Using Newspaper as Mulch for the Vegetable Garden

Using newspaper as mulch for the vegetable garden is a much cheaper version of buying wood chips or hay from a big-box store.
Melinda R. Cordell
September/October 2011
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Put your old newspapers to good use by recycling them as mulch for the garden.
Melinda R. Cordell


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We’ve all experienced it. One day the garden is looking just fine and all the weeds are under control, and the next day, you turn around and your neat rows of vegetables or flowers are suddenly crowded with big, hulking weeds. You get the garden off to a good start, but in the heat of summer, after a long day at work, you just don’t want to break your back trying to pull or hoe all those weeds.

Fear not. Here’s a way you can knock those weeds down and keep them down. This method doesn’t involve chemicals that might harm your produce, damage your plants, or cause health problems for your family. It’s also cheap and easy. In fact, you don’t even have to dig out the weeds.

What you need are a lot of large newspapers (national papers like The New York Times or The Washington Post work great), as well as some organic mulching materials like grass clippings, pine bark, chopped-up leaves, straw, etc. If you don’t have any newspapers, go to your local library and ask for any large newspapers they have in their recycle bin. They’ll load you up.

If the weeds are really tall, walk over them to lay them down against the ground. Then open up a section of the newspaper and place it right on top of the weeds. Each large rectangle of newspaper should be about 10 pages thick. Place newspapers over all the weeds, overlapping the edges so that light (and weeds) can’t get through. As you do this, throw some mulch down to keep the newspapers from blowing around, especially on windy days.

If your garden is crowded with crops, leave the papers folded. You also can tear the newspapers to slide them around the stems of your plants (and this is actually helpful in keeping cutworms at bay). Don’t use glossy pages in the garden, though — they are slow to break down and the ink may contain some mild toxins.

When the ground is covered with newspapers, add a nice, thick layer of mulch — about three
inches — over the papers so the next windstorm won’t pull the pages up.

That’s it! You’re done.

This job will take approximately one to several hours, depending on the size of your garden. The really nice thing about newspaper mulching is that when all the newspapers are down with the mulch on top, the garden looks incredibly tidy and clean — and it will stay that way for months.

Occasionally a tough perennial weed might poke through the mulch, but if and when that happens, move some papers out of the way just a little bit, dig out the weed, cover up the space with an extra square of newspaper, and cover with mulch again.

The newspaper mulch will not only keep the weeds down, it will also fertilize the soil, cool the roots of the plants in the summer heat, add organic material to the soil, and save water. Earthworms will be active underneath the mulch, tilling the ground for you and adding worm castings, which is pure gold for plants.

Newspaper mulch is great for the garden — and for the gardener.

Melinda R. Cordell, a former horticulturist who is now working on an MFA in writing for children from Hamline University, lives in northwest Missouri with her family and five hens. 


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Post a comment below.

 

Rivkah Kay
3/23/2013 12:30:25 PM
Actually, I was thinking that the black ink would be toxic as well as the colored ink. I agree that it would be better to used unprinted newspaper. Places like UHaul sell packing material and newspaper is available from them. There are other companies like Uline and A&M Tape and Packing that sell the same thing.

CORINNE TALKIN
3/11/2013 10:31:47 PM
This year I planted my first winter garden (collards, kales, Japanese greens) and put down newspaper and covered with the abundant oak leaves in our area. Garden looks neat and tidy and will be ready to till and plant when the winter veggies are over.

Karen Rhinevault
3/8/2013 11:32:58 PM
I've used thi smethod for eyars to start new garden beds on lawn or weedy patches--just lay down the paper and top with your favorite mix of planting soil (I use plain old compost). I've never had a weed poke through other than those nasty old blackberry vines--and I live in prime weed country--the Willamette Valley.

Eileen Atkinson
2/15/2013 4:55:50 PM
I have been using newspapers to cover the garden for about a years worth of growing. It makes it easier to get started planting the next season as it keeps the weeds down, it does break up so it is easier to incorporate into the soil and I might add that ants like it under there also. A friend came by one spring as I was beginning to prepare the beds and I could show her the difference between paper-covered and left open boxes as far as needing to be weeded. There was a humongeous difference. I have been saving papers so I now have a huge bunch on hand. I was using 3-4 layers which worked well enough but I read to use 10 layers. As for keeping the papers down so they don't blow away. I use wire fencing panels I had on hand from when my dog was a puppy and I made her a "run" to play in before I had the yard fenced. I had tried the garden staples which worked until the papers got wet and the wind tore them up and out from the staples. Hey, gardening is a learning experience. I also put layers of papers down the rows after the beans I'd planted came up and it also was a great help in keeping weeds down versus boxes I had not tried that. I do not use glossies nor color pages, only the black-n-white sheets. If there was a moving company in the area I would likely purchase some of the packing paper to use. My paper only comes out once a week and the next 'large' town comes out only 3 times a week - so not a huge amount of paper to have on hand.

Mary Carton
2/15/2013 4:26:44 AM
most have switched over the years to soybean based inks. However I still limit my mulch to the newspaper part and cardboard boxes.

Robert LaCoe
2/13/2013 4:36:47 PM
The end rolls do not contain any ink. I have always been taught not to use color printed pages due to toxic material in the color ink.

Pam
9/22/2012 12:49:11 AM
I like to go to best buy or some place similar, and get huge cardboard boxes. I use these instead of newspaper. It is biodegradable and easier to work with. No blowing around. I have two raised beds that are 2ft x 10ft. I got one box that I was able to cut into 4 section and it only took 1 per raised bed to line the entire thing. I actually set the frames for my raised beds on top of the boxes so that the grass has a bit more of a challenge to grow up through.

Tabatha McCool
9/18/2012 4:43:47 PM
Go to your local newspaper (If they print on the premises) and ask to buy an end roll. A couple bucks later, you have hundreds of square feet of unprinted newspapers. Even better, you can tear them to the lengths you need.These are my go to when I need masses of paper for almost any reason: moving, kids drawings, temporary table coverings and of course, mulch!








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