Mulching Tip: Recycling Paper Goods

mulch 1 225x300 Mulching Tip: Recycling Paper GoodsI’ll admit to it right off the bat – I have no interest in composting!  Call me lazy or superficial, but I don’t want to be “that girl” in my neighborhood, with the big bin, or leaf corral in her side yard, for composting. For some reason, the idea of sipping my morning coffee while dumping beer into a pile of decomposing garden waste, and stirring the pile to a suitable consistency, seems a little gross.  I’m not sure why I draw a line there, when I’ve been coming home lately covered in pollen and dirt.  Perhaps it’s the illusion of clean respectability that I’m after!  Or, maybe the “composting bug” doesn’t really bite until after you pass your 35th birthday?  Either way, I try to sneak the idea behind composting into my yard in a way that leaves my yard neat and tidy for the common observer.

Here’s what I do to both recycle and cut back on my weeding: After I moved in to my current house, I was eager to expand the garden area, but I wasn’t so excited about the weeds that inevitably make newly “turned” soil into their home.  I took one look at all the newspaper that I had used to wrap my valuables, and the folded boxes that all my belongings had been moved in, and got an idea.  I had heard that newspaper was a great liner under mulch to choke and smother weeds out (while improving the soil), and knew that the same principle would apply to my moving boxes too.  Since most current ink is soy based, it’s safe to add these common items to your yard.  A layer of about 6-8 pages of completely biodegradable newsprint (or one layer of corrugated cardboard box) can go under 2-3 inches of mulch to create a great barrier for several months of weed free gardening!  It was a great way to get rid of all those moving boxes and supplies, and it’s worked beautifully in my yard!  


  • I recommend cross-hatching paper, or boxes and immediately covering what you have laid with mulch, so an errant breeze doesn’t relocate your project to your neighbor’s yard.
  • Boxes often do well when wet with a hose before you lay the mulch, to assist in softening the edges. I don’t recommend using boxes in any area you may want to add bulbs to at a later date, as boxes biodegrade at a slower rate than the newsprint, and will hinder your efforts.
  • I often keep an extra bag of mulch on hand to cover over any edges that pop up through the mulch in the first few weeks. 
  • Colored advertisements are not recommended under mulch, because of possible toxic dye in the ink, so use those at your own risk.

Your thoughts: Do you have any creative ways to prevent weeds from popping up or perhaps just some creative ways to recycle things?  Let me know, I’m always looking for new ideas to try at home!

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  1. Bird says:

    I don’t know if this would go against your neat’n'tidy garden design, but I do the old trick of using cut down plastic bottles as mini-cloches for tender seedlings like sunflowers, which are like slug magnets otherwise. It gives the seedlings a chance to grow, and sunflowers in particular need only a couple of days under there before they are big enough to fend for themselves.

    By the way my compost heap is neat, clean, saves me money, and it hides behind a Japanese quince tree so that our neighbours neither know or care about it. Most of the under 35′s with gardens around here do it ;)

  2. admin says:

    Touche’! Ha! I will have to further investigate the benefits of sneaky gardening methods that remain tidy! I confess, my major fear with composting is that anything potentially edible in the mix will attract the gianormous rats that live in Baltimore City, where I reside. I like the plastic bottle idea. I would imagine it could help protect seedlings from the Ground Hog that lives under my porch too – which would be great!

  3. James says:

    I agree with you that composting can be a chore. I had a pile where I threw stuff for years, but it required constant watering because it never rained enough here (San Diego) to keep the processes going. The compost was spectacularly good, but it ended up being too much work to maintain. It looks like you’ve got creative alternative methods going, though.

    To combat the weeds various other mulches have worked for me, as well as planting dense groundcovers like thyme. Not 100% effective against weeds, but 80-95% isn’t bad!

  4. admin says:

    I could see how drier locations would complicate the process. I hadn’t heard about thyme as a ground cover, but that’s a good idea. I was reading recently that places in England are retrying chamomile lawns, which apparently were a big thing in the days of castles and knights. Maybe it’s time to bring back the herbs? I hear that herbal lawns need less mowing, and water. I guess a side benefit would be that no one has insomnia when herbs are surrounding your house – one good rain, and you have all the ingredients of “Sleepy-Time Tea” puddling around your mailbox!

  5. Great idea Amy! Now, my parents used carpet as a barrier, though I don’t know how “green” that is. But it works like a charm – no weeds!

  6. admin says:

    Carpet’s a new one I’ve never heard of! I suppose if you are looking at a carpet barrier in your garden as one way of recycling unwanted scraps it is a “green solution?” I have no idea of any chemicals in carpeting that would harm the soil, so who knows, it might not be a bad idea. I’m guessing the technique involves covering the carpet with mulch after it’s laid, so no one ever knows how you have such a weed free garden.

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