Newspaper is an excellent mulch no matter what kind of plants you are growing. The best part about mulching with newspaper is that the entire process of turning the newspaper into mulch is relatively quick, although there are a couple of things which you have to keep in mind to do it correctly. Most importantly the type of newspaper you are actually using for mulch will determine the quality of the mulch.
You can mulch with newspaper by selecting the right type of newspaper, generally speaking, avoid newspapers that contain colored ink as these do not decay that well. You can either shred the newspaper or use large pieces of newspaper and make a 2-3 inch layer, place the newspaper mulch around your plants without the mulch actually touching the stem of the plant. Make sure to water the newspaper mulch before and after you have placed it, this way the wind will not blow it away and the decomposition process will start a lot quicker.
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For the most part, newspaper is made out of wood pulp, which contains a lot of valuable nutrients like nitrogen which most plants need in order to grow strong and healthy. The decomposition process for newspaper mulch is relatively slow when you compare it to some organic mulches like grass, hay, and straw. How fast will it decompose depends on several factors, like how thick the layer is and how often you water the mulch.
Most people who use newspaper as mulch use it as a base layer on which they place another layer of a different type of mulch, like grass clippings, hay, or straw. If you want to mix your newspaper mulch with some other type of mulches then go with mulches that decompose faster than the newspaper mulch like hay, grass, or straw. If you want to know how long the newspaper mulch will last then check out my recent article How Long Does Mulch Last ( Months Or Years? ).
Pick The Right Newspaper To Mulch
Not all newspapers are created equally, some of them can be excellent mulch while others will only hinder the growth of your plants. Ideally, you should use newspaper that doesn’t contain any colored ink, as the ink tends to contain a lot of chemicals that do not decompose that well and could potentially harm your plants. In addition to this avoid newspapers that contain glossy images or pages, as these do not decompose well.
If you have a bunch of old newspapers lying around then you can use it as mulch, just be careful with them as a couple of decades ago lead was actually used in the ink of a lot of newspapers. Newspaper is also excellent for mulching potted plants, for more information check out my recent article Mulching Potted Plants ( Top 11 Best Mulches ).
Shredded Newspaper Or Whole Pieces of Newspaper For Mulching
When using newspaper as mulch you have to decide if you are going to use shredded newspaper or if you are going to use large pieces of newspaper. Shredded newspaper tends to decompose a lot faster than large pieces of newspaper, and it is also excellent for aerating the soil. On the other hand, it is really easy to cover a large area with large pieces of newspaper, although this way the decomposition process will be somewhat slower and the newspaper might actually dry out the soil.
Large pieces of newspaper are excellent at retaining water, but if they dry out completely they actually block water from passing through the newspaper, although you need a fairly severe drought for this to happen. If you want to be extra safe then you should definitely use shredded newspaper. If you want to mulch with cardboard then check out my recent article Mulching With Cardboard ( Top 6 Best Practices ).
Place The Newspaper Mulch Around Your Plants
No matter if you are using shredded newspaper or large pieces of it, make sure when you are placing the newspaper to not smother your own plants with it. Place the newspaper around your plants, and leave a couple of inches between the stem of the plants and the newspaper. As newspaper is excellent at retaining water once it gets wet and is in direct contact with the stem of the plant it will stick to it, this could increase the chances of the stem of the plant to rot and other diseases to thrive.
Layering The Newspaper Mulch
If you are using shredded newspaper mulch then you should make a layer of around 2-3 inches, this will be enough to retain water, protect the soil from drying out, and once it decomposes it will start feeding your plants. If you are using large pieces of newspaper then you should take the individual pages and crumple them up, this way the newspaper mulch will also allow air to circulate in the soil which is beneficial for the plants.
On the other hand, if you just want to lay down the newspaper pages without crumbling them then layer 3-5 pages one on top of each other. In addition to this, make some holes in the newspaper this way the newspaper mulch will allow for the water to go right through it and will also help with the aeration of the soil. My personal recommendation is to use shredded newspaper, it is extremely easy to use and the mulch made out of it will be of higher quality.
Watering The Newspaper Mulch
You should definitely water the newspaper mulch once you have placed it around your plants. This will have two effects, the water will increase the weight of the newspaper and the wind will not blow it away, and the excess water will aid the decomposition process. In addition to this, it is a good idea to also sprinkle water on the mulch before you place it around your plants, as it will be a lot easier to work with it this way especially if you have a relatively large garden.
Even though newspaper mulch is excellent at retaining water you should still keep an eye out for it so it doesn’t dry out. My personal recommendation is to use some organic mulch on top of the newspaper mulch like grass clippings as this is even better at retaining water than the newspaper mulch.
Mixing The Newspaper Mulch With Other Mulches
Newspaper is fairly prone to drying out especially if the local environment is fairly hot. To combat this you should place on top of the newspaper mulch some other type of mulch to help with water retention, like grass, hay, leaves, or straw. Newspaper mulch tends to decay relatively slowly when compared to organic mulches, so if you have annual plants then use a combination of newspaper and some organic mulches.
On the other hand, if you are growing trees or plants that have a longer life span then you can use the newspaper mulch with wood chips.
As you can see mulching with newspaper is relatively easy, my personal recommendation is to use shredded newspaper, as this is excellent at aerating the soil and retaining water. Make sure to not let the newspaper dry out in the first couple of days of using it as this will make the newspaper mulch useless.