Ask a Question forum: Newspaper for killing grass

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Fort Worth, TX
Courtjewett
Aug 8, 2017 3:02 PM CST
I'd like to make garden beds around my house and fence perimeters. I've planted bushes and perennials for the past couple of years, plus a tree here or there. They're all just growing in the grass. If I put newspaper around them, will it smother them as well as the grass?

I made two beds already by shoveling up the grass by hand and it killed my body and one of my trees died right after, I'm not sure if I clipped a root, or it didn't like the new dirt and mulch. I did not give it a mulch volcano but I did add some dirt and mulch where it had none before. I'm not sure what happened; around the same time I killed an anthill next to it with borax, then read that might have hurt the tree.

The physical labor of hand digging the grass out to make a bed is too much for the space I'd like to cover. I've read all over the place about using newspaper, then mulch to kill grass and make a bed. But I am nervous to cover newspaper around my existing plants and bushes and trees. Will their surface roots be smothered? Will they not like their environment to change?
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purpleinopp
Aug 8, 2017 4:18 PM CST
I've done this MANY times and I recommend using tough, corrugated cardboard instead of newspaper. Overlap the seams well and cover with 3-5" of mulch &/or compost. Should be ready to garden next year. If you have grasses that creep, you may want some kind of border around the non-mowed areas or the grass will creep right back in so very quickly.

If you encounter a root trying to install a new plant, try a different spot a few inches away.
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Fort Worth, TX
Courtjewett
Aug 8, 2017 5:46 PM CST
Thank you for your response. I am inferring that you think my existing plants/bushes/trees will not be harmed by covering with cardboard or newspapers?
Name: Karen
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plantmanager
Aug 8, 2017 5:49 PM CST
I have done this many times, but only in open spaces with no plants growing. I'm thinking it might not be good for plants already growing in the ground. They might be smothered and have a very hard time living.
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Name: Yardenman
Maryland (Zone 7a)
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Yardenman
Aug 9, 2017 4:28 AM CST
plantmanager said:I have done this many times, but only in open spaces with no plants growing. I'm thinking it might not be good for plants already growing in the ground. They might be smothered and have a very hard time living.

Cardboard or newspaper will both work fine. I've used both. Just so long as rain gets to the roots. Huge sheets or cardboard from big boxes can be a problem.

Name: Mac
Over yonder, IL (Zone 6b)
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McCannon
Aug 9, 2017 8:26 AM CST
Use a combination, cardboard around the perimeter and newspaper over the root zone, all covered with mulch.
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Fort Worth, TX
Courtjewett
Aug 9, 2017 9:40 AM CST
McCannon said:Use a combination, cardboard around the perimeter and newspaper over the root zone, all covered with mulch.


I am pretty new. I don't expect you to tell me plant by plant what the diameter of the root zone; is there a way for me to find that information for my plants? Or a rule of thumb? Thank you so much!
Name: Mac
Over yonder, IL (Zone 6b)
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McCannon
Aug 9, 2017 9:46 AM CST
@Courtjewett, I couldn't advise you on that but if you can list some of what you're planting I'm sure you'll get some good suggestions. BTW, Welcome! to NGA.
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Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Aug 9, 2017 9:59 AM CST
If you use card board do not use colored card board, only plain brown stuff.

Many of the colored card boards will be there for a long time and some are treated with fire retardant material which I have found out when burning it. Some need a hot, hot fire to ignite.
A woman on another site a few years back had made a raised bed with card board on the bottom to kill grass.
She said she watered but the water most ran out the bottom flooding her lawn.
When she pulled the soil out to check the cardboard, the colored stuff was still solid as could be which was the reason her water did not soak into the ground. It could not penetrate the card board.
This was not a new bed either, it was a year old.
[Last edited by RpR - Aug 9, 2017 10:23 AM (+)]
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Name: Deb
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Bonehead
Aug 9, 2017 10:25 AM CST
I routinely put cardboard around new trees/shrubs in my fields, to suppress the field grass a bit. If I have mulch material on hand, I might cover the cardboard, but if not I just anchor the cardboard with rocks. The hole I create to go around the tree trunk seems to be enough to allow water in and/or perhaps the cardboard gets soaked and then dissipates into the soil. Eventually it rots.

For a yard situation, I would definitely mulch over the cardboard for aesthetic purposes. If you are worried about getting water to the roots of existing plants, maybe poke some holes in the cardboard with a screwdriver. Good luck!
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Name: Mac
Over yonder, IL (Zone 6b)
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McCannon
Aug 9, 2017 11:28 AM CST
Like @RpR mentioned, don't use colored cardboard or any that has a shiny surface. When I think "cardboard" I think corrugated Amazon shipping boxes. Lots of things we buy these days come in shiny display boxes, many with a plasticized coating, and those should go in the recycle bin.
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Name: Yardenman
Maryland (Zone 7a)
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Yardenman
Aug 9, 2017 3:09 PM CST
I meant to add that newspaper has a bad rep from the inks used decades ago. Most newspapers use a soy ink now. But it might be good to check. Large sheets or cardboard tend to run off rain. If you use it (and I have,) cut it into small chunks. That might seem contraindicated, but overlap the pieces reverse of shingles and the water will soak in fine. You can even use the pieces to direct rainwater if placed carefully.
Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Aug 9, 2017 4:27 PM CST
It might be helpful if you could add a pic or 2 so we can see what the situation is. If there's grass growing, poking holes in your smother will defeat the purpose. Hopefully, under the shadow of shrubs and trees, there's not much, if anything, that needs to be smothered. If so, pulling those plants out by hand, and then placing the smother around the plants, but leaving a gap around the trunks about the same as the diameter of each plant should not prevent so much moisture from soaking in that it causes a problem.

