Newspaper Weed Control in Urban Organic Backyard Farming and Small Farms

Newspaper weed control is a great sheet mulching technique to use in urban organic backyard farming and small farms gardens. This is a useful strategy to thwart weeds in any situation. However, the method is particularly good as a no-dig way of converting areas of weeds or lawn into garden beds while growing a potato crop.

Here we describe, step-by-step, just how to do this!


Step 1: Collect Newspaper or other Suitable Materials

Newspaper is a handy sheet mulch. You can also make equally effective use of other throw-away materials including cardboard, old carpet and under-felt.

Large pieces of carpet or underfelt are especially handy for reclaiming large areas of weedy land, where newspaper mulching can become a bit tedious!

Step 2: Wet the Newspaper

Choose a day that is not too windy to do your newspaper sheet mulching.

Then soak your intact newspapers for a few minutes (don’t pull them apart). You will have to wet small piles at a time for good water penetration. A handy container to soak the papers in is a water-tight wheelbarrow, an old baby’s bath, or the laundry sink.

Step 3: Lay the Paper Down

Mow the area first so that the weeds (or lawn) are closely clipped. Leave the slashed plant material where it falls – it will be recycled into your soil. If you are mulching bare ground, first prepare the soil for whatever crop you plan to grow there by making sure it is appropriately fertilized and conditioned.

Potato production with newspaper weed control

The idea of newspaper weed control is to lay the newspaper in an overlapping pattern. Open up a newspaper flat on the ground and then peel off about 10 pages (more is often better to suppress vigorous lawns). Lay it on the area to be mulched, and continue adding more similar wads ensuring that you overlap each sheet on all sides by at least a third.

Step 4: Plant into the Newspaper

If you are sheet mulching bare soil, you can plant seedlings into holes that you make in the newspaper mulch. A great no-dig way to deal with areas of lawn or weeds – if you have time to wait – is to plant it to potatoes. I spread a couple of bags of sheep manure on the area before laying the newspaper, and then just plant a potato here into holes made in the layer of sheets. This way you can get a crop while waiting for the mulch to smother the weeds.

Step 5: Mulch over the Newspaper

If you leave it as it is, the newspaper will eventually dry out and start to blow around. So it makes sense to mulch over the lot with straw.

As newspaper has a high carbon content, a good complementary mulch is pea or lucerne hay. But you could use straw instead if you have a lot of green material under the paper, or have sprinkled a layer of similarly high nitrogen stuff like chicken manure.

As one of the great advantages of this newspaper weed control method, the spuds (potatoes) will be formed on top of the paper, making for easy harvest (no need to dig for them) and keeping them nice and clean. To get a bigger crop, keep heaping straw up around the growing potato plant leaving only the top leaves protruding. Once the potato plant dies and dries out, your spuds are ready to harvest.

If you are instead planting seedlings, you might find it easier to lay the straw mulch first, and make little holes in it through to the soil underneath to plant into. Keep a circle around the seedling clear of straw to deter slaters (wood lice).

Newspaper weed control combined with straw mulch