Weed Suppression - mulching with switchgrass straw

I’m wondering if anyone has experience using switchgrass straw as mulch and how it compares to oat or wheat straw. Last season I used oat/wheat straw to mulch cucurbits and garlic. Although it did suppress weeds somewhat, the straw had so many seeds in it that I found myself wasting time pulling volunteer plants which defeated the purpose of using straw mulch to suppress weeds. I recently read about the benefits of switchgrass straw mulch (i.e. it breaks down slower, harbours fewer diseases, adds more biomass etc.) and I’m wondering if anyone can confirm that it is the better choice. Will it cause the same problem with volunteer plants? My goal is to eliminate the use of plastic mulch this season with straw mulch and landscape fabric.

Hi Paula!

Do you mean “live” mulch (rolled plants) or “dead” mulch (cut/baled plants)? If live, I’m not sure I would use live switchgrass as once it establishes itself it’ll be rather hard to get rid of.

However, if you want “dead” mulch, switchgrass typically flowers and sets seed late in the year, so you have to cut the switchgrass early when it is still green and hasn’t set seed yet in order to avoid reseeding the switchgrass into your squash stand. The nice thing about the switchgrass is that it’s a perennial, so if you have your own stand you can harvest it year after year instead of buying it from an outside source. Just keep in mind it takes a few years to establish a strong, healthy stand of switchgrass.

You’re right about the benefits of switchgrass though, it’s a pretty good mulch. As always though you’ll want to watch out for slugs that will love to hang around in the moist shade of the mulch.

Thanks Denis. I meant cut/baled mulch. Unfortunately I don’t have space to grow my own stand so I’d have to buy it.

Maybe this is a silly question, but how does hay compare. I always assumed it would be full of seeds and is not worth using.

Hay “is” full of seeds, which is why most people use straw. Straw typically only includes the stem of whatever crop has been cut. Hay includes everything (including stalks, flowers, seeds), but that’s the point as they also contain protein for the animals it feeds.

How much space are you trying to mulch by the way?

We plan to grow ~ 2 acres of switchgrass this year for the express purpose of baling it for mulch.We used straw for years, but it is full of seeds, now use our own hay, which has far fewer seeds. I plan to sell the hay and use the switchgrass.

I’m curious what varieties of switchgrass you are using @drumlinfarm?

Switchgrass is nice mulch - as it does breakdown slower than wheat or oat straw. It also should have fewer seeds because it is often cut in the fall and not baled until spring (in an effort to let the K leach from the plant back into the field), and with this, many of the seeds will fall off.
Also, you should be able to avoid this somewhat with the small grain straw if you are selective when purchasing the straw, they shouldn’t have many seeds, but it depends on the plant conditions when harvested. Sounds like you got a particularly bad batch.
Good luck.

just a thought for next year.try sowing cereal rye into next years seed bed this fall and in mid may roll it flat.then plant into the rye mulch.the stems are hollow and if rolled when the it is 3 -4 ft high it will crimp and die.you can plant most plants into this mulch and not introduce foreign seed into the bed.this works better than growing a crop to bale,store and then spread…we have been doing a bit if this and have been happy with the results…Dave.