Newspaper Mulch - Knowledgebase Question

Sandwich, IL
Question by tiredmum
July 10, 2000
I am sending this question to you again. Please answer all parts of the question, I need to know all the information, not just some. Can you tell me about mulching with newspapers? I read soewhere that newspaper can be used as a mulch, but I don't know any more than that. The thing that I read said that the paper should be about 4 sheets thick and wetted, then put on the ground, overlapping, then have some other organic mulch on top of that. Would the newspapers keep the moisture in, or would it dry out, then blow all over the neighborhood? Since the newspapers would be like a mat on top of the soil, would it attract bugs that would nest underneath? Would the plants be able to get enough water? Should I just continue to water the garden and would the plants get enough through the paper? Also, when the garden season is done, what to do with the papers? Can the papers be tilled into the garden, or would I have to burn them or throw them out? If possible, I'd like to just till them into the garden. Would the papers add to the soil, or not? Also, this will be in a vegetable garden. Is it safe to use newspapers in a vegetable garden? Would the inks be safe or harmful?
Thanks for any information you can give me. Please e-mail me as soon as possible. I am waiting on this answer to get to work in my garden.


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Answer from NGA
July 10, 2000

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I have cut and pasted your question so I would maybe not miss any parts of it.

I am sending this question to you again. Please answer all parts of the question, I need to know all the information, not just some.

I did not answer this originally but I will give it my best shot. Much of gardening is by trial and error and sometimes you just have to see what works best for you in your particular situation and maybe experiment a little. Sort of like cooking -- nothing is ever quite precise.

Can you tell me about mulching with newspapers? I read soewhere that newspaper can be used as a mulch, but I don't know any more than that. The thing that I read said that the paper should be about 4 sheets thick and wetted, then put on the ground, overlapping, then have some other organic mulch on top of that.

That sounds about right, but I use more like 8 sheets, sometimes I even use cardboard. I wet them first by dipping them in a bucket of water. This makes them heavier so they don't blow around before I can get the mulch down on top. I use shredded bark mulch on top, a couple of inches thick so I can't see the paper. You could also use straw or grass clippings or old shredded leaves or whatever you have handy.

Would the newspapers keep the moisture in, or would it dry out, then blow all over the neighborhood? The newspaper keeps light out of the soil and this means fewer weed seeds will germinate. The paper also helps keep the soil moist underneath. Wetting it makes it easier to work with. The mulch on top of the paper keeps the paper in place over the long haul.

Since the newspapers would be like a mat on top of the soil, would it attract bugs that would nest underneath? Maybe, but I never noticed a particular problem with it. Regular mulch would probably attract them, too. Use diatomaceous earth sprinkled around your plants if slugs are a problem in your garden.

Would the plants be able to get enough water? Yes. Rain will usually soak through. It helps slow evaporation so it evens out.

Should I just continue to water the garden and would the plants get enough through the paper? Thsi will depend on what watering method you use. A daily light sprinkling won't do it. But you should be watering less often but deeply anyway. I would not consider it a problem. Soaker hoses should possibly be placed under the paper if that is what you use to water.

Also, when the garden season is done, what to do with the papers? Nothing. Leave them in place. They will rot down eventually.

Can the papers be tilled into the garden, or would I have to burn them or throw them out? If you till in the fall you can till them in if they are sort of soggy and begun to break down a bit. I don't know if they would jam up in a tiller if they are fresh, though. I've never tried that.

If possible, I'd like to just till them into the garden. See above. If you leave it until spring they will probably be just about decomposed and would till just fine.

Would the papers add to the soil, or not? Yes, they add organic matter. Paper is fibrous.

Also, this will be in a vegetable garden. Is it safe to use newspapers in a vegetable garden? Yes, usually.

Would the inks be safe or harmful? You can double check with the newspaper printer, but most inks are vegetable based now.

Thanks for any information you can give me. I hope this helps.

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