Home Gardening Gardening Tip: Shredded Paper as Garden Mulch

Gardening Tip: Shredded Paper as Garden Mulch

Gardening Tip: Shredded Paper as Garden Mulch
Junk mail one minute, garden mulch the next
shredded paper garden mulch
Junk mail one minute, garden mulch the next

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.

using grass clippings as a garden mulch
Mulching is a great idea

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.

Look Mom, no weeds!
Look Mom, grass clippings and no weeds!

Good Reasons to Add Mulch to Your Garden

  1. Reduces weed seed germination and growth
  2. Conserves water by slowing surface evaporation.
  3. Adds nutrients to the soil through slow decomposition.
  4. Regulates soil temperature as an insulation layer.
  5. Saves gardeners from constantly having to pull weeds.
  6. Recycles garden waste and paper products.
  7. Softens to become edible worm bedding
  8. Birds love it for foraging for insects.
zinnia plants begging to be weeded
Cheeky little zinnias feeling neglected.

See what happens when you don’t weed or hoe your garden; the weed seeds see an opportunity.

A weeded bed is a happy garden bed (at least most of the time).

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.

Take that clearing house sweeptstakes!
Take that, junk mail and flyers!

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.

tucked in for the summer
Tucked in for the summer

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.

It's a good day to weed (almost convinced).
It’s a good day to pull weeds (almost convinced).

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.

Boz wants to be on record as saying this is one of my most boring topics to date.
Boz wants to be on record as saying this is one of my most boring topics to date.

Using Shredded Paper as Garden Mulch

Related Links and Research About Mulches


    • Sue,
      Boz told me okay, he stands corrected. But that is only because he said your second sentence indicates you truly know what you are talking about. 😉

  1. I nabbed a big bag of shredded paper from our office shredder to use in the chicken coop, but the goofy chickens want to eat the paper (which I’m sure is not on any list of approved food for chickens), so I was at a loss as to what to do with this bag of shredded paper–until now! This afternoon, it’s going in the gardens.

    • I don’t know Mary, maybe you could get your hens to lay paper mache’ eggs! Oh and lightly dampened shredded paper is great for worm bins.

    • Caveat about shredded office paper: it may contain staples. In the garden, no big deal. But I think it might not be good for the chickens.

      My mom has been saving her shredded paper for me and I’ve been using it beneath the “pretty” mulch. Seems not to be killing any plants so far, and anything that might in any way break up the clay soil I have here is welcome.

  2. I think this is a great idea! When I moved to VA 11 years ago, I used newspaper under my shredded wood mulch to help improve the soil and reduce the weeds. I also use it in my worm bins. Red Wigglers love reading the Washington ComPost. Here’s a garden tip for you: if you plant tomatoes in containers, stick a few Tums in the planting hole to add extra calcium and help prevent blossom end rot. 🙂

  3. Boz may be bored silly by mulch, but I’m embracing all things garden geek and never tire of tips. We’ve been wondering just how much junk is in the colored newspaper and how much is soy-based. Thanks for doing the research and making it fun to read.

  4. Dear Tom
    I love how you connect the dots. In permaculture there’s a saying,”Look to make the problem become the solution.” or something like that…(dots:-)

  5. i prefer to use shredded brown paper bags as they have no bleach, ink or dyes in them and they are a lot more attractive in the garden.. they blend in really well with the soil. Get them at some of the stores that still use them or buy them on Ebay for like $12. for 500 bags, shred them and you are good to go!

    • Great tip Gregg, I agree the white shreddings are pretty unsightly. I’ll give the brown paper a go that I get in floral packing material. Thank you!

  6. Thanks, Tom! I’m a nurse and bring my report sheets (2-3 sheets per shift) home and shredding them, per HIPPA laws. I’ve been trying to find something to do with the shreddings once my shredder bin is full and they don’t seem to be friendly ways to fill my duck house or my horse stalls (once wet, they turn into goo). This is a great solution for me and my garden! Thanks again!

    • Hi Regine, when it rains, the paper shreds interlock and create a bit of a locking texture and mat, smothering weed seeds, and eventually the paper disintegrates by next season’s planting.

  7. You two are a hoot! ^.^ I cannot wait to use these useless shreddings I have sitting around in a useful way! (Plus, I reaaallllly didn’t want to go to the store to buy big bags of mulch!) Thanks for the article Tom and Buddy! You guys are very helpful.

  8. I use 2 large handfuls of shreaded junk mail (white paper only) from the shredder in my kitchen compost pail, it at a minimum soaks up the extra compost juices inside of the compostable compost bin bag and helps keep it from smelling to terribly horrible

  9. Would this work if the paper bags aren’t shredded? I mistakenly put down straw this year and sprouted a ton of grass. Now I’m trying to backtrack with brown bags. 😬

    • Shredded bags work great, maybe even better. I’ve tried it before with brown packing paper (the same thing really) with fine results.


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