Layering newspaper 10 pages thick will prevent weeds and their seeds from accessing sunlight and prevent their growth. Newspaper this thick will take at least 8 weeks to break down on top of the soil if it is covered with mulch or compost. You can add more layers of paper, up to 20 layers thick to prevent weeds for longer.
Cover the newspaper with at least a 2-3 inch layer of mulch to hold it down, keep it moist and support the soil bacteria to gradually break it down over time.
You can use newspaper to mulch between vegetables including tomatoes and established shrubs and flowers. This will keep the weeds away for longer than just regular mulching. Use a heavier mulch like bark if you are laying the paper in a windy area. This will stop the wind from creeping under the mulch and blowing the paper away.
This article will explore how easy tips to layer newspaper under mulch to prevent weeds, how to keep it firmly in place and the benefits of allowing it to break down slowly into your soil.
Top 6 tips to successfully layer newspaper under mulch
Here are my top tips to layer newspaper under mulch to get the right thickness, prevent weeds and still allow the rain to get through to the soil.
1. Clear the area first with a rake
The first step is to clear the area with a rake. This is a good way to remove large sticks, sharp rocks or anything that can break through the newspaper. Any holes in the newspaper can let light through which will allow weeds to grow.
Move the sticks to your compost bin and start with a flat area. I like to rake back old mulch and re-use it on top of the newspaper. This will allow the newspaper to have direct contact with the soil and the mulch can break down on top.
2. Layer the newspaper 2-3 sheets at a time
The best way to lay newspaper is to take 2-3 sheets at a time and lay it on the surface of the soil. Layering 3 sheets at a time means that you need to do 3-4 layers to reach a thickness that will stop weeds. I like to layer it in 3 runs to cover any gaps.
3. Crisscross the newspaper to avoid gaps
Layer the newspaper in a crisscross pattern to cover the soil completely. Any gaps will allow sunlight to reach the soil and weeds will be able to grow through. Layer it carefully so that the sheets cross over and form a layer that is at least 10 pages thick.
4. Cover the newspaper with at least 2-3 inches of mulch
After laying the newspaper in 3 layers it is time to cover it with mulch. For flower beds or area that you are planting advanced trees aim for bark chip mulch. This will break down slowly over time, stop weeds from growing through and slowly feed the soil.
If you are preparing a new vegetable garden layer compost, aged cow manure and then 2-3 inches of straw mulch. Allowing this to break down over 4-6 weeks will allow the weeds to be killed off, the newspaper will start to break down and you will be ready to plant your new seedlings.
Make small holes in the remaining newspaper to plug in tomato seedings, peppers, herbs or strawberry plants.
5. Water it in after adding the mulch
After layering the newspaper and mulch take some time to water it all in. This will weigh down the mulch and newspaper keeping it all in place even if it gets windy. Use a heavier mulch like bark if your garden gets very windy and make sure it is at least 3 inches thick.
For more on how to mulch windy spots, check out my article here: Mulching Windy Spots – How to stop it blowing away
6. Wait 4-6 weeks for the paper to break down
If you are planning on planting into your new garden bed with newspaper layers and mulch is best to wait 4-6 weeks. The newspaper will have moistened, the worms and soil bacteria will have started to break it down and it will begin to be incorporated into the soil.
You will easily be able to make small holes in the cardboard to plug in seedings or use a spade and cut a larger hole for a mor established plant. Make a hole that is just big enough to fit your new plant and this will help to prevent weeds from competing for food and water as it grows.
Benefits of 10 layers of newspaper under your mulch
The benefits of layering thin amounts of newspaper under your mulch ranging from 10-15 layers are listed below.
- Allows water to reach the soil and plant roots
- Prevents the paper from drying out
- Allow soil bacteria to break it down quickly
- Adds nutrients to the soil quicker
- Prevents the soil underneath from becoming anaerobic
- You can dig through and plant in the soil faster
Layering more newspaper, up to 20 layers thick is fine but you will find that it takes much longer to break down. Do this in areas that you are not planning on planting in for a few months. Otherwise, I would stick to 10-15 layers of newspaper to have your garden bed ready in weeks.
How long does it take for newspaper to decompose?
It will take anywhere from 4-6 weeks for 10-15 layers of newspaper to begin to break down. It could take up to 6 months for it to be fully incorporated into the soil by soil bacteria and worms. This will depend on how moist the soil and mulch is, how bioactive the soil is or how many bacteria and actively growing and the thickness of the mulch.
The ideal ratio is 10-15 layers of newspaper with 2-3 inches of mulch that is kept moist. This will break down in around 6 weeks and will be ready for planting.
How Many Layers of Newspaper to Put Under Mulch | Summary
You can layer anywhere from 10-20 pieces of newspaper on the soil under mulch to stop weeds and feed the soil. It is good to aim for 10 layers because this will stop the light from reaching the soil, prevent weeds but still allow a good amount of oxygen and water to reach the soil.
Using newspaper under mulch is a great way to recycle a waste product and add organic matter to your soil at the same time.