Newspaper Mulch: How to Mulch With Newspapers in the Garden

We all know that mulching is good for our plants – it helps prevent weeds and insulates the plants during colder months.

However, mulch can be quite expensive, especially if you do 3″ deep layers of mulch around your plants as recommended.

Enter newspaper: very inexpensive, completely biodegradable, easy to find, and it works great to use when you mulch in your garden!

I started researching more about how to mulch with newspapers last year as I started to search for mulch alternatives in the garden. While mulch can be beautiful, it has a tendency to really drive up your gardening costs. Plus, it typically needs re-applied each and every year, and this can be quite a lot of extra labor and work if you have a large yard.

Mulching with newspaper is easy, inexpensive, and while you may still wish to cover the newspaper with regular wood chip type of mulch for aesthetics and curb appeal, you can find that it really cuts down the costs!

Newspaper mulch also works really well for vegetable gardening. The newspaper can help the soil maintain its moisture, which if you are in an area that is prone to droughts in the summer months can be quite valuable! Saving money on mulch and saving on watering? That is definitely a win-win! I will definitely be doing this when we plant our peppers in our small vegetable garden next week!

Today I thought I would share how to mulch with newspaper, especially since I just did it in my own front path garden.

How to Mulch With Newspaper

how to mulch with newspaper

To get started with mulching with newspaper, all you need is newspaper!

We are fortunate enough to have a free local newspaper delivered to our house each week, which gives me a pretty steady supply. Of course, you can also find newspaper from a number of other sources.

If you have a friend or family member who gets a daily paper delivered, you can ask them to save you a few piles of newspaper for your garden. You can also stop at local grocery stores and pick up a few free ones in the different display cases at the entryway.

Any type of newsprint type of paper will work just fine – so catalogs that have newspaper type of paper or even an old phone book can be used.

You may also wish to recycle other types of paper you may have around at home. If you have a paper shredder, you can shred old receipts, school papers, work papers and other documents to be used as a mulch in the garden.

Is Newspaper Safe for the Garden?

There has been a lot of controversy about whether or not newspaper is safe to use in the garden as mulch. The biggest concern of course is whether or not the inks have any toxins in them.

Fortunately, a lot of advancements have been made in the printing industry, and today most newspapers use eco-friendly soy-based inks. These inks have been in use since the late 1970’s, so unless you are using a really old newspaper or book that was printed before the 1970’s, you have likely very little cause for concern.

If you are unsure, you can always reach out to your local paper or do a search online to see what their sustainability practices might be to ensure environmentally friendly printing. Most are happy to share this information, or may even have a blog post or press release about what types of inks and paper they use to print their publication.

Two Ways to Use Newspaper as Mulch in the Garden

There are two main ways to use newspaper as mulch in your garden. You can shred the newspaper, or you can simply lie it flat on the ground and then cover with another type of mulch.

Shredded Newspaper as Mulch

shredded newspaper mulch

The first method, is to shred the newspaper. This can be done very easily with an inexpensive home paper shredder. There are a number of models available under $40, and it will more than pay for itself when you consider how much you can save on mulch after a year or two of using this method!

With this method, you simply fill up a bag of shredded newspaper, and apply just as you would any other type of mulch. You will want to make sure you have a layer that is at least 3″ deep.

Once the newspaper is applied generously, your next step is to wet it down with water. This can be done with a watering can or garden hose that is on a light spray setting.

Note, since shredded newspaper is very lightweight, you will want to choose a day that is not very windy to spread it. If you live in an area that is susceptible to very high winds, you may not want to use the shredded method, as it can potentially blow away easily, even after you have packed it into the ground.

Alternatively, you can cover your newspaper mulch with a thin layer of regular mulch. If you are concerned about wind or do not like the look of the newspaper, using a thin layer of your favorite type of mulch can be very helpful.

The benefit of this of course is that you will need way less mulch! Instead of needing to apply it 3″ deep, you will be able to apply only a 1″ layer, effectively giving you 6 sq feet of coverage from a typical bag instead of 2.

Lay Flat Method

This is the method I chose to go with in the bed of day-lilies and spring bulbs along the front path of our house. I spent a few hours weeding to remove all of the weeds, and then opened up the newspaper and started covering the ground around the plants. It’s important that you cover as much as possible with the newspaper.

I put down about 2-3 layers of newspaper around the plants. I have a few tulip, crocus, and daffodil bulbs planted here that will come back up next spring. I imagine by that time of the year the newspaper will have long decomposed, but my plan is to double check in the fall and next spring to ensure the bulbs will be able to come up.

Once this was done, I simply watered the newspaper down to help it stay in place, using my handy dandy DIY watering can that is repurposed from an old Gatorade jug.

Once this was done, my next step was to cover this with a thin layer of regular mulch. This year I opted for black mulch, I haven’t quite decided on the “best color” that matches the brick on our house, but I think it certainly looks nice and will likely look a lot nicer once I catch up to mulching the rest of the house!

Normally this area that I mulched will take at least 4 bags on its own – I only needed 2 in order to cover all the newspaper, and much of this is a part you can’t see in the photos because it is where we keep the garden hose outside. I really think it looks great!

newspaper mulch covering

So, the advantage here? I only spent $6 on mulch, instead of the usual $12. This makes me want to do this for most of our garden beds, because it certainly is going to save us a lot of money this year.

And, most importantly, it is going to save us on a lot of weeding!

I personally liked the newspaper by itself look and considered covering it with a few strategically placed anchor bricks, but my husband started teasing me about how it looks and so I went off to the garden center to pick up a few bags of mulch.

Newspaper Mulch is Easy and Cost Effective!

I am very excited by using this method in my garden from now on, and I will certainly be posting some updates on how well it works at keeping the weeds out, as that is my main goal!

Have you mulched using newspaper? Have any tips or experiences to share? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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