Gardening: Newspapers help you make ‘no-dig’ garden bed

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

There’s still talk these days that the printed newspaper will go the way of the Edsel and we will be reading all our news online. I treasure my newspapers for use in the garden as well as the news.

Newsprint is great for creating new “no-dig” garden beds. In areas covered with grass I spread an inch or two of autumn leaves saved from the previous season and mow them in after adjusting the lawn mower blades to the lowest setting. Removing the sod is a waste of time and the soil the grass grows in is rich in organics and worth saving. As the live grass plants die from lack of sun, they will enrich the soil even more.

If planting flowering plants, trees or shrubs in spring, I scatter compost on the shredded leaves about a half-inch deep. Next I cover the area with newspapers layered six sheets thick, making sure to overlap the seams so no grass pops through. The newspapers act as a weed barrier as well as block the sun, but decomposes over time. Wetting the newsprint makes it easier to handle and keeps it from flying away. Next I cover the newsprint with 3-4 inches of good quality topsoil. To improve the soil more I add a bit more compost and finely shredded composted bark, sold as soil conditioner.

To plant, I slit holes in the newsprint. When the planting is complete the new garden is mulched with 2 inches of organic mulch.

Here are some other good uses for newspapers.

■Shredded newsprint can be used as the carbon source in the compost pile when dried leaves are not available.

■When moving plants and small shrubs after digging, I wrap the root balls in several layers of newsprint and wet it down before moving them to the shade where they sit until I’m ready to replant them. The wet the layers of newsprint seal together forming a strong fabric-like material that won’t easily fall apart.

■I also make slug traps out of newsprint. After wetting several sheets in stale beer, I make small mounds and place them among my Hosta, tomatoes and other plants that are eaten by slugs. In warm weather, the slugs congregate under the damp newspaper mounds where I take great joy in squashing them.

■When taking plants out in the cold in winter I wrap them in newspaper cones. Wrapping in plastic transfers cold quickly and can damage the plants.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at