Q. I read recently that I can use newspaper in a garden for weed control. Can I use all of the paper, because the article says not to use colored paper?
A. Newspaper – or paper in general – can be used in the garden in many ways.
When constructing a raised bed garden, I like to use newspaper at the bottom of the raised bed frame to smother the grass without using herbicides. Just lay several layers in opposite directions at the bottom of a raised bed. Moisten the paper so it doesn't blow away. I then place hardware cloth over the paper to keep small critters out of the garden.
I also use newspaper to build soil in a lasagna gardening system. I shred the paper in strips, and then build a layer, along with 6-to-8-inch-deep layers of peat moss, compost, grass clippings, clean straw and rotted manure to build a great raised bed soil. Paper from the office or home shredder is great to use in this manner and also can be added to the compost bin.
I do not use shiny colored paper in gardens, because the shiny colors can contain some trace amounts of heavy metals. Regular colored paper is fine.
Layered newspaper can be a great weed control barrier in landscape or garden beds and pathways. After laying down the paper in bare areas, use 3-inch deep layers of compost, mulch or wet leaves to hold down the paper and provide additional control. Paper layers (along with mulch), may also be used around trees to provide weed control. The paper breaks down over time, and adds organic matter into the soil around the plant. It is important not to pile paper and mulch around the base of plants, as this can result in poor growth and development of the plant.
Weed barrier fabrics may also be used, but they are more expensive. In addition, I have seen weed barriers hold too much moisture around trees and shrubs because they just don't allow as much air into the root zone in wet years. Try not to use garbage bags as a mulch. They do not allow air into the root zone and can, again, trap too much moisture around the plant in wet years.
Paper can be used to make planting pots by either using a tool (Burpee Seed Co.) to fold the paper, or by making papier-mache plant pots.
Shredded paper makes a great bedding base for your worm compost bin.
Some gardeners grow vegetables such as leeks, asparagus and peas using a trench system. Using shredded paper at the bottom of the trenches helps provide moisture and nutrients to the plants (www.naturalbuildingblog.com/beanvetiver-borders-with-compostearthworm-trenches/).
To stop the birds eating newly sown seeds, some gardeners cover them with a small amount of paper from their shredder.
Use paper to enhance the growth of plants and to be more sustainable in your garden and landscape.
The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other week. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County Purdue Extension Service. To send him a question, email email@example.com.