Newspaper mulch

2ajsmamaMay 14, 2011

I know a lot of non-organic gardeners use sheets of newspaper for mulch but we're trying to grow "sustainably" (won't be certified organic), I was wondering if newspaper was considered organic, in fact with the new soy-based inks, do they actually even add nitrogen to the soil? Thanks

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feijoas(New Zealand)

I consider myself to be an organic gardener and I use all the paper I can get hold of.
Of course 'organic' has different meanings for different people, but as far as I've been able to find out, coloured, shiny, it's nearly all ok.
I think the ink's nutritional value would be minute: I'd stick to 'paper=carbon' and stop there...

    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 5:49AM
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Newspaper is organic because it did come from once living sources. There is very little nutrient value in either the paper or the ink, however, and they add a carbon source to the soil. This does not mean that anything that came from a once living source would be good for soil because we know that oil and coal are not good additions to soil.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 6:28AM
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I was hoping the soy ink would counteract any paper/wood tendency to steal N from the soil. I need all the N I can get!

I did read that colored and glossy paper was not good to use b/c there may be heavy metals present. I also have a concern about the paper getting hydrophobic as it gets dry (July can be really dry around here), part of the reason I'm mulching is to keep the soil from drying out in the summer. Also looking to keep down weeds (my rye didn't germinate - bad seed? It got wet enough after sowing.), keep soil cooler in summer, add OM later in the year, and help warm the soil in the spring.

Should I be looking at a different kind of mulch? I do plan on sowing clover or annual rye (if I dare try again) in the fall.


    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 3:10PM
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I did read that colored and glossy paper was not good to use b/c there may be heavy metals present.

Let's put a stake in the heart of that zombie, please. You are parroting information from decades ago, and not examining whether the information is still relevant today. You might as well be discussing phlogiston and disco fever.

It's damned expensive to use "heavy metals" in ink because of the printing press cleanup and disposal of materials that is required. Commercial inks have been reformulated to avoid the need for all the cleanup.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 8:48PM
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I thought I had only read reputable (.edu) sites for info, but that snippet must have made it past my mental filter as I was searching. I just checked 3 of the extension sites I had bookmarked, and none of them mentioned the heavy metals. The concerns about water running off the paper if it is dry, and about it keeping the soil cooler in early spring, are, however derived from a study conducted by WSU.

This same researcher recommends wood chip mulch for urban "restoration" sites, but I have a concern using it on vegetable crops (except if well-decomposted, or in walkways) because I need to add N, not use it to compost the wood chips!

Any comments?

Here is a link that might be useful: Newspaper mulch suitability

    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 9:03PM
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kosherbaker(LA CA-10)

Where are you located?


    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 11:00PM
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Putting newspaper down on your soil will not cause the soil bacteria to get to work on that material utilizing the available Nitrogen in your soil to the detriment of your plants.There is no need to be concerned about newspaper as mulch "robbing" your soil of Nitrogen.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 6:24AM
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I'm in NW CT. Why would paper be any different than wood chips? Is paper "decomposed" more? I guess that makes sense since paper (at least if you don't put it on thick) breaks down more quickly than fresh wood chips.

We use stockpiled woodchips that are already crumbly and black as a base for the garden bed, the veggies love that. We've only been here 4 yrs and with an open compost pile don't have much compost yet so we get the wood chips from my uncle's pile.

OK, 2 myths busted - what about dry newspapers keeping water from getting to roots? Just use the newspaper as mulch between rows or raised beds, and pull the weeds between plants by hand? Use the old woodchips right around the plants? I've got over 100 plants to transplant, and more to direct-seed, into almost 1500 sf (if we use all that space, may just mulch or try again to get cover crop growing on unused part).

Thanks - we've been gardening for 15 yrs or so, but this is the first time we've had such a large area that needs soil amendments and water (not near the house).

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 7:04AM
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This same researcher recommends wood chip mulch for urban "restoration" sites, but I have a concern using it on vegetable crops (except if well-decomposted, or in walkways) because I need to add N, not use it to compost the wood chips!

