Alert reader Matt Wood pointed out a recent article in the NY Times on mulching with newspaper and wondered about my take on the topic.
For use on landscapes, I do not like sheet mulches of any stripe. They tend to hinder to air and water movement, most especially in unmanaged landscapes like restoration sites. A classic example is the use of cardboard or newspaper covered with wood chips. The chips are easily dislodged, exposing the sheet mulch which quickly dries out and becomes hydrophobic. Thus, the roots of desirable trees and shrubs lose out on the water, while the weeds surrounding the edges of the mulch benefit from the runoff:
Published research on sheet mulching in landscape settings confirms the drawbacks of sheet mulching. But the article in the NY Times is about vegetable gardens. This is a different situation – more akin to agricultural production than to landscape horticulture. Vegetable gardens are routinely managed during planting, thinning, weeding, and harvesting. Newspaper sheet mulches in these situations rarely dry out and, when kept buried and moist, do break down quickly.
So – keep the sheets on the (vegetable garden) bed where they belong!