Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

Hay Vs. Pine Straw

bales of straw on the field - summer countryside - early evening image by Jaroslav Machacek from

Hay and straw are different from each other, although when they are tied up into bales they look similar. Hay comes from mowed, dried grass and is used as animal feed. Several types of plants are made into straw: the stems of oats and wheat are cut and bundled to make a bale. Pine straw is composed primarily of pine needles that have fallen and turned yellow.

What Is Pine Straw?

Pine straw is a sustainable form of straw because it is made from the needles that naturally drop from pine trees. Harvesting and collecting it does not require that any trees are destroyed, and reusing a naturally occurring material helps to support local businesses and people. In Texas, pine straw is gathered from four species of yellow pine trees. Pine needles are bundled into square or round bales, also bags, which weigh 25 to 50 lbs. One 40-lb. bale will cover 100 square feet, according to Texas A&M University.

Uses for Pine Straw

Pine straw is often used for mulching landscaped areas, especially in the southeastern United States. It’s better than other types of straw because it is made from leaves, or needles, of pine trees. Because of this, it serves the same function as decomposing leaves when it is used as mulch. Pine straw is an up-and-coming mulch because it helps to insulate plant roots, conserves soil moisture, slows erosion and compaction, and helps promote soil structure and nutrition. Pine straw makes good bedding for horses and some other livestock. However, it is not suitable for the straw bale method of gardening, where plants are inserted into cracks in the top of a bale of other straw.

What Is Hay?

Hay is made from grasses, legumes, flowers or other herbaceous plants such as clover and alfalfa, according to Rye grass is often cut and made into bales of hay, and it can serve as a good animal feed during the winter when fresh food is not available for horses and other animals. The plants are dried, cured, and formed into bales with the help of a machine known as a baler. Fresh bales generally dry in the field where they were harvested and baled.

Uses for Hay

Hay makes a good animal feed because it comes from grasses that animals eat when they forage in fields. However, hay is not recommended for use as bedding for livestock because they will typically eat it, depleting their bed and possibly causing stomach problems when they eat too much. Small domestic animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits also benefit from eating a good quality hay. Hay is also sometimes used as garden mulch, but it does contain seeds that can sprout and cause unwanted weeds.

Advantages of Pine Straw Over Hay and Hay Over Straw

Pine straw contains no seeds, while hay contains many seeds. Using pine straw as mulch or another application in the garden does not introduce unwanted weeds where you apply it. It also retains its compactness during and after heavy rains, as opposed to straw, which falls apart and disintegrates. Because of this, pine straw can help to prevent or slow erosion of the soil underneath the area where it exists. Pine straw makes a better bedding material for livestock than hay, but is not recommended for cattle because if they eat it, toxic materials can harm their health and that of unborn calves. Therefore, hay is a far superior food for farm animals than pine straw.

Garden Guides