Using Paper Grocery Bags as Weed Barrier in the Garden — 34 Comments

  1. hi there gardeners!
    does anyone have definitive knowledge about the use of cardboard or paper for weed control being bad for vegetables because of the dioxins that are created during the paper making process?
    i know brown paper is the colour of paper (sounds redundant) meaning it has never been bleached… but supposedly cardboard or paper that has even a small waxy surface can be harmful to the soil and produce?
    i love paper and cardboard for weed control, but now worried it will affect my “organic” gardening efforts!

    • I don’t have any specifics on that, but I can imagine it could be possible in certain circumstances. I would expect the other issue would be that waxed surfaces wouldn’t break down over time and would not compost as paper or cardboard would. So, for example, we would not reuse feedbags for mulching our gardens. They don’t break down well and are full of plastic fibers and dyes.

      • thanks jamie! as an epic ocd and non-linear gardener, i seem to always find something to halt my grandiose plans and progress ;). organic gardening has always been my primary goal, even growing from organic and heirloom seeds i can collect. maybe i can use old cotton sheets instead of questionably manufactured paper? the search for cleaning the soil and earth continues!! happy growing!

        • Well, regarding organic choices–you know what else would work? Wool! If you could find raw wool you could layer that under straw as an organic weed barrier. One reason we don’t use it as often is that it doesn’t break down in one year, so it can get messy when you go to till everything over at the end of the season. But you could always gather it up and reuse it if it was still intact. For a lot of meat-lamb farmers it’s a waste product or only a very low-value product if you can find it. Or places like zoos, historic farms, nature centers, etc. that are shearing for animal maintenance instead of for a value-added product. Might be worth looking for.

  2. Have the pictures been removed? I don’t see any pics of your hard labor

    • If you are referring to the flowering groundcover, I believe it might. I only use regular mulch or pine straw in most of my flower gardens, so I don’t know about the impacts on ground cover.

  3. Hello this is Emma Henderson, the wellness intern of Baldwin County Schools Board of Education (a 501(c)(3) organization). Baldwin County Schools Board Office and Office of Nutrition have been hard at work on the 1.5-acre Garden Project at Baldwin High School. The garden will include several raised beds as well as row gardens and hydroponics, which will support a variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, herbs and flowers. The garden will promote STEAM-based learning by serving as an outdoor learning lab for all Baldwin County School students. The high school students that are a part of the Career Academy will be especially involved in all aspects of growing, harvesting, cooking the food that they grow. The food they cook will be sold to school staff in their little restaurant that will be set up in the school. They will also be selling the produce to community members at “pop-up farmers markets” that will occur at each school in the district. There is an alarming number of underprivileged families in the area, so it is extremely important that the kids be taught these valuable life skills in school to be better equipped to enter the field of work they choose.

    In Baldwin county, we currently provide every child with two free hot meals a day during this school year as well as the summer because “hunger doesn’t take a vacation”. We even have buses go out into the community to feed these children as they would be left hungry otherwise. Although these children are getting free meals, we try our best to provide them with healthy produce. We heavily emphasize Farm-to-School initiatives to teach the students the importance of agriculture and healthy eating. Last year alone we served over 770,000 meals in which locally grown farm fresh food was offered. We would love for these children to become “local growers” themselves and help to make a positive contribution to better the community in which they live!

    We were hoping that you might be as passionate as we are about providing this amazing opportunity for the children of Baldwin County and might be interested in donating weed block for our raised beds or other garden supplies to become a “Farmer Friend” and be featured on our webpage. Every donation, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated by these kids. Monetary donations to purchase these items would be great as well!

  4. I have raised beds with pavers over the walk way in between. I have crazy weeds growing between the pavers. If I use some sort of natural weed killer there, do you think it would affect the soil in the raised beds at all?

    • Have you just tried vinegar? An occasional soil test in your raised beds would let you know if it’s hurting anything else, which you could easily amend for. I think anything you spray might bleed over a little bit, but it would have to soak in, travel through the soil under the raised beds, then up the soil layers into the roots of the raised bed plants. By that point, unless it’s been absolutely drenched, I would think it would be significantly diluted.

