Editors note: I've asked every newspaper I ever used as mulch what they used as ink and they all said soy based.  The only problem I could see was the chemicals they use processing the paper, and they use a lot less of that now-a-days.

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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 instructed.

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 standards.

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 mulch.

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 microorganisms.

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 Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate. 

mort@supak.com

 

Return to Mort's Home Page.

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