One of the fun things about being a home gardener is getting to be creative with the tools and supplies we use in our gardens. Using recycled paper is a staple in my garden because it’s so versatile and provides many benefits to my plants.

The best ways to use shredded paper in the garden are to use it as mulch, as bedding to start a vermicompost system, as a liner for newly built raised beds, or to incorporate it into an outdoor composting system. 

I’ll go over everything you need to know about using paper in your garden and also talk about how long you can expect it to take the paper to break down in the soil. 

In general, paper can be a fantastic addition to the soil by adding a good source of carbon and organic matter. But, for your garden to reap the benefits of paper, it’s important that the paper you’re using doesn’t contain any heavy or colored dyes and doesn’t have a glossy finish. 

Heavily dyed or glossy papers will not break down as easily as regular paper and can contain toxic chemicals that will leach into the soil. Definitely not ideal for any garden. 

I’m sure many of you can think of several different ways that you can incorporate paper into your garden. But, if you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas to consider. 

In whatever capacity you choose to use shredded paper, just remember to water it down to keep it from blowing all over your yard!

One of the easiest and most common ways to use shredded paper in the garden is to use it as mulch. In my opinion, any kind of mulch is a necessary addition to a garden because it has so many benefits and shredded paper is a great mulching option.

Mulching in a garden mimics similar processes that happen on the forest floor. Leaf litter and other organic forest materials create layers on the ground that block out light, limit weed germination, and minimize water evaporation. 

By spreading shredded paper around the base of your plants, you’re creating a barrier similar to that in the forest which locks in water and moisture while also keeping the weeds at bay. Shredded paper will also break down over time so you don’t have to worry about cleaning it up. 

If you have an at-home composting system, then you should definitely consider adding shredded paper to it. 

To make beautiful compost, you need to have the right ratio of green matter to brown matter to water. Green matter includes things like fresh plants, weeds, grass clippings, or kitchen scraps. These are the things that will add nitrogen to your compost. 

Brown matter is made of materials like dried leaves, sawdust, straw, and, you guessed it: shredded paper. These brown materials will add carbon to your compost. 

There’s a lot of different information out there about what is the best ratio of green to brown matter in a compost system. I don’t know the correct answer but I can tell you what’s generally worked for me is a 3:1 brown-to-green ratio.

For every amount of green matter that I put in my compost, I add 3x that amount of brown matter. 

I like to shred paper in advance and keep it in a bucket near my compost system. That way, when I add any green matter, like food scraps, I can easily add some shredded paper right after. This saves me from having to run around my yard and find brown matter to mix into my compost.

Vermicompost is a big fancy word for composting with worms. You may be thinking, “aren’t worms already in the compost?” Well, sometimes! But, vermicomposting is a little bit different. 

In common outdoor composting systems, the compost forms through the breakdown of organic matter by aerobic activity. Aerobic activity is decomposition that needs air to take place. Outdoor compost also needs specific ratios of green matter to brown matter to water, as I mentioned above. 

Alternatively, in vermicomposting, the compost is created directly by the worms as they eat any organic matter you give them. Over time, they make something called worm castings which are so beneficial to any garden.

Vermicomposting is great for those working with smaller gardening spaces because it’s something you can keep inside your house in a tupperware bin. 

The shredded paper comes into play here because you can use it to help get your vermicomposting system set up. Vermicomposting worms need moist paper bedding as a source of food and water. 

So make sure to save any old newspaper if you’re looking to start your very own vermicomposting system!

Similar to using shredded paper on your garden’s surface, lining your raised garden beds with shredded paper on the bottom can also help eliminate weed pressure. After you’ve laid down and wetted your paper, you can then fill the rest of the bed up with soil.

Many gardeners also use cardboard to line their garden beds which is a great alternative. But I sometimes find that using recycled cardboard can be a bit more time-consuming because I often have to remove any plastic tape or labels that may still be attached to the cardboard by hand. 

Because I have a shredder at home, I almost always have shredded paper at the ready. But you can also shred your own paper by hand if you have the time. 

Shredded paper can make great DIY seed-starting containers that can then be planted directly into the ground where they’ll eventually break down. 

Making paper seed starting containers is simple. The first thing you need to do is turn your shredded paper into wet paper pulp. You can do this by putting your shredded paper in a blender with just a little bit of warm water. 

The pulp should look like thick grayish mud. Feel free to add more water if your pulp looks a little too dry. 

Once you have your pulp, you need something to form the shape of your seed containers. I find that a muffin tin works great for this because you can make several at one time, but you can also use any kind of small cup or container you may have around your house.

Next, you want to line your container of choice with your freshly blended paper pulp. The idea is that the pulp will dry to the shape of the muffin tin or cup you’re using. After about 24 hours, your pulp should be dry and can be carefully removed to use for seed starting. 

This DIY project is great for home gardeners because it eliminates the need for removing young seedlings from plastic trays which can disturb their roots and cause transplant shock. 

As I mentioned above, just plant your paper cups directly into the ground once your seedlings are ready to be planted outside. 

There aren’t really any added benefits to adding shredded paper directly to potting mix that you might use to start seeds or use for transplants in containers. It’s ultimately unnecessary as potting mixes usually come with everything your seeds and plants need to thrive. 

But, if you’re growing in containers or are a lover of house plants, you might consider adding a little bit of shredded paper to the bottom of your containers before adding potting soil. The paper helps to keep plants from drying out by holding in more moisture.

Unlike other forms of natural mulch or soil additives, paper can break down relatively quickly. Under the right conditions, paper can break down in as little as two weeks but will generally be broken down between four and six weeks.

The right conditions for a speedy breakdown of paper include having soil that is properly watered and ventilated. If your soil is too compacted, water and air may not be able to get through and aid in the decomposition process. 

It’s also important that you have the right insects to help in the decomposition process as well. A sign of good healthy soil is the presence of earthworms and pill bugs, just to name a few common soil insects.  

Whether you use it as mulch, in your compost, or in DIY projects to start seeds, you’ll definitely find that using shredded paper is beneficial to your garden. Just remember not to use papers with glossy finishes or brightly colored dyes to protect the health of you and your soil. 

I love having the option of using paper because it’s something that I have just lying around the house and the convenience of it really can’t be beaten. Having to get creative with the tools and supplies I use in my garden keeps me on my toes as I’m sure it does for many of you too.

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