5 Easy Steps to Organic Weed Control for Beds & Borders

5 Easy Steps to Organic Weed Control for Bed and Borders - An Oregon Cottage

As part of our Spring Spruce-up series, I revamped our entry porch on Monday, cleaned up a couple vegetable beds on Tuesday, and today I’m sharing five easy steps to control weeds in your garden beds and borders – and not just for spring, but for the whole year! That’s right, weed once, take these steps and you won’t have to worry about them again until next spring. In only a couple hours you’ll be done with most of the maintenance for your bed – all that’s left to do is water and enjoy the blooms.

What’s my secret? Well, I have a little method that I’ve written about before, but it bears mentioning every season because it’s such a time saver and it’s pretty much one of the reasons I have time to have shrub and flower borders throughout our yard. When I get all our beds done using this method, I have a lot less work for the rest of the year. Here’s proof:

This is one of our front borders that we covered in newspaper and mulch (we use purchased garden compost for our mulch) last summer. There are just a few weeds (which are easy to pull thanks to all the mulch), with more concentrated around the stepping stones. That’s because it’s hard to get the layers of newspaper in between the stones unless we lift them, and obviously we didn’t take the time.

As a comparison, take a look at the other end of the same bed:

We ran out of the compost mulch and never finished the bed – in fact you can see on the right where we ran out of the paper and mulch close to the stones. There are some plants in there, but most of the green “groundcover’ is little baby weeds, plus those “poppers” I can’t stand.

Don’t let this happen to your flower beds, follow these five easy steps to organic weed control and make your life easier!

Step 1

Gather your materials.

  • Garden tools like trowels and rakes
  • Enough mulch to cover your area at least 2-inches thick (we like the brown color of a mulch our garden center calls “garden compost” which is about $18 a truckload, bark mulch and even straw work, too, but the compost has the added benefit of feeding your beds as it breaks down. It ends up being all the fertilizer my beds need most of the time)
  • Newspaper (the secret weapon!) – LOTS of it. We collect newspapers all year long and use it up each spring. You can also use cardboard, but it’s thicker, so use it only in areas you don’t want any thing to grow (like under trees or between large, established shrubs). Paper grocery bags are good, too, cut and opened up, but newspaper is usually easiest to acquire.

Step 2

Trim shrubs and perennials, then pull weeds. I like to wait until late winter-early spring to do this, as the dead growth helps protect plants from frost damage, plus provides habitat and seed heads for the birds. Plus, there’s no way I’d find time in the fall to do this with all the harvest coming in, but I like the bird theory better.

Try to get the roots of the perennial weeds (like dandelions), but for the annual weeds (like the poppers, aka, wild cress) just pull the biggest ones so that the paper can lay down flat. The layers will kill any little ones left.

Step 3

Trim the bed edges by trenching a grass edge or cutting the grass near a permanent edge. This bed has cement edgers, but most of mine are just grass.

Step 4

Start layering the paper, your secret weapon. Here are some points to remember when laying the paper:

  • The thicker you layer the paper, the more weed-blocking it will do- I like to use 6 to 10 layers.
  • Don’t use shiny, colored ads- just regular newsprint (which may have color, too- that is OK, just not the shiny paper)
  • Overlap the edges of the papers a good inch or two- the idea is to not give an opening for the weeds!
  • If there is wind, keep a hose nearby and spray the papers as you lay them to keep them stable before adding the mulch.
  • If the ground is dry (like, you didn’t get to it and it’s already July…), water well first, and then spray the paper as well. The mulch will help hold in the moisture for that time of year.
  • If you use soaker hoses, lay the paper under them.

Organic Weed Control Border Before and After - An Oregon Cottage

Step 5

Lastly, cover all the paper with mulch. The more you use, the better it will suppress weeds – a 2-inch layer is minimum.

Then sit back and enjoy how clean and tidy your bed looks – and will continue to look for months!

Note: You might be thinking, “What if I want to plant something later in the season?” Simply push aside the mulch where you want to plant, use a trowel to cut into the paper and bend it back (like a book cover), make a hole and place the plant in it. Tamp it down and replace the paper, tearing as needed to fit around the new plant and recover with the mulch. No problem.

This method can be used around trees, too, instead of buying expensive “tree rings” or using plastic edging (than invariably gets nicked with the mower…). Simply lay a LOT of layers of paper (10-15 layers) right over the mown grass in a loose circle, tucking the sharp corners in on the outside as needed. Cover with mulch, but don’t mound it up to the trunk. The tree pictured above was done last year, and you can see how it stayed grass-free all year. It needs another layer this spring to see it through the next year. Of course, you can give it a nice, cut edge if that’s something you like…I guess you can see which camp we fall in.

Not ready to tackle your yard yet? Check out these other spaces that are getting spruced up during this series!

Sprucing Up the Laundry Room | Mama’s Laundry Talk
Sprucing Up the School Room | Homegrown Mom
Sprucing Up the Craft Room | Many Little Blessings
Sprucing Up the Bathroom | Feels Like Home
Sprucing Up the Playroom | …Life’s About a Dream
Sprucing Up the Garage/Storage Space | A Slob Comes Clean
Sprucing Up the Master Bedroom | Raising Arrows
Sprucing Up Your Homeschool | Jimmie’s Collage
Sprucing Up the Kitchen | So Happy Together
Sprucing Up the Backyard | Successful Homeschooling



  1. says

    Smothering weeds with newspaper or cardboard and mulch is so satisfactory. If anyone could overhear the profanity-laced conversations I have with weeds, they would probably want to commit me.

  2. says

    Wow thank you so much for the tutorial.I am in the middle of getting my harbacous borders in shape, and was not lookingh forward to buying loads of plastic anti- weed sheets, this seems so much less expensive and more environmental friendly.

  3. Jami @An Oregon Cottage says

    Oh, Dee, I’m sorry to tell you that not much works against raspberries- those babies come up even in our graveled areas. You probably have to keep up digging and covering to try to keep them under control, but they’ll pop through most anything. I’ve been known to lay old plywood pieces in areas where I didn’t want anything to grow for awhile to try and combat the nasties (usually wild blackberries around here). :-)

    Tanya- Thanks for the tip! (note to self: don’t plant catnip…)

  4. Tanya Taylor says

    I made the mistake of actually planting catnip in a garden rather than a contained pot. What?! Two years later (and one year after completely removing it all from my garden) and it is popping up everywhere – including in nearby gardens! It is beautiful but not when it is taking over my property!

    I like your ideas here; I am off to dig it all up (again) and use your ideas. Maybe the newspaper will keep it from coming up again this summer and next spring. Thanks! =)

  5. Daphne says

    It’s so funny. I’ve been thinking and thinking all winter how I was going to do things differently so I’m not weeding all summer long and can actually enjoy the many, many gardens I’ve lovingly created on our 5 acres. I finally came up with this idea, and here you laid it out in detail for me. I wasn’t looking forward to spring this year, but now I can’t wait to do it once and enjoy my yard all summer. Thanks so much for posting this again, or else I would have never seen it.

  6. Gina says

    I really need to be more consist in mulching. I’ve loved mulching my garden but haven’t done much in the flower beds. And I am SO TIRED of weeding!

    Keep talking about it – and you may have me pulling out the newspaper too!

  7. says

    Just found this link through Pinterest and I’m wondering if this will work in a area where I just planted ground cover that I want to spread. Will the newspaper keep it from spreading out?

    • Jami @An Oregon Cottage says

      This will keep the weeds down in the first season while the ground cover gets established. I’d put it in-between the plants now, and reapply each season where it hasn’t spread yet. The newspaper decomposes each season, so it’s not permanent.

  8. says

    How many layers of paper is really ok around trees? Their roots need oxygen right? I actually did use newspaper in several gardens and around trees last fall, but I worry about suffocating them. Has anyone had an issue with this? My trees are saplings and I also plan to put paper around my rose bushes this year. Will it suffocate those? Thanks!

    • says

      Unless you live in a very dry climate, the newspaper starts breaking down right away, so I’ve never had a problem. Plus the roots go out much larger than the little circle we do – basically just to make it easier to mow around- so most of the H2O and water gets to the roots. What you really want to make sure is that the mulch doesn’t pile up around the trunk. The paper helps regulate the moisture of the ground, so roses love it! I think you’ll love it once you give it a try. :-)

  9. Kathy says

    I just found your blog. I have several areas in my yard that the weeds have won. Yesterday, I followed your instructions in one of the areas. It looks so pretty even without plants. My question is do I do this process every year in that area or only when the weeds start to pop through? Can you ever use too much newspaper? I’m really new at gardening. Love your site.

    • Jami says

      So glad you’re here, Kathy! And that’s my favorite time ever in the garden – just after mulching when it looks so neat and tidy and I’ve conquered a mess. :) The weeds do come back with neglect, though if you’re good about upkeep they will be less and less each year. And the upkeep is this: doing it once a year is best. You’ll see at the end of a year that most of the paper has broken down anyway. After about 3 years you might find you can skip a year.