  5. We have done this with newspaper and compost to cover for the past 4 years at least. This year we would like to try paper bags. We do the whole row and around the bigger plants including the walking area between the rows. We run soaker hoses just along the plants. We have almost no weeds! Everyone is impressed at our garden.

    • That sounds awesome! I think the brown paper bags last a little longer than newspaper, unless you put it really thick. We still run the tiller through our walkways at the moment to control the weeds. And as we sow a second crop, we shift the planting rows over and the walkways become planting and the planting rows become the new walkway.

  6. Just came upon your site while shopping for paper mulch. I be been using paper shopping bags for years, as well as cardboard, and, principally, the black and white parts of newspapers because I have the most of that, but still not enough ( I put it down in books). The paper gets covered with leaves to keep it damp, and add biomass. Have used baled straw, but from this have grown VERY impressive tall straw grass. If I can get this cut before getting too big and tough with seed heads, I use this for mulch, too. But there’s never enough, which is why I am looking to buy. Have used “weed block” material in the past, which does not work well, and has to be periodically removed and trashed, which is a horrible waste of time, material and money. The view promulgated for many years that wood chips robbed nitrogen from the soil has, I believe, now been disproved. So, this should be helpful, as well as sometimes free. Also, the chopped straw someone mentioned earlier seems to have far fewer seeds, and is definitely easier to snuggle up around tender plants.
    Keep on keeping on. Love your blog and will signup.

  7. i put the bagger on the lawn mower and us the grass clipping for my mulch over the newspaper or brown bags

    • Yes, we always ask for paper bags anyway. Plastic blows away or rips too easy. Our store doesn’t charge for that though, and I know some do.

  8. This is such good advice! We actually use feed bags (from pigs & cattle) which are thicker (about 4 ply at least) and are coated with a thin shiny film that I find takes longer to break down. The other thing that really helps defeat the weeds for us is to mulch chopped straw (dead leaves or bark would also work) between the rows. I’m a VERY lazy gardener!
    I came to visit from Chicken Chick’s bloghop; I hope you’ll have time one day to visit the 4Shoes & let me know that you’ve been by.

  9. I do the same with my animal feed sacks (as in France everyone uses reusable bags for groceries) – and like you it helps keep me on top of the weeds that always sneak up when I look away for 5 minutes! #MMBC

    PS – I host a monthly linky called Going Green and would love to see you link up if you wanted to – it’s open now! 💚

    • That’s a good idea too. I think our feed bags have plastic in them so they would work, but wouldn’t be as green. I’ve started trying to turn some of our feed bags into tote bags because I hate the waste.

  10. Great idea! Weeding is definitely the worst part of gardening. All that mulch is great for keeping the soil moist and conserving with water with the droughts everyone has been having too. Found your post at Thursday Favorite Things. Thanks for sharing.

    • We also add a lot of farm compost to our garden so we have GREAT soil right now. The weeds love it as much as the good plants, but if we can keep them under control, we have a very productive garden.

    • Thanks for stopping by! This year we’re also going to try using it in our flower gardens when we re-mulch at the end of the season.

  11. Watch the Back to Eden Garden Film. It’s free on YouTube and I’ve not had to weed since laying the initial mulch. We have very sandy soil and extreme heat and humidity, so I lay down cardboard boxes (from all our Amazon orders) between the garden beds with mulch overtop. The carboard takes much longer to breakdown and the weeds tend to sprout under it and die. I do use paper bags too and they work well, but as you’ve said, decompose faster.
    To go permanently weed and till free:
    Pull all the weeds, add lots of compost all over the garden, lay cardboard through all the paths and around the edge of the garden. Use sticks or something to mark where your rows are. Deep mulch the whole shebang with dye-free preferably hardwood mulch or a free dump truck load from a local tree trimming service. You can then just move the mulch aside making a little bird nest shape in the mulch and plant your transplants right in with a scoop of compost and/or sprinkling of fertilizer. Your weeding days are now over!

    • You may need to add a couple inches of mulch every other year depending on how fast it composts on top of the soil, but seriously, you conserve massive amounts of water and never have to weed.

    • That sounds like a great idea–I’ll just have to find some better mulch. Pine straw that heavy can cause acidification. We do have a lot of timber production around here, so wood chips might be feasible if I find the right contact. Thanks for sharing!