newspaper while making a no dig garden

Can I use newspaper in my garden?

Newspaper is safe to use in your garden. In a no-dig garden, I put the paper layer over the compost/manure/scraps/leaves layer –  just before adding the mulch on top – not on the ground as the first layer.

Over the past couple of decades I have started so many gardens using the very simple and affordable no-dig gardening method I shared yesterday. I have become a passionate advocate of this way of gardening having seen how effective it is in many different contexts – in improving the soil, supporting healthy and diverse gardens with annuals and perennials, and dramatically reducing weeds and watering.  I explained in this previous post why I put the paper on top of the compost layer, not on the ground first.  This is a really useful twist in the usual description of no-dig. I encourage you to read my post and give it a go.

I have made this type of garden and then headed off on a 7 week journey. When I came back, the garden was brimming with veggies, herbs and flowers. There were almost no weeds coming through and the soil felt moist and open underneath the newspaper and mulch layer.

Ever since trying to start gardens at the Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, where even a mattock would bounce off the soil, I have been experimenting with different ways of doing no-dig.  I have settled for some time now on the method I described yesterday and I really like it because it helps to rapidly build soil and activate soil life, and the plants thrive immediately.

This no-dig garden method is easy to do and doesn’t require buying in a lot of resources. I think good food is a basic human right for all and great chemical-free food does not need to be expensive to grow.

The question that pops up every time I make a no-dig garden with a group, share the idea or write about it is … “But what about the newspaper? Isn’t it bad to add into the garden?

I am happy to use it in my gardens and to recommend it to others. My response to the concerns has a number of dimensions:

  • USE SMALL AMOUNT FOR GREAT BENEFIT: If you do this newspapering well, you only need to redo it once a year or perhaps longer. As long as the mulch layer above the newspaper is thick enough, the paper lasts quite some time and is therefore only a small amount. Getting my hands on enough paper is my problem, so this also makes me am conservative in my use.
  • PAPER DOES NOT REPEL WATER IF LAID WELL: By taking care with the way you lay the paper, you can use it to help harvest water. If there is a slight slope on the garden, lay the paper the opposite of how you would lay roof tiles, and the water will be directed under the paper. Also when poking a hole through the paper, the depression made helps to direct water that falls on the garden to where the seedlings are.
  • PAPER KEEPS SOIL TEMPERATURE AND MOISTURE MORE STABLE: Under the paper, the soil and new materials do not fluctuate so much in temperature and moisture during the day. In the hot summers, this is particularly important and the plants seem to revive quickly.
  • INKS ARE DIFFERENT NOW: There is a lot of confusion around whether the inks are toxic. We were informed a permaculture course participant who worked in the industry that there have been no heavy metals been used for a long time in newspapers. Soy based inks are used for both black and colour ink. Warnings about toxic heavy metals in ink, especially colour ink, come from decades ago when lead type was used in printing. Since then, the newspaper printing technology has completely changed, the EPA has imposed regulations on waste and all newspaper ink manufacturers have altered their formulas to exclude heavy metals. There will of course be some residue, but it is such a tiny amount that it barely rates.


  • No heavy metals are added to the black and colour inks used for printing, which also meets the Australian Standard (AS1647.3) for coatings on children’s toys.
  • All pulp used in newspapers is elemental chlorine free

I have heard that according to the organic certification bodies, using newspaper is fine for home gardens.

4 Responses

  1. Morag Gamble
    Morag Gamble at |

    I don't use the glossies in the veggie garden. Firstly I find them too hard to poke holes through to plant my seedlings. Secondly, they take too long to break down and seem to smother the soil. I plant through the newspaper layer – with these holes, I feel this makes the newspaper layer far more permeable and the soil able to breathe.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous at |

    Thank you for this information! I have also wondered for some time if you can use glossy paper (from junk mail or magazines) in the garden/worm farm/compost. I have avoided it so far, but it's so easy to find it would be great to utilise it. Can you shed any light on this?

  3. Jay Morris
    Jay Morris at |

    would this method work in the very poor gold-country soils in country Victoria, where our lower rainfall and poorer soils have less bacteria and nutrient than the lovely soils in Queensland. I was planning to use a heavy machine to dig a wide swathe 2-4m wide and 1.5m deep to plant a fire break with fire retardant plants along a fence line (not up against fence but 4m inside fence line)and then add compost and mulch on top of the soil. I was hoping that this would enable the tree roots to penetrate into the concrete like layer of soils under the mulch, which I very much doubt that they would be able to do if the soil was left undisturbed with just compost and mulch put on top. What are your thoughts, based on your experience, on this idea? I am loving learning from you. Keep up the inspirational work you are doing. Many Thanks, Jay Morris

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    Hadon hal at |

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