With a thick layer of mulch/compost on top, the cardboard will stay moist after it rains a few times and shouldn't be a problem unless it doesn't rain for so long that you would have needed to water w/o the smother anyway.

Single-layer or colored or coated cardboard is not something I would use in a garden. I take all of that to the recycle place. Brown, corrugated cardboard is what I've always used for smothering, remove any tape or staples, and sometimes newspaper if there's nothing strong growing and it's a very small spot. Newspaper does "melt" a lot more quickly than cardboard. A mix of materials is a great idea if the growth situation is varied throughout the area.
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Fort Worth, TX
Courtjewett
Aug 9, 2017 5:14 PM CST
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This is the thing, I didn't know how to do beds when I had money for plants. So I bought and planted plants thinking I would make beds around them later. One pic is the bed I dug out with a shovel. The plants were already there. That was seriously so hard and time consuming. I'm desperate to try the newspaper thing to avoid digging out three fence lines worth more of beds. The other pics show my plants along the fences where I want to make beds like I did in the pic showing a bed. Just nervous to put newspaper around all these plants with which I have fallen in love. Excuse the need to mow! But as you can see they are surrounded by lots of hardy grass!
[Last edited by Courtjewett - Aug 9, 2017 7:06 PM (+)]
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Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Aug 10, 2017 4:16 PM CST
I agree, digging up grass is extreme garden effort. Some potentially large areas! You can get mega-size boxes from furniture &/or appliance stores. Owner/operated stores will be easiest to work with, call or stop by & ask to speak to the warehouse manager.

You could do a row of cardboard between the shrubs & the fence to get started, &/or put cardboard in the major (black shapes) spaces, and newspaper in the red areas, if you are concerned about moisture penetration in the root zone of the shrubs. If the newspaper isn't quite strong enough in spots, you could spot-dig anything that breaks through later, or go over those areas with cardboard in the spring, after the first cardboard spots have decomposed.

Directly under the diameter of each shrub, I would put only mulch. That should drastically weaken the grass to the point where you can pull it out if it keeps trying to grow.
👀😁😂 - SMILE! -☺😎☻☮👌✌∞☯🐣🐦🐔🐝🍯🐾
The less I interfere, the more balance mother nature provides.
👒🎄👣🏡🍃🍂🌾🌿🍁❦❧ 🍃🍁🍂🌾🌻🌸🌼🌹🌽❀☀🌺
☕👓 The only way to succeed is to try.
Fort Worth, TX
Courtjewett
Aug 10, 2017 5:13 PM CST
purpleinopp said:I agree, digging up grass is extreme garden effort. Some potentially large areas! You can get mega-size boxes from furniture &/or appliance stores. Owner/operated stores will be easiest to work with, call or stop by & ask to speak to the warehouse manager.

You could do a row of cardboard between the shrubs & the fence to get started, &/or put cardboard in the major (black shapes) spaces, and newspaper in the red areas, if you are concerned about moisture penetration in the root zone of the shrubs. If the newspaper isn't quite strong enough in spots, you could spot-dig anything that breaks through later, or go over those areas with cardboard in the spring, after the first cardboard spots have decomposed.

Directly under the diameter of each shrub, I would put only mulch. That should drastically weaken the grass to the point where you can pull it out if it keeps trying to grow.


Thank you guys so much!
Name: Mac
Over yonder, IL (Zone 6b)
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McCannon
Aug 10, 2017 8:00 PM CST
Or put down a donut shaped piece of landscape fabric around the base of the plant and cover it with mulch. After the weeds or grass are dead just remove the fabric and cover the bare spot with the existing mulch.
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tx_flower_child
Aug 10, 2017 9:42 PM CST
Maybe it's just me, but I think that if/when you buy mulch, do not buy the colored mulches. There are some red ones, brown ones, and I've also seen black ones. Most of these are made from rubber. Even if they're made from wood and then dyed, you'll run into the problem that you would with colors on cardboard or newspaper. Admittedly, many look nice and are guaranteed to last a long time. But that's not the best thing for your soil.

I see that you're from Ft. Worth. I know that Dallas has some places that sell fresh mulch that they will bag for you or maybe deliver if you want a whole lot of it! I can always see if these businesses have locations in Ft. Worth. But you can get some decent mulches at Lowe's and Home Depot and other places for about the same price.

Good luck!
Fort Worth, TX
Courtjewett
Aug 10, 2017 9:45 PM CST
tx_flower_child said:Maybe it's just me, but I think that if/when you buy mulch, do not buy the colored mulches. There are some red ones, brown ones, and I've also seen black ones. Most of these are made from rubber. Even if they're made from wood and then dyed, you'll run into the problem that you would with colors on cardboard or newspaper. Admittedly, many look nice and are guaranteed to last a long time. But that's not the best thing for your soil.

I see that you're from Ft. Worth. I know that Dallas has some places that sell fresh mulch that they will bag for you or maybe deliver if you want a whole lot of it! I can always see if these businesses have locations in Ft. Worth. But you can get some decent mulches at Lowe's and Home Depot and other places for about the same price.

Good luck!


Thanks. I like cypress mulch bc I think the natural wood is a pretty color. I get it at lowe's and ace.
Name: Mac
Over yonder, IL (Zone 6b)
Ex zones 4b, 8b, 9a, 9b
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Canning and food preservation
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McCannon
Aug 10, 2017 9:56 PM CST
We buy cedar mulch in bulk at a local nursery. It doesn't break down like most soft-wood mulches. All natural, no artificial dyes or colorants. And it smells nice nodding .
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