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How Straw Can Help Your Garden

How Straw Can Help Your Garden
Straw is an excellent winter insulator for bulbs, vegetables and perennials. Affordable, attractive, and effective, what’s not to like?

Above: Strawberry plants mulched with a blanket of straw emerge. Photograph via Hazel Dene.

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.

straw mulch tomato plant l Gardenista

Above: Straw is favored by vegetable gardeners, especially for protecting late fall crops from cold, and the feet of tomatoes from extreme summer heat. Photograph via Bonnie Plants.

straw mulch lettuce l Gardenista

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. Photograph via Old World Garden Farms.

Straw Mulch, Gardenista

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). Photograph via DIY Network.

Straw Mulch, Gardenista

Above:  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. Photograph by Robert Taylor.

Above: Where we spend Thanksgiving in Eastern Washington, small rhododendrons are protected from snow by a simple wood teepee covered in cut-to-size shade cloth (6-by-15-foot Shade Cloth Roll is available for $29.97 at Home Depot) and then insulated with straw.  Photograph by Janet Hall.

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 Gardenista‘s round up of Plant Blankets.

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Read more: Environment, Gardenista, Green Home Decor, Lawns & Gardens, Natural Pest Control, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Outdoor Activities, , , ,

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Gardenista is a one-stop sourcebook for cultivated living, a guide to outdoor design and gardening. Helmed by former New York Times columnist Michelle Slatalla, Gardenista features inspiration, garden visits, and advice for all things outdoor living, from patios and peonies, to tables and terraces. Gardens matter, and Gardenista celebrates tomatoes on the fire escape as much as rolling acres of green.


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2:20AM PDT on Mar 27, 2014

I use straw, but please don't buy it in bags, especially as I don't like treated woods. I figure that stuff will leach into the garden.

10:08AM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

I use it in my cats outdoor shelter.

10:03AM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

I let straw compost over the winter, and it's wonderful. I also use straw bales and extra windows purchased from a Habitat Re-Store to produce moveable cold frames that allow you to extend your gardening season earlier in the spring and later into the fall. In fact, there are certain vegetables that like the cold so much, broccoli, especially Brussel sprouts and some collards, that you can keep harvesting nearly all winter. You can also use straw to deep mulch your carrots and pull them out of the ground for several months after the cold has begun.

3:27PM PST on Feb 28, 2014


10:18AM PST on Jan 6, 2014

Thanks you for sharing the info.

10:27AM PST on Dec 13, 2013


3:11AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Excellent tip which will work very well indeed.

1:46PM PST on Dec 4, 2013


2:51PM PST on Nov 23, 2013

wonderful idea, and so much cheaper than buying bags & bags of mulch

5:53AM PST on Nov 21, 2013

Got a bale for fall décor in the yard. Been thinking about what to do with it, but Im a little nervous about using it. My yard is full of mulch and the straw idea is confusing to me. So we are taking it to the dump. They collect all types of grass, bushes, straw, etc. It is mulched down at the beginning of the spring season and it's hard to fight for a parking place to load for your yard. That's worth it to me.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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