Using shredded paper as garden mulch

Shredded paper around Pak-Choi plants

Now that the allotment season is in full swing, I’m concerned that all my hard work will be undone over-night due to invaders of the slimy variety. Yes, slugs and snails are my number one pet hate at this time of year. Last week I headed to the plot just before darkness fell to undertake a night time raid and stop those garden sods (as my grandfather calls them) in their slimy tracks. Much to my annoyance, they had managed to get around my copper tape force field and my trusty plastic bottle barricades. Those little buggers were happily munching their way through my sprouts and lettuce plants. Enough was enough.

Paper mulch around lettuce plants

Once I’d forcibly evicted those bad boys, I was tempted to douse the whole plot in slug pellets a foot deep. I knew I needed to formulate a kinder and less chemical-ridden plan of action.

I took to google and found many different “tried and tested” ways to keep slugs at bay. From beer traps to pellets, picking them off one by one with tweezers to sprinkling cinnamon everywhere. The list of methods was huge.

One thing that kept popping up was mulching, it’s placing a thick layer of organic matter around your plants to keep pests and indeed weeds, at bay. Mulching is usually done with rotten organic matter like compost or horse manure. Now, I don’t have a horse or access to a ready supply of poo. Nor the spare money in my pocket to purchase it – so I had to look closer to home to see what I could use.

Shredded paper and water

I do accounting for the family business and have a never ending pile of paper recycling. As I work from home, this paper is stacked in a box under my desk as I’m not allowed to put it in with my household recycling as it’s considered commercial waste. Disposing of it at home could land me a £1,000 fine. I’m not willing to risk it – especially as every letter or envelope has the business name and address printed on it!

So I looked around online and saw that you can in fact use shredded paper as a mulch for your garden. Winner! Something I have a never ending supply of, that doesn’t stink, and I can collect by the boxfull every few weeks for free.

So out came my trusty shredder. The poor love didn’t know what hit it as I started to shred hundreds of pages of paper. I was always conscious of what I was shredding as it’s final destination will be around the fruit and vegetables we’re planning on eating.

Here’s few tips on what you shouldn’t be shredding for garden paper mulch:

  • Coloured or glossy paper, like magazines or flyers. This doesn’t break down well.
  • Anything with ink that ISN’T black (metallic and coloured inks can contain heavy metals which you wouldn’t want in your soil)
  • Any envelopes with plastic windows – take the windows out first and put in household recycling
  • Staples are OK but take care if children will be helping lay the mulch (obviously they won’t break down in the soil)
Sprouts protected by paper mulch

After an hours worth of shredding I had a black bag FULL to bursting with tiny strips of paper (I have a crosscut shredder). I took this bag and a large builders bucket to the allotment. I then emptied the paper into the bucket a bit at a time and added water from the water butts. Now, a bit of advice here, don’t do this outside on a windy day – the paper bits will end up EVERYWHERE. I did this part in the greenhouse sheltered from the wind because yes, it was a windy day.

I left the paper and water together for a little while so it could soak up the moisture and then headed out to my raised beds. The first to be mulched were the sprouts and lettuces as the damn slugs had been at them the worst. Just take a few handfuls of wet paper mulch and pat it around the plants. Don’t try and spread it about as you’ll disturb the soil surface and end up with mud in your paper. You want the mulch to be at least 1 inch deep all around. As you go, press down on the wet paper firmly. You’ll feel the water come squelching out and it’s very satisfying but it serves a purpose. By pressing and compacting the paper you’re creating a thick woven barrier against weeds and slimies. When the paper starts to dry the moisture will go to your plants and the paper will dry as hard as concrete. Honestly, it will be very firm. Plus, if you’ve got different colour paper in your mulch it will also look quite pretty. I think so anyway.

The old boys at the allotment think I’ve lost my mind covering my newly planted planters with shredded paper mulch, but they’ll see that it’s a fabulous weed barrier and also great for keeping slugs and snails AWAY from my new plants. When everything is grown and harvested, the paper can be turned into the soil and will break down. Wonderful.

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