News Paper / New Print as Mulch

cammunizmOctober 25, 2011

Does anyone have a link of sorts or direct knowledge of using newspaper as mulch around vegetables/fruits?

I'm confused on if the evidence supports suggestions that harmful agents from newsprint ink persist in the environment or not.

Thanks! :)

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gardengimp(9B Seminole Cnty FL)

Current newspaper ink is no problem. It is primarily soy based. I use all my newspaper, and the neighbors when I can get it.

Barns, not gardens but applicable info


    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 12:42AM
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I use newspaper and/or cardboard boxes all the time. Just be sure to soak the ground AND the papers when putting them down. In our sandy soil, sometimes, the water is soaked up by the paper and never makes it to the soil. Punch holes in the paper to plant, soak again. Our heavy rains will usually keep things perking along. I put pine fines (mulch) on top of the paper. The paper usually disintegrates within a year. That and the pine mulch worked into the sand will eventually make soil.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 5:51AM
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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

When I had a small in-ground garden, I used newspaper mulch. I did it a little differently, though.

First, for watering, I laid down soaker hoses. I shredded the newspaper (it's important to use a strip shredder, NOT a crosscut shredder). Then I filled a wheelbarrow with water and mixed in several tablespoons of flour, enough to make the water cloudy. Then I soaked the newspaper strips in the water. I took them out by the handful and laid them down dripping wet, patting them down gently to make sure all the strips made good contact with each other and no loose ends were sticking up. But it was important not to press too tightly, so rainwater would penetrate. I pressed the shreds together more firmly at the edges of the garden, making neat edges. The flour dried into "glue" (like a wimpy version of papier mache) so the shreds didn't blow off. Shreds also allow more rainwater to soak into the ground than sheets of newspaper. (If you think too much rainwater is running off, you can use a stick or thin bamboo pole to poke holes in the mulch. But more holes means more places for weed seeds to sprout, so there is a tradeoff.)

You can put a thin layer of some prettier mulch on top for looks if you want. The newspaper shreds are definitely ugly.

Earthworms LOVED my garden after I put down newspaper, congregating at the bottom of the paper and in the soil immediately underneath. Weed control was excellent, with nearly all the weeds at the edges of the garden or where I had pulled the paper back to plant. The time spent preparing and placing the newspaper was a great investment, since I had to do very little weeding, even in the heat of summer.

To plant, just use your fingers to pull holes in the newspaper right where you want to put your seeds or transplants. You can make planting rows by using a garden knife to cut through the newspaper in a straight line, then pull the newspaper back to expose the the desired width of soil. When you water your newly-planted seeds or transplants, just tuck down any loose edges while the newspaper is still wet. However, it is bulky, so you'll probably need to remove it completely from an area to sow fine seeds or densely-sown plants like carrots and green onions. (You can work it around these plants when their tops are tall enough, but that's a pain. I usually found it easier to just weed the areas where I planted the small plants. But for lettuce it was worth the hassle of mulching after the seedlings got about four inches tall, because the newspaper kept dirt from getting all over the leaves. The lettuce had fewer diseases and was MUCH easier to wash.)

The newspaper really shines as a mulch for larger plants. I found it especially helpful for plants that are susceptible to fungal diseases from dirt splashing on the leaves (such as tomatoes, melons, and squash).

You can patch the mulch with more newspaper shreds whenever you take out old plants. To refresh the bed after a growing season, remove the soaker hoses, put compost right on top of the old newspaper, lay the soaker hoses back down, and then lay more newspaper on top. (If the old newspaper is still really thick, you may want to chop it up with a shovel, to make sure water will penetrate below it.)

If you end up with more newspaper than you need for mulch, shredded newspaper also works well as "brown" material for the compost pile/bin. I plan to use newspaper mulch on my raised beds after DH and I build them this winter. I am already starting to save papers for this.

TLDR version: Newspaper mulch is ugly, but effective. It's also virtually free if you can find people who'll save their newspapers for you.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 11:51AM
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Ok excellent thank you. I've read the link and I think it's safe to continue regarding the ink issue. I am just using straight newsprint and local newsprinted magazines like folio/buzz (with the staples removed).

Also, thank you for the huge amount of info regarding techniques. Part of my project is actually complete weed suppression in an area I have difficulty controlling. I am just going to layer several inches of un-shredded paper, mulch, and then put cheap pots of Rue (as a cat deterrent) around this area (which is where I have my bird feeder, etc. I'm hoping that cats do indeed, hate Rue.

For the veggie garden, I was going to just layer sheets until what was mentioned earlier. I'm glad you guys responded with those hints about non-cross shredding and using a flour mixture to ensure proper water filtering below. Thanks!!!!!!


    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 12:17PM
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it's important to use a strip shredder, NOT a crosscut shredder

Just curious as to why this matters? I can see that crosscut would blow around more, but is there more to it than that?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 5:04PM
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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

The crosscut shredders make little bitty pieces which are going to blow around easily. If you use enough flour and water "glue" you can keep them from blowing around, but those little pieces will stick together in a hard mat that doesn't let much rainwater through, so you may as well just save yourself time and use sheets.

The strips tend to curl up and tangle together when you stir them around in the flour water and lay them down. That's actually what you want - the tangles form air spaces and channels for water to collect and then soak through. But the strips still block light from the soil and the openings are all twisty so weed sprouts have a hard time getting through, so long as you mulch thickly enough that you can't see any soil when you're done. You can adjust the mulch any time. If weeds are getting through, add more. If you think it's blocking too much rainwater, poke some holes in it, or wet it down and remove some. (When it's soaking wet, you can untangle it and move it around. When it's dry, it's stuck together; you'll have to cut or tear it.)

But if you ever want to compost newspaper or other used paper, a crosscut shredder would be great. Those tiny pieces will decay faster and be easier to mix with the other ingredients in your compost.

I hope newspaper mulch works well for you, too.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 5:51PM
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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

Just bear in mind, it really is ugly. It'll change in color from shades of gray to yellowish or brownish towards the end of the growing season as it starts to decompose. My garden was in a backyard with a privacy fence and no one saw it except my family, so as long as the veggies were happy I didn't much care what it looked like.

If your veggie garden's appearance matters to you, you might want to do a small test patch to be sure you can live with the appearance. Or just plan to cover it with a thin layer of prettier mulch.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 6:09PM
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Thanks, L in FL.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 8:31PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

Cora, where do you buy pine fines?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 11:34PM
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In Jacksonville, I buy pine fines, also called pine mulch, at Mulch Masters on Lee Road. They sell nothing but mulch and a few landscape plants. Their prices are very reasonable and they will deliver if you're buying in bulk. I can get 15 bags of pine fines in my little Subaru wagon. I've noticed this past week that Walmart also has pine mulch.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 4:38AM
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