Don’t throw away your newspaper after reading. Garden with it!

Newsprint can be used to sheet mulch your garden space

words and photos by Dave Daly

I’m sure you archive every issue of The Devil Strip so you can return to those treasured articles of yester to revisit experiences and events that are all cancelled this year. But on the off chance you don’t save every copy, I’m going to suggest that you don’t just throw it away or recycle it. Give this blessed periodical a new purpose in your garden!

Wait, what? Garden? Yes, dear reader, garden! Newsprint is perfect for sheet mulching. 

What is sheet mulching? As you prepare your garden bed by weeding, aerating and amending the soil, you can add a layer of newspaper under two to three inches of topsoil. This will prevent new weeds from germinating and growing, at least for a few weeks. During this time, you can direct seed and transplant vegetables, flowers and fruits into your plot without worrying about competition from fast-growing weedy species.

At left: Lay the paper down in the garden

Don’t get me wrong, I love weeds! Many of the plants we consider ‘bad’ are incredible in their own right. They are adapted to grow in harsh settings, can produce astonishing amounts of seeds and will frustrate even the most vigilant gardeners. Some are even edible. Chickweed, a common springtime weed, is delicious in smoothies. Tender young dandelion leaves are great in salads. Poke weed is toxic, but birds get inebriated from the berries and it turns their poop purple!

At right:  Make sure the paper is wet so it doesn’t blow away! I learned the hard way

Anyway, back to sheet mulching. When you lay the newspaper down, have a hose or watering can ready to use. You want to wet the paper so that it doesn’t blow away. (I’ve spent one too many spring afternoons chasing after newspapers.) Depending on the amount of paper you have, you can go single or double ply. I don’t see any reason to go thicker, but hey, you do you.

Once you have the garden bed covered, add two to three inches of topsoil. Completely cover the newspaper. If you leave any edges exposed, moisture will wick off of them and dry the space out. Young plants are susceptible to dry conditions, and the last thing you want to do is kill them at the beginning of the season.  

At left: Add two to three inches of topsoil once the paper is down

When you plant seeds into the bed, use your hand or a trowel to make hole or row opening.. You will most likely tear the newspaper. That’s OK! Remember, we are creating a barrier for weeds, not the roots of our vegetables and flowers. If you are transplanting crops, you will definitely tear some newspaper. Follow the directions on any seed packets or tags that come with the seeds and  seedlings. 

Don’t have enough room to grow food and flowers? Join a community garden! Feeling antisocial or want to avoid public spaces? At the very least you can compost the magazine! Start a compost pile outside or get a vermicompost bin going under your kitchen table. Your roommates will love it.

Be good to the Earth and treat yourself to some homegrown fruits and vegetables. Invite me over for dinner when the pandemic is over.

Stay gold and go garden!

Dave Daly has been burying and composting The Devil Strip in his garden since 2015. His favorite vegetables are hot peppers and arugula.

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