Hay vs Straw


I am getting ready to start planting out my first section of the orchard. I remove the tarp in about three weeks. My plan is to lay down 2 year old aged cow manure cover it with card board then mulch over it. Problem is most if not all the mulch around here has color added to it. Been trying to get wood chips but to no avail so far. That leaves me with either hay or straw to mulch around the base of the trees. Seems to me the hay would be more nutrient dense, but his time of year hay is getting scarce. What say you ?


Straw is one type of plant, a grain, thus one kind of seed and it is not usually in abundance. Hay on the other hand is grass and weeds and everything else, usually tons of seeds which will sprout and you will have weeds under your trees. You have to compost the hay in a warm compost pile to kill the seeds first. Your aged cow manure will also contain seeds unless it was composted warm. If it has been sitting around in a pile then it has been cold composted and seeds will remain active.

If you have to, you can put down the hay and manure and cover that with several layers of thick cardboard, which should smother anything that tries to grow. You still need to put something on the cardboard, possibly the straw. The hay will decompose with the manure under the cardboard giving you nice worm food and they love it under the cardboard.


After I posted I did consider the weed seed issue. I think I may go with your suggestion. Hay & manure, cardboard then finish with straw to maximize weed seed suppression. Great suggestion.


try contacting local arborists for wood chips. they will usually deliver for free. also and wood mill or firewood business will give you free sawdust. i have a hardwood firewood business i get mine plus a couple loads i get from the aborist in the summer. i love wood chips!


tractor supply has bales of chopped straw that i use in my chicken coops. its nice stuff and pretty cheap but would be hard to get it to stay in place like wood chips.


What are you paying these days for a bale of straw? $7 a bale of unchopped straw here in PA. I use it for my chickens also.


They are going for $5 a square here on craigslist.


$3 a bale for oat straw here but has some oats still in it. chickens like scratching in it. for mulch you would be pulling oat sprouts out in number!


Can you use leaves? They must be shredded. I put leaves down and cover with compost to keep them there. I shred them two ways with a lawn mower with a bag, but best is I have a leaf blower that reverses and has a bag. The blower must have a metal impaller this works best it does a very good job. A little time consuming but I hate to waste anything.


i need to start doing this. i just mulch up the leaves and leave them on the lawn. i need to start collecting them. the university has a place they dump leaves they rake, i go and steal from their pile occasionally.


If you are in town, it might be a good idea to try to minimize weed seed by using really clean straw for mulching, since there aren’t as many weeds if the lawns around you are nicely manicured.

In the country it’s a different story. There are so many weeds naturally, I don’t think it makes a bit of difference if you add more weed seed in your mulch. I use wood chips for mulch with no weed seed. Nevertheless, as soon as the wood chips rot, there will be a million weeds which will come up without the use of a pre-emergent.

Weeds just produce so many seeds, which blow everywhere here, any bare ground is just waiting to grow something. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum. Fertile soil won’t tolerate growing nothing.

Some of the more problem weeds we have are horse weed (produces 200,000 seeds per plant), ragweed (produces up to 60,000 seeds per plant), pigweed (produces up to 35,000 seeds per plant).

Bindweed, musk thistle, and poison ivy are the only weeds I try not to let go to seed if I can help it. Those weeds are just so noxious I try to do everything possible to avoid letting them get a foothold.


I agree. I have tried everything I can to diminish seeds as much as possible but it’s a herculean feat. Animals, wind, regrowth from root, seed dormancy for years, etc.; too many variables to overcome in the country. The amaranth pigweed is so prolific that if you don’t walk the garden every day, you’ll never be able to catch up to it again. It grows as big as dwarf trees here and the thorns would make a preacher cuss.


I use hay, but I let the bales get wet and rot a bit to help reduce viable seed, although sometimes I use fresh hay. Straw is prohibitively expensive here- spoiled hay is perfect and the cheapest- just not too spoiled.

I have noxious weeds here already and nothing I bring in is likely to make much difference. Cardboard should prevent many from establishing anyway.

I worry more about the weed issue in my veg garden. There I will only use spoiled hay.


I till shredded leaves into my veg garden in the fall, don’t use them as mulch

I’d like to try the chopped straw for my potato bed


I have used straw, bu the stuff I got had weeds, and so back to leaves.


Mostly, the weeds I get are grassy and easy to pull up


I’ve been mulching with hay for 40 yrs and only once had a particular weed problem and that was in the garden not the orchard. Got a good deal from a local farmer who had a trailer load of wet hay bales. I didn’t think to ask when it was cut (as in, was it mature or not). The only reason it showed up was because I generously mulched the garden in the fall then raked the mulch off the beds in the spring (as I do every year to warm up the beds). Perfect seed planting! It took a few years to clear the garden of a particular weed I’d planted. But mostly if you put on enough hay to do a good job of mulching it’s going to mulch out most of what might germinate. As others have said, weed seeds abound no matter what. And with hay you get all the nutrients; plus I think it’s nicer to work with. Early on I got some straw but found it to be not so fun. There are often regional options for other materials for mulch.

We cut our own hay so simply cut it before most of the vegetation is mature. When I used to buy from farmers I’d tell them it was for mulch so needed mostly seed free (it’s never 100%) and didn’t need to be feed grade. For the young orchard trees I use whatever I have - hay, grass clippings, cardboard, chainsaw chips, leaves (often use my corn stalks to keep them in place) (I seldem shred, though do that, too, if I have time but that usually goes on the overwintered carrots and garlic, etc).

I think lots of things will work depending on what you have available in your area. Sue


I would love to mulch with alfalfa, but at $17 for a 100# bale I don’t think I will be doing that anytime soon :wink: Here in Phoenix we have primarily Alfalfa and Bermuda hay, and cows will fly before the day I mulch with bermuda hay.

Did put down some straw in years past, and now it is putting out grass. Not too bad though. Would gladly take more free straw.


Your mention of overwintered carrots caught my eye. I have overwintered parsnips, but didn’t know if you could do that with carrots. Do you pile bales over them? What happens if you do nothing? Just wondering, in case some fall I am unable to get my carrots dug.


Here are my experiences with mulch:
Straw: Fairly weed free, difficult to keep in one place blows around a lot.
Grass Hay: Lots of weeds, stays put ok.
Alfalfa Hay: Very few weeds, stays put really well. Excellent mulch, especially if you can find bales that have set out in the weather for a while (and are no longer suitable for feeding)
Grass Clippings: Works pretty well as long as the yard is weed and herbicide free.
My current (and laziest) method is rock. I have only done this because it is consistent with the landscaping around my house. There are no weeds and it never decomposes or blows away. Granted, it does nothing to improve the soil, but it is totally low maintanence. I used 1.25" black basalt chips. I did have some concern about warming the soil too early in the Spring, but after 7 years it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Honestly, in Spokane, I can use all the extra warmth I can get.
Here is a pic of one of my peach trees with rock “mulch”.