A wood chip mulch does not suck all the nitrogen out of the dirt below it. The wood chips - if applied as a mulch, not tilled into the soil - do not affect the nitrogen except at a very thin layer right at the mulch/soil interface.

The moisture conserving benefit of a long-lasting mulch outweighs any affect on the nitrogen levels. I plant through the mulch for larger vegetables like eggplants or okra - even direct seeding

I use newspapers as a weed blocking barrier UNDER a thick layer of wood chips or partly finished compost, not as the top layer.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 11:13AM
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You will LOVE a newspaper mulch! It will not repel water when dry. Rain will penetrate easily and the newspaper keeps the soil both cool and moist. Worms love a newspaper mulch almost as much as you will. I cover mine with seaweed for weight, and either hay, chipped leaves, or compost, for pretty.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 3:11PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Where do you get newspaper? I live in an xburb of 20000 and the only newspaper in town is the New York Times at Starbucks.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 3:49PM
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Albert - my parents live in a very small town and they still get delivery of the "big city" paper.

Just wondering - since I have a lot of newspaper that gets used in the bird cage, can we add that to the compost pile or directly to the garden (like lasagne or mulch) instead of sending it to the landfill each week? Never thought of it - but if guano or chicken manure/litter is used for fertilizer, why not parrot poop (with a lot of wasted feed - she only likes certain color pellets, and also dunks all her food - thinks she's part raccoon!)?

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 8:24AM
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I used 8 layers of newspaper mulch around my young daylily seedlings, topped by pine bark mulch to hold it down so the wind wouldn't blow it away. I had gorgeous daylilies that thrived and multiplied beyond my expectations. Whoever came up with the idea that newspaper deters moisture is just plain wrong. Don't you realize how fast newspaper gets wet? In no time it was moist and decomposing, and DID NOT prevent absorption - just weeds.

I would think that bird cage newspaper would be even better, save for strange unwanted plants growing from the leftover seed.



    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 9:13AM
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My parrot doesn't eat seed - it's not good for them (avian junk food!), I use a pelleted food with a long list of ingredients, but first ones are ground corn, wheat, oat groats, wheat "middlings" (?), corn gluten meal, dried whole egg, dried beet pulp, soy oil, soybean meal, corn sugar, "dicalcium phosphate", calcium carbonate, wheat germ meal, dried cane molasses, dried brewer's yeast, and a bunch of vitamins, some salt and "fermentation products", a few preservatives (Ethoxyquin, mixed tocopherols) and "artificial colors and natural flavors"

15% protein, 6% fat, 5% fiber

Anything is there to be worried about in compost or a newspaper mulch layer?

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 9:32AM
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If you put down a thick enough layer of other mulch material, wood chips, grass clippings, shredded leaves, straw, etc. so any plants trying to grow under that mulch layer those plants will be deprived of the access to the sun all plants need to grow. A layer of newspaper does the same thing and allows you to put down a thinner layer of other mulch material, something like 2 inches instead of 4 to 6 inches to accomplish the same thing.
The paper used to line bird cages can be composted, even with the waste seed, feed, that accumulates on it. You could also put that paper in the garden, but just be aware the seeds, feed, on that paper may well germinate in the garden, unless covered with a good, thick layer of other mulch.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 11:29AM
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Love newspaper as a mulch. Thats all I use.

I took a organic gardening class up at Clemson and we were told only black and white newspaper 2 sheets thick, never use colored or glossy papers. I lay it down 2 thick than after a month or so I go back and do it again. In my town I can go to the newspaper company and buy what they call a end roll for 5 dollars. The end roll is 4' wide and has a lot of paper on it (about 3"). Of course it has no ink on it so I like that even better. I'm very much anti soy anything.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 2:06PM
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If you want more N, go with newspapers and something else -- human urine as long as you're on no synthetic drugs, or free coffee grounds from work/cafes! They're great, and easily mix into compost piles, a little into topsoil, piled on the newspapers, etc.

