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Can You Use Newspaper As a Weed Barrier? Will It Work?

Newspaper is a popular weed barrier for gardeners who prefer not to use synthetic materials such as plastic landscaping fabric.

Newspaper can be a very effective weed barrier when applied correctly in the garden. Newspaper decomposes organically into the soil and is useful for allowing air and moisture into the topsoil without permitting enough sunlight to allow weed germination.

Even though newspaper can be a useful material for preventing weeds in the garden, there are some installation and maintenance factors to consider when using it. Read on to learn more about using newspaper as a weed barrier and how well it works.

Using Newspaper as a Weed Barrier

Newspaper is an effective weed barrier because it freely allows the transmission of moisture and air through to the topsoil without allowing weeds the sunlight they need to thrive.

Like cardboard weed barriers, newspaper weed barriers have the benefit of being an organic solution. As they decompose, newspapers add organic material to the soil, helping to enrich it over time.

The biggest challenge that gardeners run into with using newspaper as a weed barrier is not using enough layers of newspaper. If the layer of newspaper weed barrier is too thin, sunlight will permeate the newspaper and permit the growth of weeds that are dormant in the soil.

Can Plants Grow Through Newspaper?

Plants can only grow through a newspaper weed barrier once the weed barrier has decomposed enough to permit sunlight through.

This makes newspaper weed barriers a good solution for using in the garden in the off-season since they prevent photosynthesis.

A good solution for planting in the garden while also using newspaper is to tear holes in the newspaper where you want plants to grow, leaving the barrier intact to prevent weeds around it.

Here’s a video showing how to lay newspaper to make a weed barrier path:

Check out these Professional Quality Weed Barrier and Weed Barrier Stakes from Amazon to see the most current selection and pricing.

Do Newspaper Weed Barriers Work?

Newspaper weed barriers are an effective weed barrier in several ways:

  • They are cheap and accessible. Most people have access to recycled newspaper that they can use in the garden, and the cheap cost makes them affordable for most gardeners.
  • They are safe. Newspapers are printed with soy-based inks that are biodegradable and safe to use in the garden, even in garden plots where edible plants will be grown.
  • They are gentle on garden creatures. Plastic and synthetic landscaping fabrics can prevent earthworms and other beneficial insects in the garden from being able to access the surface for oxygen. Newspaper does not.
  • They are easy to install. Installing a newspaper weed barrier is as simple as laying down multiple sheets of newspaper across any section of garden you want a weed barrier in before layering the newspaper with compost and mulch.
  • Newspaper weed barriers break down fast. Most newspaper weed barriers are only good for a single season.

Newspaper weed barriers are a good option for vegetable or flower beds that are planted with annuals.

Since these weed barriers break down quickly, they can be replaced each spring to provide nutrients throughout the growing season once they’ve decomposed.

Is Newspaper or Cardboard Better for a Weed Barrier?

Cardboard and newspaper weed barriers are both popular with organic gardeners because they decompose into the soil naturally and they can help beneficial garden animals like earthworms.

Newspaper and cardboard weed barriers are both effective weed barriers, but they can serve slightly different functions.

Since newspaper breaks down much more rapidly than cardboard, it is more suitable to use in the same season for preparing garden beds, while cardboard weed barriers are a better option for beds that are going to be left unplanted for at least six to twelve months.

Is Newspaper Safe to Use as a Weed Barrier?

Several years ago, newspaper was not a safe material to use as a weed barrier in vegetable gardens or any gardens containing edible plants because the inks used to print on them contained heavy metals.

If used in the garden, these heavy metals could then leach into the soil and contaminate the plants being grown there.

Thankfully, almost all newspapers printed today are printed on safe, biodegradable soy-based inks. This makes modern-day newspapers safe to use in composting and gardening.

Tips for Installing a Newspaper Weed Barrier

A newspaper weed barrier can be useful in the garden, but only if you know how to install and maintain it correctly.

Follow these tips to get the most out of your newspaper weed barrier:

  • Keep the newspaper moist. Like cardboard, newspapers need constant moisture to break down and decompose into the soil.
  • Use multiple layers of newspaper. One layer of newspaper is so thin that it will easily allow sunlight to penetrate it, rendering it useless for weed prevention. Use multiple newspaper layers to keep sunlight from reaching the soil underneath.
  • Use newspaper to prevent plant invasions. Strawberries and lemon balm are two examples of invasive garden plants that will happily take over an entire plot if you let them. Newspaper barriers can keep spreading garden plants contained to one area. (source:
  • Shredded newspaper can also be used. Along with sheets of newspaper, a thick layer of shredded newspaper can help prevent weed growth while also encouraging the transfer of water and oxygen. (source:
  • Introduce earthworms. If you want your newspaper barrier to decompose effectively, introducing earthworms to your garden can help the newspaper break down faster.
  • Top the newspaper with compost and mulch. Not only does adding compost and mulch help keep weed seeds from receiving sunlight, it also helps the weed barrier break down faster over the course of the season.

Newspaper weed barriers can be a practical option in the garden if you’re only looking to prevent weeds for the growing season. For long-term weed prevention in garden beds that are not being used, cardboard may be a better choice.

Check out these Professional Quality Weed Barrier and Weed Barrier Stakes from Amazon to see the most current selection and pricing.

Newspaper Is an Affordable and Useful Weed Barrier

Newspaper is a useful material for preventing weeds in the garden. As a weed barrier, this material is more environmentally friendly than herbicides and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance compared to landscaping fabric.

Try using newspaper in the garden this spring to get ahead of the curve on weed prevention in your beds and borders.

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