Arborist InsightsEducationLandscapingMulch

Newspaper as Mulch? Really?

By September 25, 2015 No Comments

Earlier this summer my buddy, who runs a small landscaping company, called me up and asked me to help him install new soil at a strata site. Sure. It sounded easy. Then he surprised me on site by having me put down newspapers first; both main pages and inserts. I consider the newspaper inserts a minor distraction for all male workers because, inevitably, I would get distracted by ladies underwear sales and bra pictures. Now back to science.

I understood the main idea- weed suppression- but I wondered what my hero, Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott (see July 24, 2015 blog) had to say about it. According to Linda (1), newspaper mulching has been used successfully in agriculture but what about strata complexes on the Westwood Plateau? There isn’t much research but we know that:

  1. newspapers can look ugly when exposed
  2. they can become pest havens
  3. they can become hydrophobic when they become dry and water simply runs off instead of percolating through
  4. wood chips are more effective at preventing weed growth
  5. winds can dislodge the newspapers, especially on the Westwood Plateau
  6. if used on wet, poorly drained soils, they can create anaerobic conditions where an impermeable barrier is formed to water and gas exchanges
  7. additional labor is required compared to straight wood chip application

Summary: Newspaper mulches can be effective in gardens where the soil is continuously worked and irrigation is applied. On less maintained sites you might want to use free or cheap wood chips.

(1) The Myth of Paper-based Sheet Mulch, Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Washington State University Extension, www.puyallup.wsu.du

More information:


Good quality, weed-free soil is a must, same for good Contractor wheelbarrows


Before picture with newspaper showing


After picture

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