The Urban Gardener: How to Fight Weeds Naturally


Happy, weed-free summer squash! [Photographs: Lauren Rothman]

In my last post about weeding, I briefly mentioned an organic technique that actually prevents weeds from growing by smothering them under layers of wet newspaper and dry grass clippings.

My seedlings were too small to employ this simple technique—to use it, the plants must be big enough that they themselves won't get smothered, too—but now that the garden is flourishing and things are growing by leaps and bounds, I seized the opportunity to put my plan into action (thereby reducing the hours I spend weeding in the garden, which are many).

It's such a simple and effective, not to mention inexpensive, technique.

Mulching Against Weeds with Newspaper and Grass Clippings: A Guide

  • First, start saving up your newspapers. You'll need a big pile for the initial layer of mulching. If you get home delivery, perfect. If not, raid your nearest free daily newspaper bin.
  • Next, get your hands on some grass clippings. If you have a lawn, there ya go. If you don't, talk to your neighbors: if they do, they're probably just throwing those clippings away and would be happy to pass them along to someone else. I belong to a neighborhood listserv, and after I sent out a request a kind neighbor furnished me with a huge trash bag full of her grass clippings. If neither of these options is available to you, check with a community garden or garden center—they may have grass clippings, pine needles or bark chips, all of which are suitable for mulching.
  • You're ready to get to work! First, choose which plots of your garden you want to de-weedify. Plots that are heavy in weeds, or plants that you care most about, are the ideal targets. Do a thorough weeding of the area, then lay down sheets of newspaper, two sheets thick. You'll have to tear the newspaper in places to allow the plants to poke through. Then, water the newspaper thoroughly.

Tomato plants, with newspaper barrier in place.

  • Once your newspaper is in place, lay down about one inch of grass clippings. Make sure the clippings are fairly dried out: if they're too moist, they'll clump together and will be hard to distribute evenly.

Tomato plants, with dry grass clippings layered over newspaper.

You're all set! The damp newspaper will help keep your garden soil moist, and the layer of grass clippings will block sunlight, therefore preventing any weed seeds from sprouting. The mulching system will stay in place for one season; then, it will start to decompose. The paper and grass clippings will disintegrate right into the soil, enriching it in the process. Next season, you can start all over again.


Happy, weed-free cucumber plants!

What About You?

How are your gardens doing this summer? What's flourishing, and what's struggling? Are you winning the battle against weeds, and which methods are you employing? Let us know in the comments section below!