The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Cheap Weed Control with Newspapers

By Vicki McClure Davidson


Here in Arizona, Bermuda grass infiltrates even the best tended gardens. So, when I was digging up a section of bare ground in the corner of the backyard to transplant bamboo from the other side of the yard, I knew I'd have to fight that blasted grass aggressively. And not with any chemicals, because Bermuda grass is a hardier grass than most, and bamboo is also a grass. If I applied any grass weed killer, I'd probably snuff out all my precious bamboo and not deter the Bermuda grass one bit.

There was not a living thing in the corner where I was digging. But, soon after my efforts of turning of the earth, breaking up dirt clods, fertilizing, and watering, it would be like ringing a dinner bell to every dormant weed and Bermuda grass root node within 10 feet. Bermuda grass and other weeds would be in the planter in record time.

When transplanting bamboo from this side of the backyard to a barren portion, weed control was an imperative, so old wet newspapers were used. | Photo credit: Vicki McClure Davidson
When transplanting bamboo from this side of the yard to a barren portion, weed control was imperative. | Photo credit: V.M. Davidson

To save money and frustration, the best and cheapest way I've found to keep weeds and Bermuda grass at bay is to use layers of wet newspapers. While I can buy gardening plastic at the local nursery, why buy anything when old newspapers are available? Newspapers do a better job at blocking and they're far more frugal.

Because newspaper is organic, it is biodegradable, thus serving as an additional source of nutrition for plants. Recycling them keeps them needlessly out of landfills and benefiting plants.

Once the planter is ready, wet the newspapers and then place layers of them in the planter. Overlap them like the shingles on a roof.

Be sure to bring the newspaper up to the ground level so that weeds on the perimeter will also be blocked. Cover the newspaper with mulch or sterile soil.

If you're planting seeds, after you position the wet newspapers, spread a thick layer of sterile soil or mulch over them. Then plant the seeds and cover as you would normally.

If you already have established plants, you can put newspaper around the plants, overlapping as you go. Newspapers are an effective insulator, keeping roots cool in summer and warm in winter. They also retain water better than garden plastic, which is important here in the Southwest US desert.

Once you're done, cover the newspaper with a layer of mulch or sterile soil. Most weeds have a tough to near-impossible time getting through wet newspapers.

Bermuda grass, on the other hand, still finds a way in, although it does takes longer than with the gardening plastic sheets.

Because newspapers degrade over time, reapplying the layers each year to keep their barrier capability up is recommended.