Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Plants Get the News

One of my favorite things to use in my garden beds, is newspapers. Who says old copies of the Leaf Chronicle can't be useful? Do you think the Leaf's circulation numbers go up when people can find other uses for the newspapers? Other than going into the recycling bin at Bi-County? These plants are definitely up on the news in Clarksville!

I was preparing this garden bed for mulch and began early on a very cold morning to lay down all of these newspapers. The gentlemen delivering and spreading the mulch did not know what to think of all of the newspapers.

They questioned me, "Are newspapers better than landscape fabric and plastic?"

I explained, "Yes, no doubt about it."


"Because I said so! No, really because the newspapers allow the soil to breathe. When the soil breathes microbial activity and all sorts of organic decomposers (earthworms, millipedes, and good bacteria) are able to work more efficiently. As an added benefit, the newspapers break down slowly and add organic matter to the soil."

The gentlemen were fairly impressed, but I could tell they were still skeptical. It is that way sometimes when a person gets used to doing things a certain way. Their way is six inches of mulch over plastic, plants, trees and anything else in the way. Then get the leaf blower out and blow off the mulch to make it look neat. Yes, the garden really does look neat, but six inches of mulch over plastic is not good for the garden.

"Won't the paper rot under the mulch?" they asked.

"Yes, I hope so."

"Then what is the point?"

"In my experience the newspapers can last one year or more when you lay down 5-6 layers and the newspapers are so much better to garden with than plastic. You usually need to reapply mulch after a year anyhow, just add some more newspapers instead of piling it on the plastic."

I never use the shiny papers, only the normal newsprint. Ink color does not matter in my garden as long as it not shiny. The point of using newspapers is when I want to plant more plants I can easily cut through the newspaper and I don't have to fight with plastic. In the meantime, the newspapers provide that extra barrier against weeds that mulch alone cannot handle.

"Won't the weeds come through the plastic?" the men asked.

"Yes, don't you still get weeds with plastic?"

"Yes. Oh. What do you do then?"

"Weed! You will still need to weed your garden no matter what type of mulch you use, unless of course you pour a slab of cement, then you will have to weed the cracks in the cement!"

Been there-done that! I prefer pulling weeds from mulch covered newspapers. Then when the tenacious dandelions grow through that one little crack in the mulch, I can easily stick my fishtail hook deep into the soil and get that little bugger. If there is plastic under the mulch, guess what happens? I stick my fishtail hook in and hit plastic-which when you want it to give way it does not, and when you want it to stay intact, it also does not. Go figure.

"Are you sure it is okay to spread the mulch on the newspapers?"

"Yes, please. And while you are at it, spread it where the newspapers are not as well."

Newspapers are such a helpful barrier they can delay plants from coming up under them. Therefore, I do not use newspapers over perennials or bulb beds. If I do, I leave spaces or tear the paper over the plant. Even if I mistakenly place newspapers over plants, when they begin their spring growth I can easily see the plants pushing the newspaper up. I then tear the newspaper to allow the plant to come through. Simple. No scissors needed and no great amount of force. The areas to the front of the garden are full of established perennials, bulbs and irises, I did not want them covered with newspapers.

I truly could not garden without mulch or the newspapers under the mulch. If you do not have a collection of newspapers you can use brown paper bags (even better than newspapers because it is hardier, just be careful you don't make it too thick and use only two layers of the brown paper-not two bags). I even know some gardeners who use brown cardboard. I haven't actually used cardboard so I can't vouch for it's worthiness, but I think it would work fine and still beat plastic and landscape fabric any day.

I guess that if all things were equal between plastic landscape fabric and newspapers, that is they both allowed the soil to breathe the same and microbial activity was not reduced, then I would still use newspapers. Here is the biggest reason, newspapers rot, landscape fabric and plastic do not. When we pile mulch on our gardens, the mulch slowly decays. We pile more on and the process continues until we have about 4-6 inches of great decayed matter sitting on top of plastic. Now the weeds are growing in great organic matter on top of the plastic and some poor unlucky gardener is going to have to fish out all of that plastic. If you use newspapers they will decay and you will never have to fish out an artificial barrier between good organic matter and your soil. I mean, afterall, it is about the soil and we want it to be healthy.

So the next time you are getting ready to toss that old Leaf Chronicle, think of your plants and let them get the news too....and maybe increase the Leaf's circulation numbers while you are at it!

in the garden....reading the paper.


  1. Where or where is Ginger? We have missed you! Please email me when you get the chance about the get together. Thanks. Tina.

  2. I like this idea --I still have plastic and it is a pain to plant stuff and cut thru it:( Now, I know what I can use when I make the flower bed. THANKS!!!

  3. It's a good way to recycle the papers. I have a stack of newspaper in the garage that needs used soon! Many people don't know about the newspaper thing. The inks are non-toxic since they are mostly made of soy now. I do the same thing!