A great compost pile is wood chips and coffee grounds. Wood has many micronutrients as trees are accumulators of such things with their deep deep roots. The coffee grounds provide N quickly, and the microherd gets to breaking the tree's heavy lignins quicker than a non-coffee-gound woodpile.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:55PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

I'd be very happy if anyone who's been told that coloured or glossy paper contains heavy metals etc and shouldn't be used would check out some recent-ish information online.
Hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 2:03AM
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crankyoldman(z5 NY)

I think how newspaper and wood chip mulch act in terms of water retention depends on how much water the garden is getting. I used this combination in south Florida to good effect, but three years ago here in upstate NY I tried it on tomatoes to combat late blight being worsened by soil splashing. What happened was that the rain soaked only into the mulch and the tomatoes did not get enough water at all. I thought they were diseased until I pulled back the nice moist mulch to find dry ground underneath. So that's something to consider. The tomatoes didn't get blight until the very end of the season, but so little water reaching their roots meant they didn't make many tomatoes, either. Normally I don't use a woodchip or whatever added mulch anymore. I use either a dust mulch (keep top one inch of soil fluffy by hoeing, the benefit of which is no outside inputs needed) or a green manure/underplanting of clover. My garden has gotten too big for the mulch thing. Just a different perspective.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 9:24AM
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Every once in a while we hear from someone who has had vastly different experiences using mulches in their garden then the majority of us have had, such as the mulch keeping the soil from getting moisture. There are a myriad of reasons why that might happen not just the mulch.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 6:35AM
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crankyoldman(z5 NY)

There are a myriad of reasons why it might happen in general, but in my garden, it was the mulch. We did not get as much rain as usual that year. Not quite a drought, but close. What we got stayed in the mulch because there was simply not enough to penetrate it. In contrast, we got so much rain in south Florida that even a thick layer of mulch got sopping wet--and my garden was a LOT smaller, so a thick layer of mulch was not a big deal. There I used mulch because the soil is nothing but sand, and cypress, eucalyptus, or cedar chips over a layer of cardboard kept the fire ants from coming up in those areas. It was a completely different way of gardening than is necessary here.

I've been gardening successfully without mulch with the exception of that tomato patch since I left south Florida in 2003. I read about the efficacy of using a dust mulch and got myself a stirrup hoe to keep after the weeds and make sure the dust mulch didn't turn into a crust. It works well to suppress weeds and to keep in moisture, especially once the plants get big enough to shade the ground. It would not be a good idea in windy areas, because the soil would tend to blow away, but this is not a windy area.

Mulch is an outside input for the vast majority of gardeners. I want as few outside inputs as possible for the sake of sustainability. Instead of buying literally tons of mulch, which is what would be necessary in my garden, I buy white clover seed or peas (in the front, to make it more presentable, I sow alyssum as a green manure/undersowing instead). Then I have little requirement for ferts. My soil has 1/3 rock fragments, so there's plenty of minerals, and clay, which tends to hold the water well. IMO this is way more organic than bringing in tons of mulch would be.

There is not only one way to garden organically.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 8:10AM
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OK, cage paper went in the composter. I think I'm just going to use newspaper in the aisles. We can get composted wood chips for the rows. I want to go a green manure, the rye sown in April is just starting to germinate(!) but lots of weeds already. I can't do a legume there while the veggies are there b/c the deer are a problem - saw tracks through the wettest part, I think we're going to have to tack netting up after we get the cedar posts in for the trellis system. I'll do clover or rye in the fall after harvest.

I just brought plants home from the (unheated) greenhouse today, the tomatoes look good (my cousin even gave me some he had started in Feb that are HUGE, a couple even have small fruit on them - those aren't organic but at least they're early). The peppers don't look so good, I'll start another thread on those, they could be small b/c it was too cold for them, but they have aphids too.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 5:10PM
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What species of Rye did you seed in April? A "weedy" grass, annual Rye could be seeded then but does need to be killed off before it produces any seed since when it does that "weed" will be back forever. The green manure is Field, Cereal, or Winter Rye and that is seeded in the fall to be turned in in the spring.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 7:06AM
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I was told by extension agent to use annual rye since it will winter-kill. We had planned on mowing it this summer before it went to seed. May not be a problem - it didn't germinate right away (took maybe a month? Seeded it on Good Friday!) and I *think* I'm seeing a few blades here and there just now, mostly we still have bare ground out there, with some tall clumps of orchard grass (that were there before we spread topsoil and didn't get smothered), some wild blackberries, and some other 5-leaved creeping vines that I was going to try to pull out before covering with newspaper and mulch..

