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.