Dre Campbell Farm
Using Newspaper to Kill Weeds: The Scoop

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Using Newspaper to Kill Weeds: The Scoop

Who would have thought that something as simple as newspaper can be used as a mulch to control weeds in the garden [1]?

Some gardeners will do just about anything to avoid hand pulling and using toxic herbicides. That’s where newspapers come in. They are both easy to use and provide other benefits to the garden.

Chemical herbicides are toxic and can kill the plants you want to keep. It’s also only successful in the short term and unhealthy for you and the environment.

As more and more farmers look for solutions that are both easy to implement and eco-friendly, the above two age-old methods of weed removal become outdated and undesirable.

Classified as sheet mulching [2], here is everything you need to know about how to use newspaper to block weeds.

Is it Healthy?

Oh yes, newspaper is safe to use in the vegetable garden as long as you don’t use the glossy inserts for ads and coupons. Those have too many dyes and chemicals that not only slow down decomposition, they can also be harmful to the soil.

Plain paper and newsprint only use soy-based inks in their composition, and this allows them to provide nutrients to the soil when they decompose. 

Additionally, newspaper is okay for the compost and safe to put under mulch.

How Long Does it Take for Newspaper to Decompose in the Garden?

Typically, newspapers decompose completely in about six weeks. However, you can shorten this rate with these two things:

  • Daily watering – the paper will begin to break down into pulp almost as soon as it gets wet for the first time and continue every time it gets wet. 
  • Moldy food filled with worms layered on top – the action of the worms, as well as the chemicals leaching from the food, will break down the newspaper much faster than if left alone.

These two things don’t need to be mutually exclusive either.

How‌ ‌Many‌ Layers‌ ‌of‌ ‌Newspaper‌ ‌Kill‌ Weeds?‌

This varies with whom you talk to. The consensus appears to be no less than 3 layers.

The layers need to be of single sheets fully laid out, not folded over. This is to prevent gaps where weed seeds can hide and germinate.

You can also kill grass with newspaper; however, this time you’ll use 6 layers and overlap the sheets.

Alternatively, covering the area with just one layer of cardboard will smother grass and weeds.

Advantages of Using Them 

  • They’re porous which means water can soak through to the soil beneath them [3].
  • The newspaper weed barrier completely blocks sunlight when properly layered. This kills existing weeds and keeps the seeds from growing.
  • They’re biodegradable so they add nutrients to the soil when they decompose.
  • Safer to use than toxic chemical weed killers.
  • Easier to maintain than hand pulling as well as more successful at weed suppression.
  • Cheap – you can get it virtually for free. You can get it from recycling bins, your neighbors even from libraries when they’re getting rid of their old papers.
  • Eco-friendly – using them will help enrich the soil of your garden and keep them out of landfills.
  • Efficient – it takes less time to put the newspaper into place in your garden than it does to hand pull the weeds.
  • No Prep – you don’t need to pull any weeds before you put the paper down.

Disadvantages

  • Longevity – under the right conditions, it breaks down fast.
  • Ugly – if left uncovered it detracts from the overall beauty of your garden.

How to Use Newspaper in the Garden

Using newspaper to prevent weeds in the vegetable garden is quite simple. Moreover, it makes great mulch for your tomatoes.

  1. Choose where you want to use it. It doesn’t matter if the beds are annual or perennial since you won’t have to move the paper when you rotate crops or put in ornamentals.
  2. Border the area with large stones or bricks. This will make it harder for the newspaper, and mulch, to blow away during a windy day or when it rains.
  3. Unfold the pages so they lay flat. Folding them over makes overlapping them harder and doesn’t add any value to suppressing weeds.
  4. Arrange the sheets in layers, putting them down one at a time, and overlap the edges.
  5. Keep around 2 – 3 inches away from existing plants and leave that size square opening for any plants you’re going to put in. You don’t want to kill the plant by blocking the sunlight they need to grow.
  6. Hold it down with stones, bricks, or water while you’re working. This will keep it all from blowing away.
  7. Wet thoroughly once all the papers are down where you want them.
  8. Cover them with stones, bricks, or other types of mulch. Not only does this make the bed look attractive, but it also helps get the newspaper to start decomposing. The weight of the stuff on top will also keep it in place.
  9. Check on it every two weeks and replace it as needed. Daily watering and insect activity can speed up the decomposition rate. Replacing it is as easy as removing the mulch and putting down more papers.

Landscape Fabric vs Newspaper

You can use newspaper instead of landscape fabric for killing weeds in your garden. Landscape fabric (LF) is a woven material typically made from polypropylene, a type of plastic.

So, how does LF compare to newspapers?

Purpose

Newspaper is for short-term weed suppression — usually only one growing season. Landscape fabric, on the other hand, is for long-term weed suppression, and it usually lasts up to 5 years. 

Composition

Newspaper is made mostly of wood pulp, while landscape fabric is plastic and chemicals.

Placement 

Newspapers can be used in any bed — annual or perennial — because they can be easily moved around.

Landscape Fabric is best used in perennial beds as it can’t be moved around as easily. It uses stakes to keep its edges down, and these have to be dug up before every move. 

Environmental Impact

Laying down newspapers also adds nutrients to the soil because they are biodegradable. LF takes a very long time to break down and can leech toxic plastics and chemicals into the soil. 

If you like the idea of the fabric, there are biodegradable organic options such as WeedGuard Plus.

Price

Newspapers are either free or just the price of a subscription. Getting enough to cover any size vegetable garden or flower bed costs very little.

Landscape fabric comes in rolls and they can be quite expensive even in a small garden.

So you see, using newspaper (or even cardboard) to suppress or kill the weeds in a garden is a much more natural and eco-friendly method to use by far. Landscape fabric looks nice, but so does mulch-covered newspaper.

Takeaway

Newspaper is a cheap alternative to toxic herbicides. It isn’t as labor-intensive since it takes less effort to put it down and keep it down than it does to be constantly hand pulling weeds and/or spraying weed killer on stubborn weeds.

Even already established weeds die when newspapers cover them and block out sunlight.

Image via Flickr/OakleyOriginals

Sasha Brown

Blogger and lover of all things natural.

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