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Newspaper Mulch: A Safe, Easy Alternative

Newspaper Mulch: A Safe, Easy Alternative

Newspaper is a cheap, abundant and useful mulch. And it’s safe. You can ignore outdated cautions about newsprint containing lead because newspapers got the lead out decades ago. And the amount of hydrocarbons in colored inks is insignificant.

As a mulch layer under a decorative material such as bark chips or stones, newspaper smothers weeds and sod more effectively than the decorative material alone. And unlike some landscape fabrics and weed barriers, newspaper breaks down completely so you don’t have to extricate it in five years, when it’s shredded and roots are tangled in it.

How quickly a layer of newspaper mulch breaks down varies greatly depending on several factors. The rate is faster if the soil is rich in microorganisms, if your region is damp or you water often, or if temperatures are warm but not hot. Experiment to find what works best in your garden. As a starting point, if you live in a warm, damp climate, make your layer about five sheets thick. If your climate is dry or cold, use two sheets. Make the layer thicker if you want it to last more than a season or if you’re trying to smother an aggressive plant, such as a lawn of Bermuda grass or St. Augustine.

When using newspaper mulch, keep these pointers in mind:
• Slick inserts are safe, but their size and slickness makes them harder to work with than regular newsprint.
• Cover the newspaper completely with a decorative mulch. Exposed newspaper turns brittle quickly especially if it gets damp and then dries. Then it’s prone to breaking up and blowing around.
• Don’t cover seeds with newspaper—they can’t push through it.
• On a slope, the covering of decorative mulch is more likely to slip downhill with newspaper under it, so cover newspaper with a thicker layer of decorative mulch than you would on flat ground.
• Because newspaper is high in carbon, it could set off the chain of events among soil microbes that temporarily reduces the amount of nitrogen in the soil immediately below the mulch. The deficit should not affect established plants, but might make young, small plants turn a bit yellow. If so, treat them to a spritz of an organic foliar fertilizer.

Read more: Nature, Lawns & Gardens

Adapted from Yankee Magazine's Panty Hose, Hot Peppers, Tea Bags, and more for the Garden (Yankee Books, 2005).

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on anniebbond.com, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

17 comments

+ add your own
12:22PM PDT on Aug 2, 2012

Thanks for the info.

4:28PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

this is great!

11:55AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

Thank you

11:45AM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

thanks for sharing :)

7:54PM PDT on Aug 17, 2011

It's been a while but I've done this long before my town recylced paper Now they empty all four of my bins, still cool tip ,thanks.

2:22PM PDT on Aug 16, 2011

thanks

4:21AM PDT on Aug 11, 2011

Thanks for the info

8:18PM PDT on Apr 21, 2011

thanks

5:17AM PST on Feb 22, 2011

Thanks for the info.

3:09AM PST on Feb 10, 2010

Good information thanks

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