Hay. Those three little letters add up to some complicated stuff. Especially horse quality hay. Difficult to make and difficult to store. It must be clean and dry, free of poisonous weeds or bugs or mold. If hay is baled while it's still damp mold grows inside the day. Even keeping moisture from getting to hay during storage can be a problem, especially in a humid climate.
We feed coastal bermudagrass because it's grown locally, affordable, and most importantly because it tends to have low sugar levels. Our pony is insulin resistant, a common problem among many ponies and horse breeds such as Arabians and Morgans. Our pony is half Shetland and half Arabian. Coastal is harvested from June to October and getting good coastal hay during the winter can be problematic. I've had to throw out hay every month of the year but by far the most during winter. Believe me, the hay not worth the mileage on the truck or the hassle of returning it to the feed store. I use it as mulch even if doesn't make a very pretty mulch. Along the driveway, around the trees up above the house, and on beds that are still developing.
At that time Bidens were the main thing growing at the front of the bed and I couldn't face weeding the entire bank (it's a looong bed), so I put down hay on the bank to feed the roses and hardy ginger and Hubricht's Amsonia seedlings there. Mirrors the broomsedge in the neighbor's pasture nicely, don't you think? ;) Until the Bidens start getting height, which may be May, June, July or August, depending on rainfall and temperature in a particular year, I mow high with the tractor, or, if I'm feeling particularly masochistic, weed by hand. I tried to add various perennials to the Bidens over the past few years, but in a hot dry year that place is surprisingly brutal. So far only a clump of Joe Pye, a Swamp sunflower, and a couple of seashore mallows have stuck. I've added a few swamp roses and they are sizing up nicely. I'm going to add more Amsonia seedlings next fall, and some wild blueberries. I'd love to add some winterberry too, but so far I've only managed to grow one plant from cuttings. I've had a remarkable lack of success propagating hollies of any sort from cuttings or seeds, be it American holly (Ilex opaca), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), or Possamhaw (Ilex decidua). It's a shame too because the wild winterberries are spectacular.
The long bed beside the paddock is only about 3 years old and mostly planted with young Baptisia seedlings which are taking their own sweet time maturing. So I also mulch that bed with hay. Only two of the baptisias are of good size ~ 'Carolina Moonlight', shown above, and 'Twilite Prairie Blues' ~ and they were purchased as 2 or 3 gallon plants. 'TP Blues' has been very vigorous, this despite the machinery-compacted soil that results in the roots going down through the cut-out bottom of the pot (used to protect the baptisias from voles) and then sideways instead of continuing down as baptisia usually do. The ground underneath the soft mulch layer is still too hard.
Two big clumps of Verbena bonariensis and some Siberian iris provided some color to the bed along with the baptisias. Bidens later came up through that hay layer and filled the bed this year, thank goodness, because that really helped it out.
Two butterfly bushes in a small bed by the back porch door are gone, so I added a couple of spare blue mist shrubs and mulched with hay to encourage the catmint to grow more. If the blue mist shrubs don't make it through the winter I need to come up with a sturdy woody plant on the small side that can cover the view of the hardpan underneath the back porch. As much as I love blue mist shrub it is a bit fragile. After the house was moved I tried a 'Victor Velidan' at the back of the house, a beautiful fragrant ivory tea rose that fried its first summer. That was sad, because tea roses are so beautiful here in winter. Anyway the cats enjoy napping in the sun on the hay. This fall I threw caution to the wind and planted some starts of showy pink primrose to the beds next to the back porch and beside the paddock as a ground cover. I really, really need something on the ground under the baptisias besides hay.
Last year we tried converting the front half of the bed beside the paddock to a tomato garden. The tomatoes were a major failure but we enjoyed Tommy's company while prepping the site.
I also put down hay to edge the beds and later regretted it because it really stuck out! I've resolved to put it on the compost pile and let it break down from now on.
Eventually we're going to have a lot of compost with the horses being in the paddock full time with Prince's injury.