Newspaper Garden Mulch

March 30, 2007

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.

Garden Paths Mulched with StrawI 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:

  • Kenny, Just found your great site. I’m a CPA gardener in WA state! Newspapers really helped in our garden last year. I was converting grass paths to no-grass paths by putting down multiple sheets of newspapers and then covering them with burlap green coffee bags. The newspapers dissolved over the year. I also did this to kill out some of the grass and weeds in an area that would be 2 new beds. After a while, I took up the bags, rototilled in any remaining newspapers and then put the bags over the new beds. The worms seemed to love the newspaper / bag coverings too.

  • I used newspaper over lawn that was converted into gardens two years running. So far, it’s worked great!

  • Ben

    Has anyone researched the chemicals in newspaper production and what happens to them when the paper is used as mulch. It sounds like a great recyling idea, but do those chemicals end up in the food?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Ben, in the past there were concerns about the chemicals contained in the inks used in printing but most of the inks used now are supposed to be soy-based and safe to use as mulch in the garden. If there’s any question check with your local paper and inquire about the type of ink that they use.

  • Mary

    Join the Don’t Let Newspapers Die! cause on Facebook. Without newspapers, we’re losing more than a good source for mulch!

  • Pingback: Ecologue » Archive » Ripped from the Headlines: Cool Paper Pots()

  • Mary Johnson

    I used newspaper and old hay in my garden last year. It worked well preventing weeds and keeping the ground moist but it was also a breeding ground for millipedes and slugs. There were thousands of them eating tomatoes, melons and even peppers. I used beer traps but still lost the majority of my produce. They loved hiding under the paper and hay. I heard recently that coffee grounds repel slugs but what else can I try? I’m against chemicals.

  • Kenny Point

    There are organic slug baits available at the garden centers. Also slugs and copper do not coexist well. They sell copper barriers to place around plants but they are expensive. You can make your own by shredding copper scouring pads and place them around the base of the plants or even in the branches of the plants that are being attacked.

  • Chip

    I use black plastic under my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. It works great, give it a try; absorbs heat, keeps in the moisture, and no weeds. Best garden I ever had! Don’t even need to buy the expensive fabric, just regular plastic will work.

    Slug bait is the only way to go, get it at Home Depot. Seen slugs crawl long ways for it, they eat it and it causes them to not eat or drink and they die. Does not hurt other bugs, birds, environment, etc. Gonna try newspaper for mulching the rest of my garden. Freebies at grocery stores are the way to go, get those for putting under my snakes.

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  • Cindy Penny

    Hi there,
    I am experimenting with using newspaper on top of peastraw. I soak the newspaper in a large container first and then pack it closely around plants. So far, doing a great job at suppressing weeds. I tried it this way for two reasons. 1) To have the peastraw in direct contact with the earth for nutrients and 2) I have noticed that the birds get in and mess up all my peastraw, so carefully laid.

  • liesbeth de korte

    Hi, Chip, against slugs you can buy nematodes, they get into the slugs and they ruin them. You only have to wait until the ground is warmer then 15 C. I heard about it at the BBC Gardeners World, Friday evenings.

  • I need help in planting my raised bed vegetable garden.
    I would like to plant other root vegs next to my pepper plants, but I don’t know which ones.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Dianne, is there a reason that you want root veggies in particular next to your pepper plants? Here is a link to a previous article that describes how I organize and plan the garden.

  • I would like to use news papers as mulch in my Daughters garden but she has been told that this attracts white ants, I have used it myself in my gardens both in Sydney And Tasmania, and have been pleased with the results, but they were my gardens not my Daughters ps area I intend working in is Far North Queensland. has anyone out there heard anything like this.

  • Annette Bayne

    Is it possible to layer newspapers in my large garden this fall to help with the weeds for next spring or do I need to wait and do it all next spring. I will have lots and lots of leaves this fall that I can put on top of the papers. I am quite ignorant of this kind of mulching but I have been collecting newspapers for a while and would like to start at the appropriate time. Thanks for your website…great information.

  • Cindy Penny

    Hi, I used newspapers last year to plant directly into. I soaked them in water first, laid on the soil, the pushed a hole through to plant my vege seedling in to. It definitely helped to control weeds. I used small rock to help hold the newspapers down. Otherwise, when the dry out in between watering, they are apt to blow around, disturbing seedlings. At the end of the season you could use them to suppress weeds, but another idea is to grow a green cover crop such as combination of mustard and blue lupins. Just prior to spring dig them in under and they provide nitrogen to you soil.

  • jay

    Newspaper has a combination of chemical based ink and soy and the soy is modified so not natural. I would like to know an alternative. How in the heck can we say organic if we allow such unnatural means as a chemical based newspaper evend if not entirely to decompose in the soil

  • jay

    I don’t like being half way about things. There is no middle grounds. It is either organic gardening or not. No inbetween

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