How to Use Paper Mulch

Stack of newspapers
  • 1-3 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-20
What You'll Need
Old newspapers
Brown paper bags
What You'll Need
Old newspapers
Brown paper bags

Paper mulch is an excellent organic alternative to help protect your plants from weeds and keep the soil temperature up. Paper mulches can be made from reclaimed material or purchased at most garden centers and nurseries for a minimal price. In this article, we will discuss how to use paper mulches and point out some of their key advantages and disadvantages. The process should be completed immediately after the final frosts of late winter or early spring.

Step 1 - Understand Newspaper Mulch

Old newspapers provide one of the most effective and least expensive sources for inorganic mulch. Newspapers are very effective in prohibiting weeds from germinating. The paper helps to block out the sun and water which severely hinders their growth. It may not get rid of them completely, but it will make future weeding a much faster process.

Newspaper mulches are the most effective in vegetable gardens and are highly sterile. The main disadvantage of newspaper mulch is that it is fairly lightweight and will often blow away in windy weather. It is also only typically good for one season. To use, simply tear or shred the papers and place at the base of the plants. Try using small stones to weigh shredded paper down.

Step 2 - Understand Paper Bag Mulches

gloved hand holding a brown paper bag

Another item that can be used as paper mulch is brown grocery bags. These make an excellent choice for several reasons: grocery bags are inexpensive and readily available, and they are organic, which means they will break down easily and help add nutrients to the soil. It shouldn’t take too long to build a collection of brown paper bags from your local grocery store or by asking friends for their old ones.

Step 3 - Prepare for Bag Use

Start turning the soil with a spade. Be careful to work around any existing plants. Use a hand fork to work around root structures and delicate stems to avoid damaging them.

Step 4 - Lay Bags

Once the soil is turned, simply lay the bags down over the entire area. The bags can be split open to cover a wide area or laid in their usual form to provide a double layer. If there are already existing plants growing in the area, cut holes in the bags and place them over the plants so they can continue to grow unhindered. Any visible soil around the stems of the plants can be covered in newspaper mulch.

Step 5 - Cover Bags

Landscaped yard with mulch around trees

Cover the bags with a layer of some kind of organic material. Try to use a covering like decorative bark or garden compost. The layer should be at least two inches thick over the top of the bags.

Step 6 - End of Season

In the fall, after the season has ended, till everything back into the soil. This should include the organic matter and the brown bags. This will add further nutrients to the soil and improve the quality of a particular area for the following year.

If the process is repeated on an annual basis the soil quality should improve significantly each year. Sawdust and shredded packing paper are also excellent sources for mulch.