Recycle Newspapers in the Garden

Newspaper MulchAlthough fewer newspapers are printed every day due to the Internet age, they still manage to accumulate in corners and basements while attracting spiders and creating a fire hazard. If you can’t bring yourself to toss them away because you are a packrat or want to save landfill space, try recycling them in the garden.

There was a time when newspaper ink was a chemical mix you would avoid putting in your garden, but today’s soy-based inks make newspapers as biodegradable as a pile of autumn leaves. The slick color ads are not recommended for the garden.

If you need to make the garden look great in a hurry, choose a day when the wind is low so the newspapers stay put. Press down those high out of control weeds by stomping on them or pushing them down with a rake. Working one section at a time, place up to ten layers of newspaper over the weeds, soaking the newspaper with water to hold it in place. Overlap the newspapers at least 6 inches to prevent the worst weeds from growing through the seams. Cover the newspapers with a 2-inch layer of mulch, hay or straw and the garden looks like you’ve been caring for it all summer. Leave a gap of a few inches around existing plants so you can easily water them. The newspaper will eventually break down, but the weeds and many of the seeds will rot away before then.

For a spring garden, follow the same procedure but begin in the winter or fall. Before laying down the newspaper, add necessary soil amendments, compost and organic fertilizer. Cover the amended soil with newspaper and mulch. All winter the microbes in the soil and the earthworms will be working to enrich the soil under the warm protective newspaper and mulch layer. In the spring, simply push a hole through the newspaper and mulch to plant each seed or transplants. Some gardeners continue to pile more amendments, newspapers and mulch over the soil every year creating excellent soil and they never have weeds. This technique is often called “lasagna gardening” because the layers of organic material resemble lasagna after a few years.

Newspapers work great for making attractive paths between garden rows. You can really pile them on and they will control weeds in pathways for years once they are covered with a coarsely ground mulch such as cedar or a thick layer of hay or straw. The healthy soil created under the paths benefits the entire garden.

You can make environmentally friendly flower pots from old newspapers. You will need an old bottle, some newspaper, cellophane tape and potting soil. Take a sheet of newspaper and fold it lengthwise several times. Use the bottom half of a bottle as a guide and wrap the newspaper around the bottle. Leave several inches of newspaper extending from the bottom of the bottle to fold inward and form the bottom of the pot. Use a few pieces of cellophane tape to secure the newspaper around the sides and the bottom of the bottle. Pull out the bottle and fill the newspaper flower pot with potting soil so it holds its shape. If you leave an inch or so between the top of your newspaper pot and the soil, the extra inch acts as a cutworm deterrent around tender seedlings once the pot is placed in the garden. Use the pots for starting seeds in the spring or for holding transplants. Plant the entire pot in the garden.  After a few weeks the newspaper will deteriorate.

If you still have newspapers to spare, remember newspapers make great mulch for the mulch pile. Tear the newspapers into strips and tuck them under the existing compost so they don’t blow away. Keep them damp and the same microbes that convert all organic matter to compost enjoy eating old newspapers as well.


Jim Gober is a gardening writer, farmer, florist and landscaper from Central Texas. His gardening articles appear across the Internet and in numerous periodicals. He is a Certified Texas Nursery and Landscape Professional and Master Gardener. His website is

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.