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Straw Mulch, the Ultimate Winter Garden Blanket

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Straw Mulch, the Ultimate Winter Garden Blanket

December 19, 2019

I always thought those who lined their garden beds with straw were simply using it as a pathway material—a way to keep from sinking in rain-induced mud or thaw.  Little did I know that smart gardeners use straw as a winter insulator for bulbs, vegetables, and perennials. Affordable, attractive, and effective. What’s not to like?

Photography by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

Strawberry plants mulched with a blanket of straw emerge.
Above: Strawberry plants mulched with a blanket of straw emerge.

Straw is coarse and good at trapping air, making it an effective soil insulator in the both the winter and summer months. The insulation layer it provides between the air and the ground protects the soil from temperature fluctuations, and the plants or bulbs from extreme cold or heat.  

A tip for us non-farmers: there is a difference between straw and hay, and it is an important distinction if using for mulch. Hay has seeds in attached heads. Straw is essentially &#8
Above: A tip for us non-farmers: there is a difference between straw and hay, and it is an important distinction if using for mulch. Hay has seeds in attached heads. Straw is essentially “decapitated” hay (the stalks only), making it seed free. If you use hay, you will end up with more than you bargained for (weeds and grain sprouts).
 Straw performs like other organic mulch, holding in moisture, preventing evaporation, and minimizing weed growth. As the temperatures warm, you can gently remove it, turn it into the soil or let it break down naturally.
Above: Straw performs like other organic mulch, holding in moisture, preventing evaporation, and minimizing weed growth. As the temperatures warm, you can gently remove it, turn it into the soil or let it break down naturally.

Many nurseries and garden centers carry straw in bags or bales. Be careful when purchasing, however, as straw sold as lawn seed mulch often contains bonding agents that you wouldn’t want in your garden.

In harsh winter conditions, straw can be used to keep the soil insulated, while a garden blanket draped over a support (put your summer vine Tuteurs to work) protects exposed plants from snow and ice.

For more winter plant protection see our round up of Plant Blankets.

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