Does Putting Newspaper Under Your Mulch Really Help Deter Weeds?

The battle against weeds is one of the most time-consuming and difficult trials of any gardener. To avoid using chemical herbicides, many gardeners have been turning to more DIY weed-killing hacks (like Martha Stewart's 3-ingredient recipe or the viral Coca-Cola weed-killing trick). However, oftentimes the best weeding method is the old-fashioned, time-tested practice of pulling and mulching. While pulling weeds and mulching garden beds involves some backbreaking hard work, the good news is that you can easily make your mulch more effective at preventing weed growth — and all you need is some newspaper.

In fact, laying down several pieces of newspaper on top of wet soil and then covering it with mulch is a great way to make sure your garden stays weed-free. This works because the layer of newspaper will prevent any weed sprouts from growing while still protecting the soil and keeping it moist and insulated for the plants you want to cultivate. The mulch on top of the newspaper adds another layer of insulation while also holding the paper down and preventing it from blowing away.

Tips for preventing weeds with newspaper

The best thing about this trick is that newspapers are biodegradable and most use soy-based inks (for the black and white pages) that are safe for the garden. However, just in case, it's a good idea to avoid using any color pages or ads with shiny ink in your garden as these inks are not always soy-based and can include heavy metals.

Although whole sheets of newspaper are best at blocking out weeds, you can also use shredded newspaper. If you are going with whole sheets, you should put down a layer of newspaper that's around two to four sheets thick in any part of the garden where you don't want anything to grow (like between rows of vegetables). Then, liberally water the area covered in newspaper to make sure the sheets stick together and don't blow away in the wind.

Lastly, cover the newspaper with the mulch of your choice. You can use traditional dyed mulches — which despite myths are non-toxic and safe for vegetable gardens – or you can simply cover the newspaper in a layer of more soil, straw, grass clippings, or shredded leaves.

When you should avoid adding newspaper to the garden

Although newspapers are a great method of deterring weeds and can be useful in many gardens, that doesn't make it right for every garden. A layer of newspaper is a great idea if your soil is already relatively healthy, irrigated, and well-draining. However, if you live in a drought-stricken area, then a layer of newspaper may do more harm than good. This is because newspaper mulch needs to stay damp to work. If the newspaper dries out completely, it will become water-resistant and will no longer allow water to penetrate and reach the soil beneath. This will exacerbate drought conditions in your garden.

Another reason you may not want to use newspaper in the garden is if your soil is lacking in nutrients. This is because while newspaper adds some nutrients when decomposing, other mulches are often more nutrient-dense and will better benefit your plants. Furthermore, you shouldn't use newspaper in your yard if you have a rodent or pest problem as small animals tend to love burrowing under newspaper and could be drawn to your garden because of it.