I received a question recently regarding using newspaper as a mulch to control weed growth in the garden.
Diane made the following inquiry: “I was wondering what you think about using layers of newspaper covered with straw as weed control.”
“We have such a prolific weed problem in our community garden that straw alone does not work and I refuse to resort to black plastic as many other garden members have done for understandable reasons.”
Mulching for Weed Control
Newspaper or even cardboard is fine to use as a mulch in the vegetable garden and it will definitely help to prevent the germination and growth of weed seeds. You can apply the sheets of newspaper in layers or you can use shredded newspaper.
Placing straw on top of the newspaper will make for a tidier looking appearance in the garden. Both materials will gradually decompose and need to be replenished, but the straw will last much longer with the newspaper underneath.
I always use straw as a mulch between my raised beds and it keeps the paths clean and free of weeds even without newspaper because of the foot traffic. If there are trees growing in your neighborhood, another alternative that makes a terrific garden mulch is to use shredded leaves.
Mulching Tips and Tactics
Leaves can be acquired at no expense and are even easier to spread over the garden than the newspaper or straw. They will add valuable nutrients and organic matter to the soil as they break down and the earthworms will thank you by converting the leaves into rich castings. Shredded leaves work much differently than whole leaves and are better suited to mulching duties.
Never apply any type of mulch when the soil is bone dry, irrigate or wait until after a soaking rainfall before you cover the garden. Also keep in mind that in addition to reducing weed growth, garden mulches tend to insulate and reduce soil temperatures as well. So allow the soil to thoroughly warm up before you begin applying your mulches.
Black plastic is an exception in that it will actually raise soil temperatures, which is great for heat loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and melons. I’ve resisted using black plastic in the past but am considering a little selective placement of it in the garden this year to encourage the growth of melons in particular.
Good luck with your community garden this year and let me know how using the newspaper and straw mulch works for controlling those weeds. I plan to write an article or two about other ways to control weed growth in the garden soon so check back for updates on this topic.
Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts: