Reuse newspaper as mulch for your garden

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Newspaper is good for use as a mulch to keep weeds from growing in the garden and in raised beds and such like for the growing of vegetables it is a god-sent. But many people are concerned that the ink may not be the best thing.

Newspaper ink has changed a lot over the years. There was a time when the ink used was petroleum-based and that stuff was the norm. It contained lead, cadmium and other heavy metals that certainly are not very welcome in the garden. Cadmium is one of the reasons that you should not use steel-belted radial automotive tires as planters for vegetables even though many talk of using tires for growing potatoes. In fact, some newsprint was made actually from old engine oil, which is now known to be carcinogenic.

Newer ink formulations are soy- or other vegetable oil-based and far safer (for both the garden and us). These inks are used on the matte newsprint pages while the high-gloss inserts may still contain petroleum-based inks and should be avoided in the garden. Also the high-gloss pages from magazines, for instance, do not break down properly as they also contain laminate at times.

Research also has shown that when using newspaper mulch in strawberry production they had a significant reduction in weeds and fungal and bacterial diseases and an improvement in the fruits' color and shape.

Home gardeners can use newspaper mulch to control weeds and diseases too. It also retains moisture, adds carbon-based organic matter to the soil as it decomposes, and is a great way to recycle. Plus, studies have found that a heavy layer of newspaper mulch, when left intact, controlled weeds for two full seasons.

You can use newspaper mulch in the vegetable garden, shrub beds, perennial borders and on walkways. Pretty much anywhere that weeds grow, which, of course, is everywhere.

At the beginning of the season, spread newspaper 6 to 10 sheets thick over the area. You may find it helpful to either wet the newspaper first or spray it with a hose immediately after placing it. The water keeps the paper from blowing over to the neighbors or wicking moisture from the soil. The newspaper is then covered with a more attractive organic mulch like shredded bark, compost, mushroom soil, chopped leaves, straw, hay or grass clippings.

For areas with existing plants, keep the paper and organic mulch two or three inches away from the trunk or crown of the plant. For mulching the veggie garden, spread out the newspaper and organic mulch before you plant. Then clear away a small area of mulch, cut X's in the paper, and plant your tomatoes and peppers right through it. It's much easier than spreading the paper around all those little plants. But it will work either way. You can use it, obviously, also with other vegetables that you have grown on as plugs.

The newspaper can be left in place through the winter: It will help protect the soil from erosion and freeze-thaw cycles. Then, you can either till it under in the spring or, if you use no-till methods, add a new layer of paper and organic mulch to the top.

You also can follow the same technique using unbleached, brown craft paper or plain, unprinted corrugated cardboard. They take even longer to break down and are effective for three or more seasons when left in place.

Anything organic that can keep those weeds at bay and stop us gardeners from battling them all the time is always welcome. I have found that growing in containers, the way I do most of my vegetable production, cuts down quite nicely on weeds without the need doing much but I do have some raised beds that will require such applications.

If you have a friendly neighborhood wood turner or more then I am sure he or she would like to give you their shavings – if they don't use them in the garden themselves – as they have to pay for dumping the stuff and that works great too as a mulch to suppress weeds.

© 2011