When it comes to fighting weeds in gardens, gardeners will do just about anything to avoid hand pulling and using toxic herbicides. Hand-pulling is time-consuming, tiring, and successful in the short term.
Chemical weed killers are toxic and can kill the plants you want to keep as well as the weeds. It’s also only successful in the short term and unhealthy for you and the environment.
As more and more gardeners also look at methods that are both easy to implement and eco-friendly, the above two age-old methods of weed removal become outdated and undesirable.
So what’s the alternative? Well, newspapers are both easy to use and healthy for you and the garden.
Is it really healthy?
Oh yes, newspapers are healthy as long as you don’t use the glossy inserts for ads and coupons. They 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.
How long does it take for the newspaper to decompose in the garden?
Typically, it completely decomposes in about six weeks. However, this rate can be shortened by 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.
Why would you use newspapers in the first place?
- They’re porous which means water can soak through to the soil beneath them.
- They completely block 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.
- They’re safer to use than toxic chemical weed killers.
- They’re easier to maintain than hand pulling as well as more successful at weed suppression.
What are the Pros and Cons of using newspapers?
- 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.
- Longevity – under the right conditions, it breaks down fast.
- Ugly – if left uncovered it detracts from the overall look of your garden.
How do you use the newspaper?
Putting it in your garden is quite simple really.
- 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 it when you rotate crops or put in ornamentals.
- Border the area with large stones or bricks. This will make it harder for the newspaper, and mulch, to be blown away during a windy day or when it rains.
- Unfold the pages so they lay flat. Folding them over makes overlapping them harder and doesn’t add any value to suppressing weeds.
- Arrange the sheets in layers, putting them down one at a time, and overlap the edges.
- 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.
- Hold it down with stones, bricks, or water while you’re working. This will keep it all from blowing away.
- Water thoroughly once all the newspapers are down where you want it.
- Cover them with stones, bricks, or mulch. Not only does this make the bed look attractive, but it also helps get the newspaper started on decomposing. The weight of the stuff on top will also keep it in place.
- 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 newspapers.
Landscape Fabric vs Newspaper
Another product works like newspapers for getting rid of weeds in your garden: landscape fabric.
Landscape fabric is a woven material typically made from polypropylene, a type of plastic. So, how does it compare to newspaper?
Newspaper is for short term weed suppression — usually only one growing season. Landscape Fabric, on the other hand, is for long term weed suppression — usually lasts up to 5 years.
Newspaper is made mostly of dyes and wood pulp, while landscape fabric is plastic and chemicals.
Newspapers can be used in any bed — annual or perennial — because it 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.
Newspapers are biodegradable and add nutrients to the soil. Landscape fabric 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.
Newspapers are either free or just the price of a subscription. Getting enough to cover any size garden costs very little.
Landscape fabric comes in rolls and they can be quite expensive even in a small garden.
So you see, using newspapers (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.
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.