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.

| September/October 2011

  • Using Newspaper as Mulch
    Put your old newspapers to good use by recycling them as mulch for the garden.
    Melinda R. Cordell

  • Using Newspaper as Mulch

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.

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.

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.

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