Paper the garden

I have a large flower garden that started out as a patch of grass. I put newspaper down in the fall, added wood mulch on the top, and the next spring I planted my perennials. The grass was gone, the newspaper was composting underneath, and I didn’t have hardly any weeds to deal with.

Mary Beth Bennett is an extension ag and natural resources agent at West Virginia University. She says newspaper provides weed control and moisture retention when you put down several layers of paper.

"I would say 2-4 at least. I made some lasagna beds and you have to really go a lot thicker with that because you’re basically doing it right on top of the grass. So I did about six layers and overlapped them even. But what I did was wet it, and then lay it down, and then you build on top of that," says Bennett. "You add your other compost materials on top of the lasagna bed, and I’ve had pretty good success with that."

You could use layers of paper as paving between rows of plants as well. It suppresses the weeds and gives you a place to walk.

Bennett says newspaper can be used in the garden for just about everything from vegetables to flowers.

"People are using it on potato patches. They let the potatoes come up and then put mulch around the potato plants themselves to keep the weeds down," she says. "I think people had some concerns about it; it used to be that they had heavy metals in the ink itself but now most of them are soy-based. Some people are concerned about the soybeans being glyphosate-free, but they said it’s so minor that that’s not a major concern, and actually the organic groups are even supporting the use of newspaper mulch in gardens."

You could also use shredded newspaper if you can keep it from blowing around. Use it under other mulches and the earthworms will break it down.