Junk mail and newspapers are two of my best crops, sprouting up everywhere inside the house, covering surfaces like kudzu. Solution: shredded paper as garden mulch. Before you hyperventilate and say, “NO! NO! NO! It robs the soil of nitrogen, adds toxins, and is ugly as hell, hear me out. My research suggests otherwise, well at least on the first two counts.
I’m an ardent believer in mulching the garden. In my cutting garden, I use grass clippings as a garden mulch around my zinnias, sunflowers and dahlias. What is mulching? It’s simply the practice of adding a loose organic material to the top layer of garden soil. Nestled around each plant but not touching stems or trunks, mulch protects the plant from competing weeds and dry soil conditions. Material options range from wood chips, to pine bark, to grass clippings and straw, and in the case before you, shredded paper.
Good Reasons to Add Mulch to Your Garden
- Reduces weed seed germination and growth
- Conserves water by slowing surface evaporation.
- Adds nutrients to the soil through slow decomposition.
- Regulates soil temperature as an insulation layer.
- Saves gardeners from constantly having to pull weeds.
- Recycles garden waste and paper products.
- Softens to become edible worm bedding
- Birds love it for foraging for insects.
See what happens when you don’t weed or hoe your garden; the weed seeds see an opportunity.
One day I was planning a trip to the recycling station on the island to drop off three bags of shredded paper. Before I left, I did a little research and discovered the pulpy stuff can make a great garden mulch. There was one caveat in most articles: don’t shred and use highly-colored ads, or glossy promo materials. While most inks are soy-based and safe for gardening use, hyper-colored printed materials may be still using metallic inks for the bold effect. So for that reason, I don’t add colored ad inserts or glossy magazines.
First, pull weeds from the area, and then place the mulch around the plants. A light watering afterward will keep the paper from blowing around and also act to keep it together as a matted layer of mulch. As far as shredded paper robbing nitrogen from the soil, as a top layer this doesn’t really happen. Just like leaves on the forest floor, decomposition is slow and beneficial. As far as adding toxins to the soil, research tends to support not using glossy and highly-colored paper materials. So recycle those catalogs and glossy magazines.
While I have to admit, shredded is paper is not garden-tour pretty, you can also add a top dressing of grass clippings or bark mulch to make it more presentable.
Summer is here, and I’m always trying to find ways to lessen the daily workload of gardening and farming activities. Mulching is one way I save time from pulling weeds and watering. And besides, I can’t convince any neighborhood kids that it’s a fun pastime, no matter what the hourly rate of pay.
Using Shredded Paper as Garden Mulch
Related Links and Research About Mulches
- Cornell University:
- Oregon State University
- West Virginia University
- Organic Gardening Magazine