Belcarra Garden Club
BC, Canada

Newspapers in the Garden
By Nora Boekhout and Les Bramley


Newspaper has been used widely in vegetable gardens as a mulch, as a natural weed killer, and even as potting cups.  Newspaper is a biodegradable substance. The Nuffield Foundation, which focuses on science and social science, conducted an experiment with students which demonstrated how microbes in the soil break down materials. In short, soil microbes contain enzymes that break down cellulose. Since paper is made from wood, microbes easily break down and digest paper. During this process, carbon is released into the soil.   You can read more how microbes digest these materials here.

Luckily, one of our Les B.’s friends (Eric Herd) has over fifty years in the ink making industry, so they had a long chat on the subject. Although newspaper ink used to have toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, since 1986 Canada switched to using Canola Oil and Soybean oil.  It seems that soy ink is not only environmentally friendly but makes great colors!  The paper pulp is then whitened by Hydrogen Peroxide, which is more benign on the environment than Chlorine.

ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas) guidelines for organic farmers include newspaper and cardboard as useful compost additives for suppressing weeds, retaining moisture, and adding organic matter to your soil.   compost-1.pdf (

BTW, did you know that a “good compost” has a balance of “brown” and “green” materials?  Brown materials add bulk, which helps with aeration.  Brown includes: newspaper, wood chips, dry leaves, straw, sawdust, corn stalks.  Green (which may not always be green in color) includes: grass clippings, coffee grounds, food scraps, weeds, manure.

Here are some common questions about the possible environmental threats from the use of newspaper.
* Are the inks toxic?  Inks, both black and color, used on today's newspapers are 100% non toxic.
* Are those glossy pages okay?   No, not a good idea to use.
* Is corrugated cardboard glue okay?  No, the glue is not good.
* Can newspaper be put into the compost? Yes, but must be shredded.

What else can you do with your newspapers? “The Spruce” lists 9 great ideas! Make seed starter pots from pulp (this sounds like a fun activity to do with your children!); slow moisture loss in pots; add shredded paper to your compost; use as a first layer in “lasagna gardening” (worms love it!); protect plants from frost; store your frost-tender bulbs (Nora does this one!) instead of using peat moss; make insect traps with damp papers.

Happy Gardening!

Related Links

Permaculture Research Institute

ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas)

Gardening Know How

The Spruce: 9 ways to use Newspapers

21 DIY ideas for Newspapers!

Compost Materials… Wow, this article has a huge list of do’s and don’ts!
Composting cardboard:
Composting newspaper:


Don’t forget that this year’s color for “Live the Garden Life – Canada” is PURPLE!  Plant Canada Purple!  Purple has a variety of effects on the mind and body, including uplifting spirits, calming the mind, enhanced feelings of spirituality and encouraging imagination and creativity.

Nora will be collecting photos over the seasons of PURPLE Belcarra flowers, plants, garden decorations to add to our webpage!
Please send your photos (identifying the plant if possible) to:
norab604 (at)


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