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Best Hay for Mulch Use in an Organic Garden

written by: Amy Carson•edited by: BStone•updated: 6/17/2010

Mulch is widely considered the best method for keeping weeds down in an organic garden, and hay mulch is one of the most nutrient-rich varieties. Read on to learn more about hay mulch and how to find the best kind of hay to use for mulch in organic garden applications.

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    Organic gardening emphasizes natural fertilizer, weed-control, and pest-control methods in an effort to avoid potentially dangerous herbicides and pesticides which have been used during the past century. It's not a new movement; the magazine Organic Gardening began in the 1930s, and savvy gardeners have been employing organic garden methods all along, such as using hay mulch. In this article we'll be discussing the best kind of hay to use for mulch in organic garden crops, including what hay is and different varieties.

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    Kinds of Hay Mulch

    Hay is any grass crop that can be mowed down. It is most commonly made of alfalfa, but coastal or wetland grasses are used as hay as well. Grasses have solid stems and usually are a shade of green when fresh, which means they're an abundant source of nitrogen. Most garden crops remove nitrogen from the soil (only legumes add nitrogen), so a nitrogen-containing mulch is very beneficial.

    Alfalfa (and sometimes clover as well) hay is known as feed hay because it's used to feed livestock. Salt hay is grown in wetlands and salt marshes, and is primarily used as mulch, not feed.

    Feed hay that is old or has gotten wet is known as spoiled hay. Spoiled hay can no longer be fed to livestock and is attractive to the organic gardener. Why? Spoiled hay is even better as mulch than fresh hay, and can be procured very cheaply once you find a source.

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    Problems With Hay Mulch In the Organic Garden

    The most common warning about hay mulch pertains to feed hay (remember, this is hay made from alfalfa or clover, either fresh or spoiled). Feed hay contains its own seeds and weed seeds. The amount of weed seeds depends on how many weeds were in the field the hay came from.

    The worry is that weed seeds in the hay mulch will sprout once put in the garden. Experienced organic gardeners point out that they simply pile more hay on top of whatever weeds germinate. Remember, any plant that cannot get light will die.

    Salt hay, if you can source it, is considered the best kind of hay to use for mulch in organic garden use. Salt hay doesn't have weed seeds in it, reducing the worry of creating more problems for yourself with your mulch.

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    What If You Can't Find Salt Hay?

    If you can't find salt hay in your area, spoiled feed hay or fresh feed hay remain an excellent option. In spite of the possibility of a few weeds sprouting here or there, the many advantages of hay mulch outweigh those risks.

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    Hay is a gentle, nutrient-rich mulch that both feeds your plants and serves as a well-drained surface to walk on. Salt hay is the best hay mulch for organic garden mulching, but feed hay, whether spoiled or fresh, offers good alternatives. No matter which kind of hay you choose to put on your garden, your plants will thank you.