  4. Very cute title and post today. You are so right!!! I have used both frabic and newspapers. Papers are great. If you are lucky (like me) and live by the ocean put seaweed on top of the papers and you will have the most lush and gorgeous garden in town (as Admiral Alexander's wife once told me).

  5. I am now a newspaper user. I learned the hard way. I started out using the plastic!

  6. We used the fabric in the drainage ditch under the lava rock by the house and storage shed. Works great because I never dig in it!

    Mom in law uses the newspaper and has for years. I dig out the weeds by hand because I love to play in the dirt!

    I only have one large garden area and it was nicely weeded by piles of leaves and pine straw laying on it for years from the trees above. We cut several of the trees and now I buy pine straw each spring to replenish the garden. I dont have many weeds there for some reason though. I assume due to the area being covered with leaves and pine for so long. The same goes for the butterfly bush island.

  7. Hi everyone,
    Good to hear from you all as always. Just a short response today as I have been in the garden painting and now have to go to school. sigh.

    Good to hear from you. Now you know my secret!

    Thanks for the info on the inks. Newspapers are much better environmentally no matter how you slice it.

    Glad you like the post-little more entertaining. It is the one which goes in the paper tomorrow so I wanted it to be fun. Next week's Wednesday post will be a little black, if I can put it that way. btw, you forgot we talked about the honeysuckly. you are used to it being a bush-we have too-but mostly an invasive vine in the form of Japanese honeysuckle. Dave's is pretty though and looks to be a named variety.

    It is hard when we learn the hard way! I hope I help prevent someone else from learning the hard way.

    I do use landscape fabric under hardscaping. Sounds funny doesn't it-landscape/hardscape? Under rock would be an ideal place for it since you don't dig in it.

    You don't have weeds in the pile because the soil is healthy and has not been disturbed over the years. Don't till it up! Just plant and mulch. I couldn't find any weeds in your landscape at all.

    Your mom in law sounds like a smart gardener.

    Talk to you all later. I hate it I miss Dawn with peaches and where is Ginger?

  8. Why do you hate it that you miss me!?!!I went food shopping today, I stock up this time of year (all day trip), then took my 3 little girls to dance class, just got home.

  9. Because you come on later than I am and then I am out at school. Oh well. Just got home. Late night. What three little girls? Did you adopt two more?

  10. I'm here and have read everything!
    That's a lot of good info, Tina.
    I do have newspapers somewhere in my growing compost hill. At the time I threw them on I was trying to even out the shape of the hill, so that the gourds growing on top wouldn't sink. ;o)
    I've been busy, caring for a couple of adorable Foster cats who I helped get adopted this evening. It was another happy placement with only a few goodbye tears.
    It is soooo cold I haven't spent as much time in the yard lately. However, Doris and I did manage to dig a nice hole last weekend, for a future planting. We have also been breaking down a huge pile of tree branches for disposal....just a little each week for the garbage man. And, I have been very good to my one and only house plant, Suzi. She got a good cleaning today and an afternoon in the kitchen window when the sun was shining. While drying off each little leaf I had a talk with her about not using the trellis provided and her insisting on climbing the painting above her shelf. But will she listen?

  11. No Ginger, Suzi will not listen! It is that way with plants even well taken care of one and only houseplants!

    We have decided on our get together and wanted to be sure you knew when and where. Please email me so I can email you with what we have worked out. So far, you, me, Nina, and anonymous (maybe my friend geri). We can talk plants and I have an excellent houseplant I think you would like too. my email is

    i am up late working on job applications. good news since i am a veteran the state actually gives preference points. doesn't seem as though cpo does though. but that is not for on here. talk to you soonest!

  12. It is cold! Stay in the house tomorrow! Good day to get stuff ready for seedlings and just what are you Doris planning on planting in that hole you dug?

    Congrats on fostering and getting the kitties adopted out. My friend Geri also fosters animals. She finds it rewarding but is happy when the dogs get great homes. One came back to her and she decided to adopt him-Cricket. There was an article in the paper about his owner, who was unable to care for him and back he came to Geri and her daughter. Good luck he has a good home. Good night! Gotta get in the very warm waterbed!

  13. Well, then I will try to blog earlier, I have invoicing and w-2 to do today ;( so here I am. I take Nikki and two of her friends to dance class 2 x's a week, every week. With hairdo meltdowns and pantyhose spazing, I feel like I've adopted them. They know me well.

  14. You don't need to, really. Come on when you can. Hairdo meltdowns and patyhose spazing, love it.

  15. Newspapers are also good to use on the ground under your bush green beans. It keeps the leaves and beans from getting muddy and rotting.

  16. Excellent idea anonymous! I will be planting some bush beans this year (for the first time in a long, long time) and will put some newspapers under them. Thanks! Glad you are joining in!