Paper Mulch, an Alternative to Landscape Fabric

Veggie garden path, even the cat likes it!

Spring is here and with it comes projects in the garden.  Whether by choice or by the appearance of a list taped to your coffee mug one morning there’s always something that has to be done in the garden.  This time of year is a great time to tackle projects because it’s not too hot yet, the ground is workable and we’ve all been itching to get our hands dirty after a long winter.

Spring is also a time for weeds.  Many a phone call we get at the garden centre has to do with a weed-infested area that is on someone’s agenda to become a beautiful perennial border, a vegetable garden or a quaint path meandering through the trees.

How to deal with all those weeds?  Well, there’s the old, back breaking way of spending days ripping the things out only to leave roots and seeds behind ready to sprout up the minute you turn your back…and they will.  Or there are plenty of products on the market to spray on weeds but for large areas that can be a bit daunting for the pocket book.

When we bought our house we turned a weed-infested patch of gravel into a vegetable garden. We removed the gravel and found old ripped plastic underneath which we managed to unearth and dispose of.   My husband built raised beds with pathways all around.  He then moved onto other chores that appeared on his coffee mug and left me to plant my veggies.

I must’ve spent just as much time weeding the pathways as I did picking vegetables and I have to tell you that I grow mean veggie patch.  The paths were to be graveled at some point but that was on the bottom of the list so it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I moved that chore onto my own coffee mug and tackled it one sunny weekend.

Off I went for a load of gravel.  When I came back I cast a weary eye at the weeds that I’d have to remove before I could start shoveling gravel, knowing full well that my job would never end in that department.  I could feel my sore back muscles already. Once weeds take hold of an area they never seem to go away completely.

Then I remembered a sample that a supplier had given me at a fall trade show and thought it just might fit the bill.  It was a roll of paper mulch, a heavy paper/light cardboard material and it fit perfectly between my raised vegetable beds.  I rolled it out right over all the weeds, over the dandelions, the creeping buttercup and the liverwort (I did try to remove as much of the liverwort as possible as it was sneaking up the side of the raised beds).  I then shoveled my gravel over top.  Perfect.

That summer I pulled nary a weed.  Just a few here and there but nothing like the year before.  It’s been the third spring now and I still don’t have the perennial weeds back.  Sure I get seeds floating in and sprouting on top but you’d get that anyway.  The point is I’m not getting those deep-rooted nasties like dock or thistle left over from before.

This paper mulch comes in rolls of 3’ by 50’, perfect for pathways.  You could use it for many different areas; even directly overtop an existing lawn that you want to convert to garden.  If your lawn is too weed infested to even call it a lawn you may be able to lay the paper mulch right over the ‘grass’, put down soil and seed it from there (or lay sod).  I haven’t tried this but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

Over time the paper mulch will break down but it will have done its job.  It is an earth friendly alternative to the typical black landscape fabric that I’m really not a fan of.  Of course you can never be completely weed free and I’m sure a dandelion or two will pop up along the path at times but I’ve given myself a fresh start, covered up someone else’s mess and made it my own tidy path.  No sprays used, no plastic landscape cloth that someone else will have to unearth during the next garden renovation, no medicine taken to soothe aching muscles from constant weed pulling and it was all done in a matter of minutes.

Shirley Eppler

May 2010