leaves as well, but I get lots of trees sprouting up under them.

Bberry, the question was not about mulching a vegetable garden. It was specific to mulching trees- probably about 5' diameter circles. Young trees establish very nicely under a hay mulch and it is easy to transport compared to arborist wood chips, or most commercial wood based mulches.

If the question was "what is your favorite mulch for trees", I wouldn't go with hay for small orchards. Around here you can get arborist wood chips for free, and if they are a bit aged (look better) and from a well serviced chipper, they are, to my mind, the best mulch for this purpose.

The reason I sometimes use hay in my nurseries (both quite small) is because it saves a lot on hauling. In one nursery I like to use hay over woven landscape fabric. I buy the big wheels and roll them between rows and can mulch a large area very quickly for a reasonable price. The hay doesn't make it as difficult as other mulches to lift the fabric, which I must do every year.

However, over the years I've often used hay without fabric, and in my conditions at least, the weed issue isn't that big a deal.

The point is that different mulches can be used in different ways and hay is one of the potential mulch tools.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 5:22AM
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alan haigh

I should have mentioned that salt hay is extremely expensive, leaves tend to blow away unless shredded and break down extremely quickly, and straw is also quite pricey. I still like to use leaves but the others are too expensive in my area for me.

My rich clients, (and the vast majority are in the 1% class or higher) use shredded wood or sweet peat. The straw they use comes in bags and the expensive stuff is never seen outside of vegetable gardens on their estates. Salt hay has become a rarity around here.

I can pick up shredded wood directly from a processor for $12 a yard. Sweetpeat (aged horse stable waste)is up to about $50, except in orders of 20 yards up, where it still rings in for around $30 per yard.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 5:36AM
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I often do the same things in my orchard to benefit from moisture holding and nutrients. Wood chips, I use since I get them free. No weeds in that stuff. I often let 100 bales of standard hay rot down to a small amount, till it often, then scoop it up and then use that as a mulch. Great stuff and no weeds. You are probably safe using local hay or straw since unusual weed seeds are likely not present. My saddest tale concerns wild morning glory. Never saw it around here as a young person but now it is a major pest in the garden. It will almost smother a young grape or tree. To mulch an orchard or not depends on a lot of factors. I like to mulch since we get frost down to 3 feet or more. Mulch helps. Noticed in parts of NY the ground rarely freezes under the snow. Be prepared to protect against voles with wire cloth. My trees seem much more healthy with mulch and I think that is due to nutrients being released since moisture is rarely a problem here. Carefully using glyphosate before and on top of mulch seems to be beneficial in the fight against weeds. Some may want to use organic vinegar.
Another nice mulch is pine straw. Also expensive.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 8:41PM
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alan haigh

BB I agree. White pine needles are great and I have clients with old stands that pay to have the stuff raked and hauled away and then pay for sweet peat. Wide ranging intelligence is not what necessarily leads to riches in the modern world. Focus on one thing is the trick there, I believe.

Long term use of mulch in orchards, especially dense and highly enriching mulches like woodchips,- yes enriching, even with their N-C ratio leaning on C- can lead to a decrease in fruit quality over time. Too thick a layer of black humus and the trees become excessively vegetative in at least some soils, IMO. I'm not sure this would be a problem with dwarfing root stocks. Wish I had some actual scientific evidence to back this up, but it is well known that fruit trees perform better in not more than moderately rich soils.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 11:14AM
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