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Originally published Friday, June 18, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Put newspaper to work in your garden

Do Your Part: Re-purpose newspaper for a eco-friendly weed barrier in your garden.

McClatchy Newspapers

Weeds — the bane of gardeners everywhere. Here is a simple, cheap, and perfectly safe solution to preventing weeds in natural areas, flower beds or even a vegetable garden and you probably have at least one delivered to your home every week.

It's the newspaper! Once you read it, you can recycle it or you can re-purpose it to snuff out stubborn weeds without using potentially toxic chemicals.

Like the black landscape fabric you may be used to seeing, a layer of newspapers will keep sunlight from reaching young weeds waiting to emerge. Newspapers also encourage earthworm activity, which makes your soil better in the process. As the worms break down the paper their waste provides fertilizer for the soil and their tunnels help to provide beneficial oxygen.

Plus, it's simple. Clear the area where you want to prevent weeds from sprouting. Layer sections of the newspaper across the area. If it's windy you can lightly water the newspaper sections first to prevent them from blowing about. Overlap the layers by several inches to prevent gaps. Put down at least six to eight sheets. The thicker the layer of newspaper the better the weed control. Spray the papers lightly with water until soaked. Cover the area with leaves, grass clippings, straw, bark or rock. It looks better when the soaked papers are covered but it also helps to keep them in place until they break down.

There's no need to worry about the ink on the newspapers. In the past lead, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals were commonly used in paper inks. Now, however, most publishers use organic pigments, which are the same as those used in tattoos, lipstick, hair coloring and other cosmetics.

You may also see the "soy ink" symbol on a newspaper, which tells the reader that the newspaper company is using soy-based inks for printing.

You can also use the glossy inserts of the newspaper but the coating on the paper will prolong the process of breaking down. Such papers are best used sparingly or on problem areas. And if you have a particularly dense or stubborn patch of weeds, try using cardboard!

Keeping your garden weed-free doesn't have to be a backbreaking job nor do you have to use a bunch of potentially hazardous chemicals. Do Your Part and re-purpose your newspaper for a free, easy and eco-friendly solution to preventing weeds in your garden.

Do Your Part is an occasional feature. For more information: www.DoYourPart.com.

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