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
Boz–this post is NOT boring.
But you are one fine looking dog!
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. 😉
Bozzy, you are such a fine poser. Thanks for the chuckle Tom.
Jacqui, Boz is always ready for his closeup. 😉
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.
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. 🙂
Tums, eh? Who knew — thanks for the tip!
What is a tum?
Karl, a Tum or Tums is the brand name for an antacid tablet.
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.
You bet Bart, if the paper product seems questionable I don’t use it. Hope your north end garden is blooming up a storm!
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:-)
Hahahaha! A great new idea to use in my garden too! Yeahhhh!
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!
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!
So glad it’s working for you Amy. Thanks for taking time to say so.
How about when it rains hard? What Will I do? Is it really a cheaper version ? When it rains hard?What will happen?
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.
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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.
Thanks Alex, appreciate the feedback and kind words my friend.
If the shredded paper gets wet will it keep water from going down to the plants?
It wasn’t too much of a problem, the paper would absorb the water after a little drizzle wets the surface and softens it. Try out a test area and see how it works for you. It may depend on region and weather.
What a great way to use up my extra brown bags! I am going to try it as mulch on porch container garden.
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
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.