NEWSPAPER MULCH from THE GARDEN SPOT
by Mort Mather
Ann Reed reminds me of the girls in
school who somehow invited the boys to put a frog in their desk or something squiggly down
their back. Perhaps they were the best screamers. But it was a little more than that. They
seemed to enjoy the opportunity to scream. Ann is a good screamer. She is screaming right
now as she sees her name in print.
Every time she sends husband Jim to ask me a garden
question she tells him to tell me not to mention her name in the paper. "Please, Br'
Fox, whatever you do don't throw me into the brier patch."
Well, Ann, this time Jim double
crossed you. He told me you loved to see your name in print and that if I made it the
first words in the column, he would pay me a lot of money. I, of course, declined the
money and told him to give it to my favorite environmental cause. As you see, I did as
Gosh, that was fun. I'm sitting here
with a big grin on my face because now I've got both Ann and Jim screaming. I wish
I could let it sit for a week but I'd better confess that the previous paragraph was a
figment of my warped sense of humor.
The question was a good one. Can
newspapers be used as mulch? Jim probably told Ann that I said "no" because he
didn't want to do it. That's not what I said, Ann. I said, "yes."
Mulch can serve several purposes in
the garden: weed control, moisture retention, temperature modification, soil texture
improvement and plant nutrient. My favorite mulch is grass clippings because they do all
of the things listed plus they are easy to spread, easy to turn into the soil if desired
later and they look good. Hay, leaves, straw, plastic, newspapers, pine needles and bark
are also all reasonable mulch materials. I listed them pretty much in my order of
preference for a vegetable garden.
Hay is coarser than grass clippings
but it works well in walkways and large patches like squash and cucumbers. Leaves are more
acidic and may make the soil more acid. I haven't every seen any real signs of this when I
use leaves. I generally use leaves on potatoes which like an acid soil. I should probably
figure mulch the crop before potatoes in my rotation to get any benefit of lowered pH.
Straw is a byproduct of grain harvest
and not easily available in our area. I sometimes use black plastic mulch for heat loving
crops like eggplant, peppers, melons and tomatoes. It adds no nutrients to the soil and is
a petroleum product which are two reason not to use it. I make an environmental exception
when I use plastic.
Newspapers are more environmentally
sound than plastic. It is a fine way to recycle them. They have very little nutrient value
to add to the soil and some people are concerned with the ink. It would be wonderful if
all newspapers were printed on recycled paper and if the ink were soy ink. Newspapers are
acceptable in the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assn. (MOFGA) organic certification
I can't remember if I ever used
newspapers as mulch. I think I spread some between rows, probably four or more sheets
thick, and then spread enough grass clippings over them to keep them from blowing around
and to make the garden look better. At least that is what I recommended to Jim if he
wanted to use them. The primary reason for using them, it seems to me, is to insure a
mulch thick enough to keep the weeds from growing while using a limited supply of another
Pine needles and bark are pretty hard
for soil microorganisms to break down and they are acidic. Don't use them unless you have
a good supply of nitrogen, probably manure, to counteract the strain they put on the
ŠJune 14, 1998
Mort is a husband and father. He
authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the
Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. You can eat his
organic produce at his son's southern
His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME
Mort retains all rights to his
columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.