Use Straw To Cover Gardens for Winter

The chill in the air says it’s almost time to put our gardens to bed. One of the best ways to do that is to use straw. I recommend straw because it’s inexpensive, easy to use and move around, and reusable at least for one year.

A half bale will cover the typical bed at Gateway Garden (5×20′) several inches deep. After removing dead plant material, you just layer on the straw and walk away until Spring. The soil underneath will stay soft and protected from splashing by heavy rain, and, if you have left a cool weather vegetable like spinach sprouting in the bed, it will have protection from the worst cold and is more likely to survive the winter. Just like that, spinach green and growing when you uncover your bed!

Until you do uncover the soil, however, no weeds will sprout. Weeds, like vegetables, need light, moisture, and the correct temperature to germinate. . The straw eliminates the light needed for germination.

So, push the straw aside to make space, or easily pick it up and store it somewhere temporarily. Plant as you would usually, not on top of the straw.  Immediately surround seedlings with straw, and your sprouted seeds as soon as possible. The straw will keep the soil from drying out so quickly, so less watering needed, and will stop most weeds from germinating during the growing season.

That means you can cut your weeding time dramatically and avoid spreading weed seeds all over the rest of your garden.

Barbara Wildfeir, Cornell Cooperate Master Gardener