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Straw vs. grass clippings as mulch

Posted by gamebird (My Page) on
Mon, May 15, 06 at 14:31

Once my plants get up some size, I want to lay down some form of mulch that I can work into the soil later, or scoop up and toss in the compost bin. I read that grass clippings work fine and I'll have easy access to those through the summer (though I have no control over whether they'll include seedheads). But the pictures I see in books show straw...

Any pros and cons here?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Straw vs. grass clippings as mulch

Lay down newspaper first- which will compost as well. That will help stop the germination of many seeds already present in the soil. Then cover with your choice- grass clippings are free- but so are the chemicals that come with them that most folks put on their lawns. I try to "dry out" my grass clippings before spreading as they can compress together and become slimy and possibly moldy and even heat up while composting if put on too thick when still wet....... Yes- experience talking here........
The nice thing is that this type of mulch will compost itself and become good rich soil with a little help from the worms and microorgamisms present in the soil- All you should ever need to do is add another layer every season- or maybe even more often!
It is not the most ornamental type of mulch- but it is very good otherwise!

RE: Straw vs. grass clippings as mulch

First, one must usually buy straw and if you have a large area it could be $$$. Second, despite what is written, straw occasionaly contains weed seeds and almost always contains oat seeds. Third, depending where you get the straw, it could be not straw at all, but roadside weed mowings that are sold as dairy bedding - cows don't care! And don't make the mistake of picking up hay instead of straw. If you have access to grass clipping without a lot of dandelions they can be much better, although they decompose quicker than straw. Even if dandelions haven't gone to seed before they are cut, their flower seeds will go a head to make seeds anyway because they are self-fertile they are born pregant - so to speak.

Newspapers, huh?

The grass clippings I'd be using are off my own lawn, so I know what I've put on them (which is nothing, other than more grass seeds and a sprinkling of leftover sulfur). I've also seen mentioned time after time using several layers of newspapers as the foundation for mulch. I suppose I'll give that a try. My husband just signed up for the paper for the next three months, so I should have plenty of it to use.

RE: Straw vs. grass clippings as mulch

It had always been my understanding that straw is from cereal grains, and hay is from alfalfa, wild grasses, and anything else.


RE: Straw vs. grass clippings as mulch

Yes, straw is from cereal grains. Most of what we get here in MN garden centers, etc. is from Canada and is from oats. All of the stuff I have seen and used has a lot of oat seed left in it. The good thing is that it is easy to pull oat plants out. As for hay, you are right it could be any number of things. Usually, alfalfa hay is labeled as such, is higher priced because it contains much more protein, and is rarely sold in garden centers - except for rabbit food. Most of the unlabeled hay sold in MN is from timothy grass, but timothy fields are rarely sprayed with herbicides so it contains a lot of weeds and their seeds. Finally, some unaware gardeners may be tempted to buy the cheaper "bedding straw" from unscruplous garden centers. It isn't straw at all, but roadside weed cuttings, and as as I posted before, cows don't care whether they lay down on weeds, corn stalks or clean straw. As a rule of thumb, choose a bale that is light yellow - it will most likely be straw. Both timothy and alfalfa will be a green color, while roadside clippings will light brown.

I got some straw anyway

Although putting straw around the plants worked in my head... in reality... a little less on the "working" part. This weekend I started a new vegetable bed to put in six extra bush tomato plants and four pole beans my son brought from kindergarten as a project. The bed is 7' long and 2' wide, next to a 4' tall chain link fence. I de-sodded, spaded it up, forked it, worked in five gallons of unfinished compost (my compost isn't quite done, but it was all I had), raked, and planted. There were lots of worms, so I figure the dirt is okay.

There's also lots of weeds around it and the bed is out and kind of exposed and all new. I was concerned my six year old would be taken by a desire to use the fresh dirt as a derby site for his hot wheels and dump trucks. So I decided I'd experiment with it and see how the newspaper + mulch thing worked. I didn't have grass clippings and getting into the compost reminded me I was out of browns, so I bought a bale of oat straw at Bergmann's near Stillwater. I figured if it went badly, I'd use it in the compost.

Well... I put newspaper around the plants, cutting 2"x2" holes for the plants to poke through. Then the straw. The plants are from 2 inches tall to 6 inches tall. The taller ones were fine, but the smaller ones were kind of swamped by the straw. At the end, it didn't really look like something that was going to work out. I guess I should have taken a picture and posted it.

Any comments? Advice?

RE: Straw vs. grass clippings as mulch

Relax, they will all grow and by end of July you'll be asking how to control the jungle.

On a completely different note, somehow I missed the prediction for frost last night. The National Weather Services website at 10 PM said it would only get down to 43, so I thought OK. But no I lost 1/2 of my tomatoes and nearly all my peppers. I have more, so it is not a problem, but the frost pattern was very interesting. First, I lost all the tomatoes that were mulched with 8" of straw, but I didnt lose any I planted in the hairy vetch and only about 1/4 of the ones planted in bare ground (hadnt got to the mulch yet). This is the first time in 35 years that I have had my tomatoes nipped and I expected the straw mulch would have kept the plants safe. Goes to show we gardeners are always learning.

RE: Straw vs. grass clippings as mulch

In the past, I have waited to mulch heat lovers such as tomatoes and peppers until after the soil is very warm--sometimes late June. Mulch will keep the ground cool--just like insulation.

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