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 12:24PM
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I too am a newspaper fan.

I spread it over my raised beds and poke holes in it for the plants before covering with shredded leaves.

I find that it helps control weeds.

As far as finding newspapers: see if you can also find some of those "thrifty nickel" or "used car" publications. Just about every gas station I pass has a few of those free paper dispenser bins on the curb.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 8:38PM
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sorry for just jumping in here but had a question for everyone. First, I've used newspaper in my raised beds and can't believe all the earth worms. I put newspaper down and then cover with straw.
I use soaker hoses and cover the hose with straw to hold in more water and hold out the sun from drying it up. but can I mulch my corn and how much mulch is too much?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 12:18PM
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You can (and should) put your newspaper mulch right up to the plant.
Newspaper, seaweed, hay, and a best friend. 1984:

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 8:17AM
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I put down about 4-7 layers of newspaper and the straw over the paper because paper dries so fast with the sun and wind hitting it too much. This way the soil stays moist and much cooler. I don't til the garden spot and the paper keeps things from getting hard, infact the oposite is the case here. If I keep this up, I might be selling my rototiler and composter because I don't til anymore and my scraps go to the worm farm I have.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 8:15PM
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6 or 8 or more pages of newaprint is almost too much and that heavy amount of newsprint can keep rain water or even water from a sprinkler from reaching the soil. All that is needed is 4 to 6 pages. More is not better.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 6:56AM
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Sunny_Dee(6a KCMO)

I agree with kimmsr. 4-6 pages is sufficient. I use the newspaper with leaf mulch on top. The soil seems to stay cool and moist longer than without. Plus it's a great weed barrier and the earth worms really do love the stuff.

I've also started using plain brown cardboard for the walkways with straw over top. I make sure to remove all the tape. What do you guys think of this?

By the way, if you're looking for newspaper and cardboard, just go to your local recycling center. I told them what my plan was and they let me have as much as I wanted for free.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 8:37AM
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I agree each person needs to do what's best for them. I've done this for 25 years now and 6-8 layers works here. aplus using a sprikler is very wasteful of water. soaker hose under the mulch once a week works great. I grow 75 plus tomato plants in my intensive planted garden.
I wish the best luck for everyone.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 9:23AM
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Yup, I agree. Here in my garden in Maine, anything under six sheets is not enough---weeds pop right through it. 6-8 sheets is perfect, although I would comfortably use more. And there is nothing like a newspaper mulch to reduce, not increase, the amount of watering I need to do.

Here. In Maine.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 11:35PM
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terrene(5b MA)

This year I created a new bed for veggies. I've been flat out, so I just dug holes for the veggies, added compost and planted. Did not till the soil or bother weeding in between the veggies/herbs. Then, after we had a good soaking 3 inch rain and the ground was nice and wet, I spread wet newspaper in between all the plants, and then spread a couple inches of compost over the newspaper. I may add straw or grass clippings as a final tidy mulch, but the compost looks pretty good. The newspapers were about 4-8 sheets thick, I don't really fuss too much about that.

The pile of newspapers had sat out for several weeks, and got good and wet. Discovered that it's much easier to work with when it's damp!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 10:09AM
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I am thinking of mulching with newspaper soaked with coffee grinds.
Then using a combo of grinds and wood chips as a top coat of mulch to make it look nicer.
Any thoughts on the pros and cons of this idea?

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 11:06AM
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I have found that attempting to lay down wet paper is a problem because it tends to tear and fall apart. I put dry newsprint down and cover that with whatever I am using to hold it in place and hide the newspaper. Coffee grounds with wood chips would be a good cover for the paper.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2013 at 6:24AM
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