The Benefits of using Hydrostraw and Strawnet
Seeding can be an effective way to establish turf and is the only sensible option when re-vegetating native areas. However certain considerations must be taken to increase your chance of success. Seeds require 3 things to germinate; moisture, high soil temperature, and available nutrients, all three of which can pose a problem in our climate.
Living in Colorado's high desert you means that moisture is the #1 reason that seeding projects fail. Seeds require a constant level of moisture to trigger germination. Since seeds also require a high soil temperature we are often getting hot dry days by the time the soil warms enough germination. The best way to prevent the soil from drying is to cover the surface. This creates a microclimate between the covering and soil surface. Traditionally this was done with either wood fiber hydromulch or straw, each of which has downsides that will be addressed later. Since the soil is no longer in direct sunlight it retains moisture more effectively. Your mulch layer will also absorb and retain moisture adding an additional benefit. Beyond the benefits of water retention mulch will insulate the soil allowing soil temperature to remain high during cold nights in the spring, when most seeding projects are done.
Mulch selection becomes key as some mulches are not suited to some situations. As mentioned above wood fiber hydromulch and spread straw have been the used for years and both have unique advantages and disadvantages. Wood fiber hydromulch provided uniform coverage that was resistant to wind and water erosion. However wood fibers themselves require nitrogen from the soil to decompose thus stealing nitrogen from your seedling at a crucial stage in growth. Hydromulch also requires specialized machinery and experience to apply making it cost prohibitive on smaller areas.
Straw on the other hand is cheap easily spread and releases nitrogen as well as beneficial carbohydrates and sugars when decomposing which increases the survival success of the seeding. Straw's downfall is that it does not provide the uniform coverage of hydromulch and tends to be displaced easily by wind or water. Since most seeds take several weeks to germinate your mulch layer will not be effective unless it is durable enough to last until germination. Many seedings have failed because of one windy day when the straw mulch was blown away. Also untreated straw inevitably contains viable seeds that are as likely to grow as the seeds you are planting. Some of the species that grow may not be desirable in many seeding situations.
Hydrostraw and Strawnet take the advantages of both hydromulch and straw and combine them while avoiding most of the associated problems. Both products use processed straw that is heat treated to sterilize any seeds and reduce the straw to straw fiber which is more supple and more able to create a uniform surface than intact straw stalks. Both also have a binding agent added to help the mulch layer resist dispersion from the elements.
Hydrostraw is a mulch which must be applied through a hydro-mulcher this ensures a uniform coverage and resistance to wind and rain while still allowing straws low carbon: nitrogen ratio to help provide nutrients to the seedling. Because Hydrostraw still requires a hydro-mulcher it may not be appropriate for small jobs or for jobs without available road access or a source of water.
This is where StrawNet comes into play. Straw net is a pelletized straw fiber product which can be applied by hand or through a spreader. It contains a binder to help it hold in a uniform mat once activated lessening the chance of being blown or washed away. After the pellets are applied they are activated by water breaking apart and expanding to form a surface not unlike that of hydraulically applied mulches.