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 weeds 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. They’re also unhealthy for you and the environment. As a result, more and more farmers are looking into eco-friendly methods of weed removal.

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 but may also be harmful to the soil.

Plain paper and newsprint only use soy-based inks in their composition. 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 by doing 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 decomposition process of 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 use newspaper to kill grass; 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’ll 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. Get it from recycling bins, your neighbors, or even libraries when they’re getting rid of old papers.
  • Eco-friendly. Using newspapers 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 to blow away during a windy day.
  3. Unfold the pages so they lay flat. Folding them over makes overlapping them harder.
  4. Arrange the sheets in layers, putting them down one at a time, and overlap the edges.
  5. Keep them around 2 – 3 inches away from plants. 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 newspapers 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. Moreover, replacing it is as easy as removing the mulch and putting down more papers.

Landscape Fabric vs Newspaper

You can also use newspaper instead of landscape fabric for killing weeds in your garden. Landscape fabric is a woven material mostly made from polypropylene or polyester.

So, how does this fabric compare to newspapers?

Purpose

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

Composition

Newspaper is made mostly of wood pulp, while landscape fabric is made from plastic or other petroleum-based products.

Placement 

Newspapers are best used in annual vegetable and flower beds because they break down easily. Landscape fabric, on the other hand, is best used in perennial beds as it takes longer to break down.

Environmental Impact

Laying down newspapers also adds nutrients to the soil because they are biodegradable. However, landscape fabric takes a very long time to break down. Plus, it may leach toxic chemicals into the soil [3]. 

If you still like the idea of using landscape 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 if purchased for a small garden.

Therefore, using newspaper (or even cardboard) to suppress or kill weeds in the garden is a much more economical method.

Takeaway

Newspaper is a cheap alternative to toxic herbicides. Moreover, 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 mature weeds will eventually die if you use newspapers to cover them properly.

Image via Flickr/OakleyOriginals

Sasha Brown

Blogger and lover of all things natural.

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