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Archive for Sunday, April 24, 2011

Garden Calendar: Another option for newspaper recycling

Deb Yager uses old newspapers along with cotton burr mulch to help keep the weed growth down. Recycling newspaper as a mulch is a great way to kill off grass in new garden areas and suppress weeds.

Deb Yager uses old newspapers along with cotton burr mulch to help keep the weed growth down. Recycling newspaper as a mulch is a great way to kill off grass in new garden areas and suppress weeds.

April 24, 2011

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Deb Yager uses old newspapers along with cotton burr mulch to help keep the weed growth down. Recycling newspaper as a mulch is a great way to kill off grass in new garden areas and suppress weeds.

Deb Yager uses old newspapers along with cotton burr mulch to help keep the weed growth down. Recycling newspaper as a mulch is a great way to kill off grass in new garden areas and suppress weeds.

Using newspapers in the garden may be common for experienced gardeners, but it appears to be a little-known secret to those just picking up gardening as a hobby. Old newspapers can suppress weeds and provide many of the same benefits as mulch.

Lawrence resident Deb Yager is one resident who praises the use of recycling newspapers into the garden. Yager and her husband employed old papers to create an entirely new landscape bed four years ago. The area was lawn, and the Yagers simply covered the grass with wet newspaper and compost one autumn. The following spring, they were ready to plant flowers and shrubs.

Besides killing off the grass for new garden areas, Yager uses newspapers on an annual basis for weed suppression.

“I just did that yesterday before I put down my cotton burr mulch,” Yager admits. “It is not a forever resolution for weeds, but it’s so inexpensive and easy to do that it just makes sense.”

Yager notes that decaying newspapers are also easy to dig through if you decide you want to plant something new.

Commercially available weed barriers, on the other hand, can be quite problematic when making changes to the garden. Cloth and synthetic weed barriers can also inhibit air and water movement within the soil. They are only recommended for use with patios and walkways.

When using newspapers in the garden, Yager recommends wetting them down first. “I used to unfold the newspaper and lay it open. Now I’ve learned just to keep the newspaper folded and use the extra thickness as a longer term barrier.”

Calm days are also better than windy ones for newspaper application.

Although Yager is not a vegetable gardener, newspaper can also have good use in a food garden. Many gardeners lay newspaper down between the rows or shred it for use as mulch. I always recommend covering newspaper with straw, compost, wood chips, or some other kind of organic mulch to keep it from blowing away and help with the decomposition process.

Yager also mentions that she does not use the glossy color inserts because she is unsure about the safety. This is a question I often hear, and Yager’s preference to recycle these pages in a recycle bin is a good idea. The inks used for the glossy inserts may be different than those used on the regular newspaper pages. Coated papers also take much longer to break down than the regular pages.

Rest assured on the safety of regular newsprint, though. The Lawrence Journal-World uses only soy-based inks.  

Another bit of good news is that at least one research study has proven newspapers to be effective in suppressing weeds. Penn State University compared shredded newspaper, sheets of newspaper, and straw in organic vegetable production in 2005 and 2006. Shredded newspaper proved most effective of the three. In the end, sheets were recommended over shredded paper for cost-effectiveness and time.

Also on the research side, I came across one study about inks that was especially helpful. Ohio State University’s “The Safety of Newsprint Bedding” clearly explains toxicity concerns. The study’s purpose was to determine safety for animal bedding but information in the study is still applicable to garden safety.

According to the Ohio State fact sheet, primary risks of toxicity from inks are through dermal contact, inhalation, or ingestion. Dermal contact and inhalation are taken out of the mix once the inks are dry. Ohio State researchers then note that “Ingestion of inks used on newsprint has not been an issue because the ingredients used in the inks are not considered toxic in either the liquid or dry state.”

Again, use of glossy color inserts is not recommended.

I hope you will now do one of two things: cut this exciting bit of news out of the paper and save it for future reference, or recycle it. And, it seems only fitting to recycle it into the garden.

—Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058.

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