"Cover Chicago Garden in Black Plastic"

Newspaper mulch in Chicago garden.png

While looking over the stats for my MrBrownThumb garden blog I noticed that someone recently visited after searching for, “cover Chicago garden in black plastic.” The gardener must have been looking for information on weed deterrents. I’ve seen people use black plastic bags, which are different than the landscaping plastic you’ll find at your local garden center. There is also a landscaping fabric which works just as well and allows air and water to reach the soil easier. A few years ago I was given a roll of landscaping fabric by a fellow gardener and it has sat underneath the front stairs, unused.

To block weeds in the garden I like to use newspaper, which works just as well and will eventually decompose and it doesn’t cost me a cent. During the spring and summer months I take advantage of all those free newspapers available all over Chicago. If I pass by a newsstand at night and see there is still a stack of newspapers in there, I’ll take all of them. The way I see it, by doing so I inflate circulation numbers keeping writers employed and they provide me with free mulch. We all win.

By the time fall rolls around I have a good-sized stack of newsprint (no glossy pages or free standing inserts) waiting to be used as newspaper mulch in the garden. When laying out the newspaper mulch I like to apply thick layers around the plants and sometimes stop and read the news I missed because I was too busy surfing the internet to pay attention. Being generous with the layers of paper you set down is key here because weeds will grow through thin layers much faster. You want to prevent sunlight from reaching the soil so seeds don’t germinate and plants under the paper can’t grow. It is a good idea to either carry a watering can or garden hose with you when laying out your newspaper mulch, wetting the paper as you go to keep it from flying away. Or lay out your garden mulch on rainy days and let nature do most of the work.

When you’re done you can cover the newspaper mulch with either top soil or with wood chip mulch to keep your garden looking tidy.

400 city workers were laid off because the City and unions couldn’t reach a deal?!?! To whom should I address my letter expressing my belated outrage?  


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  • I also use this method on top of lawn to kill the grass over the winter, with a layer of soil between the newspaper and mulch. The watering is key--even if you think it isn't windy. I had a pattern laid out really nice the first year I did this and went away for a second to get the hose and when I came back all the newspapers had flown to the neighbor's yard. DOH!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Ha! That happened to me too when I first did it. Then I learned to have the water source nearby, which became annoying. So now I only lay out the newspaper when it is raining to save me from the hassle of having to carry around a watering can.

    I'm lazy.

  • In reply to MrBrownThumb:

    Lazy is good. I always talk about being cheap and lazy whenever I present! :) Luckily for me, I can easily roll my garden hose out to where I'm working and the nozzle can be off even though the water is on.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Under the stairs is a good spot for the landscape fabric - I loathe that stuff. I see more weeds in clients' gardens who have it than in those who don't. And the weeds' roots get all tangled up in the fabric, which makes them harder to pull and causes the fabric to tear. When asked I always advise against it.

    I agree, newspaper is great, without the problems of plastic or fabric, and free. As it breaks down it adds organic matter to the soil, and it doesn't have to be removed as it deteriorites - just add a few more layers. I used several layers of newspaper as the bottom layer of my veggie bed, right over the grass and under layers of of compost, grass clippings, and autumn leaves. I'm lazy too, and that saved a lot of work since I didn't have to remove the grass or till the soil. I think I pulled maybe three weeds from the garden all year.

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:

    Good tips garden girl.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I will use plastic under hardscaping however, where I don't want any plants to come up ever. But, I just reuse the heavy plastic bags from mulch and sand, no need to buy something special for it, and who cares what it looks like-- it's buried.

    Just a fond remembrance of our plastic past-- in the early seventies, when we were all still in love with the wonders of plastic, my mother hired a landscaper who put down that super-heavy black plastic with holes cut out for the trees and shrubs. That was it-- no pebbles, no mulch, just plastic. It looked so nice and neat!

  • In reply to naxn:

    I've been looking over old family pics and you all did love your plastic in the 70s! One pic was taken in a living room with plastic on the lampshades, couch and covering a carpet. There was even a plastic runner to keep one from stepping on the plastic covering the rug.

  • Good point. I hadn't even thought about the pet issue and the plastic or fabric weed blockers when you have dogs around that like to dig.

  • That’s really very good thing in your blog I like that!! treesurgeonsuttoncoldfield.co.uk

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