Using Newspaper as Mulch for the Vegetable Garden

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.

Published on Aug 10, 2011

Grit Magazine

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