MULCHING MATTERS

Q Which is better for mulching new turfgrass seedings: farm hay or wheat/oat straw? — Via the Internet, Kewaunee, Wis.

A The answer is somewhat dependent on how you define straw or hay. Most professionals refer to clean straw as the air-dried stems and leaves of forage grasses, cut before its seed has matured. It may contain wheat, oat, barley or cereal grasses. There are different classes of straw depending on how much viable grass seed are contained in a 40-pound bale of straw. Class “A” contains a maximum of 1.0 ounce of viable seed — preferred for mulching general turfgrass areas. Class “AA” contains a maximum 8 ounces of viable seed per small bale — suitable for rough turfgrass areas, temporary seeding or erosion control. Hay may also be the air-dried stems and leaves of forage grasses but are not rated on weed seed content. Any hay that is cut late in the season may have large amounts of grass seeds and other non-crop weed seeds as well. Hay that is cut early in the season may be fine for temporary seeding sites or erosion control, where a few forage seedlings are not a problem.

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The most important information to know is where the straw or hay comes from. Establish a relationship with a supplier so that he can inform you as to when the straw/hay was cut and the condition of the field from which it was cut. If the field is overrun with weeds, chances are the hay will also be full of weed seeds. The extra time spent researching the source and paying more for clean straw will pay off enormously in preventing difficult to control weed problems.

Never use wet, musty, moldy or decayed product — it will be difficult to spread and may smother newly emerging seedlings. When applying straw, cover only 50 percent of the soil. Your application is a success if you can look straight down at your seeding and see soil. Straw applied at this rate should not have to be raked up; raking may damage new seedlings, so just leave it in place and it will eventually decay without smothering the turfgrass.

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