Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Straw is Messy

I dug a trench to delineate the edge of the magnolia bed (named for the Sweet Bay Magnolia in its center) at least 2 months ago. In September, I planted two mock oranges, two red hot pokers, two black eyed susans, and a butterfly bush. As usual, I mulched with newspaper, and then bark. The result was a bit unsightly looking: a chain of flapping newspaper islands, populated by single, scrawny plants, floating on a grassy sea. Although it was amusing to suggest to my neighbors that I was finished with the bed as it was, this weekend was finally the time to give it a proper dressing.

First, I smothered the remainder of the grass with multiple layers of wet newspaper. Crawling about on my knees, dragging a bag of paper and a container of water, gave me a true appreciation for how large a bed I’m creating. (I also tore through half my stock of recently acquired newspaper.) To keep the newspaper from blowing away, and to pacify my neighbors, I bought two bales of straw to cover the bed.

I’ve never handled a bale of straw before. I was prepared for it to yield an amazing amount of straw, but I wasn’t expecting the bale to EXPLODE when I cut the cords. The kitties and I had some good fall fun making a huge, yellow mess with the chaff. When I had finished, the bed was covered in a cozy straw blanket, upon which Cleo promptly curled up and took a nap.

The straw looks very nice (much better than newspaper alone or compost), but I have some reservations. Although it has remained intact so far, I’m still afraid the straw will blow away. I am also worried that, just as my cats found it inviting, I’ll be attracting chipmunks, moles, voles, and other burrowing critters into the bed. I will be depending on the kitties to keep it rodent-free. Finally, I wonder if I’m setting myself up for a weed fest when the seeds mixed in with the straw germinate next spring.

Like most of my gardening experiments, I’ll “wait and see.” I will be sure to report on whether the straw blanket was a stroke of genius or a disaster. In the meantime, I find myself in a fall holiday mood every time I walk past my cheery straw pile.


Blogger Brenda said...

If I can get free sawdust I usually use it to "dress" my newspaper. It will stay put and isn't too acidic when used over newspaper. You can always put another layer of newspaper in the spring and a new top layer of something (chips, whatever) over that. The straw shouldn't be to full of weed seed unless it is actually hay.
I usually leave my paper bag of newspaper (and cereal boxes) out in the rain for a week or so before I need to use it. They are soaked through and easy to lay (even in the wind).

5:16 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

I have used straw around my tomatoes in the garden and it worked pretty good for keeping the weeds out with no newspapers below, just thick straw. In the picture it looks really nice with the straw! I don't think it'll blow away once it gets wet.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

You will get some sprouts of grain, but they will be amusing and easy to weed.

If you can, you might want to get your straw a year before you intend to use it - the grains do their thing and die, and the straw starts to break down into a much heavier medium - it's darker and not as pretty, but it also won't blow away.

(I use straw bale insulation around my house, then repurpose it to the garden every other year...)

10:12 AM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

You can use one of the weed preventative things like Preen to keep the weed seeds from getting hold. It will not harm established plants, so it would be perfect for these beds. What it does is keeps the plants from creating the secondary roots that allow it to grow past infancy. without them, the plant can not get enough food to grow or survive.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

sooo ambitious. I'm just happy if my plants live...

12:43 PM  
Blogger OldRoses said...

In my area, everyone uses straw when they plant lawns. After broadcasting the seed, they cover the area with straw. The straw decomposes as the grass grows. There are few or no weeds. I don't think you have to worry about rodents.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Girl Gone Gardening said...

I just covered everything in straw also. usually I wait till spring when everyone tosses their "decorations" out into the alley and I grab them then. This year I bought a bale for the back garden for the fall (it didnt go as far as I thought it would) and will need to pick up another. It helps to keep my pups from digging and out of the mud. I agree, the the grassy sprouts from the seeds are very easy to pull and keep most other weeds at bay.

8:20 PM  

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