      Here’s my confession, though: I don’t always get to it each year. Life goes on and I just add it when I can and it still helps me stay on top of the weeds! And, no, I don’t think you can use too much newspaper – we’re always running out. And the thicker the paper, the longer the weeds will stay away. :)

  10. Tara says

    So, if I wanted to use paper grocery bags how would you apply them? Is it better to keep them folded up to have a double layer? Or would it be better to cut the bag open and layer it with other bags as you did with the newspaper? Either way, how many bags would you use layered together as opposed to the newspaper which you said to layer 6-10 sheets?

    Can’t wait to try this I JUST finished weeding yesterday!!
    Thx, Tara

    • says

      It depends on if you will want to plant through them later – double layer paper will be more difficult. Basically, you can make it any amount of layers you want – the more layers, the more weed-protection, ’cause the longer it will take to break down (that’s why cardboard is the best, though we only have so much of it). When I’ve use grocery bags, I usually open them up, but that’s because I always run out of paper no matter what I use, lol. Use whatever you’ve got, Tara – I promise you will LOVE the results. :)

    • says

      Single sheets of newsprint, Rachel – usually a whole section (section A, etc) is what we do, which is anywhere from 4-6 layers. More is better, but sometimes we don’t have enough paper. :)

  11. Kim says

    Just wondering if I need to fertilize will I have to pull the paper back and then do over or will fertilizer make it thru the paper?

    • says

      As the newspaper and compost I use as mulch break down, it feeds the soil, so I rarely add extra fertilizer, Kim, but if you need to you can add it over the paper, as it really starts breaking down pretty quickly. If the paper is thicker and you feel you need to pull some back around the plant, you could do that as well.

  12. Jason says

    All of my plants in my flower beds are spreading perennials. Will the newspapers hinder the spreading of my plants?

    • says

      Yes, to some degree they will, Jason. I usually put the newspaper up as far as I can against the perennials – it means there’s still weeds within the perennials (I have NEVER found that planting thickly deters weeds completely – they still find a way to grow, lol), but I just hand-pull those. The newspaper starts breaking down pretty quickly – you can always go with thinner layers to just get the new spring weeds. You’ll have to play around with it and see what works best for your beds!

  13. JoAnn says

    If I used mulch instead of compost, do u think id have to remove it to put newspaper down every year?

    • says

      The newspaper breaks down in a year (mostly) and cardboard makes it about 2 years, JoAnn, so if there was any mulch left (there are all kinds of mulch and I use the compost as mulch here, but I’m assuming you mean bark chips or the like?), then yes, you’d have to rake it up to reapply the paper to get the benefit of smothering the weeds. A finer mulch would need to be reapplied at that point anyway, which is why we do both at the same time. :)

  14. Janet says

    Great ideas! I just moved into a house that has beds entirely around the house and then a small bed in the back yard off the patio. I just finished the small bed and didn’t use any plastic or landscape fabric because it’s always such a pain to add plants. I just mulched very heavily and figured I could control the weeds in this small bed by hand. But the rest of the beds are too large to do this with and I’ve been searching a better way. So thank you for this….I’ll be using it!

  15. Dawn says

    Hi I just found your site and was curious if you know if the newspaper will help control ant issues? In florida we have serious fire ant problems so I tend to stay away from mulch but I’d the newspaper helps control them I would definitely be using mulch much easier on the pocket book!

    • says

      Hmm, I don’t know Dawn. I would think that paper wouldn’t keep them away though – can’t they just cut through it? We don’t have them here…

  16. Deb Halvorson says

    We grow our vegetable garden in raised beds. We mulch with grass clippings. They keep the water in the soil and my garden is practically weed-free. Where it used to take an entire day to weed (it’s a big garden) I can now weed the whole thing in 15 minutes a week. Grass clippings are free and compost in by the next spring. We don’t use chemicals on the grass so we’re completely organic. They provide a nice uniformity to the look of the garden as they dry like straw. Saves a whole lot of work!

    • says

      I love raised bed gardening, it’s the best, isn’t it, Deb? What do you use on your paths between the beds? More grass clippings? Just curious, we use both gravel and straw in different areas, but they both have their own pros and cons. :)

      • Deb Halvorson says

        Actually, we patterned our harder after one we saw on P. Allen Smith’s show on PBS. We started with our tilled garden, laid out landscape timbers to form 4 foot wide beds, leaving enoug hspace between them to accommodate the width of our lawn mower, and laid down sod. Our garden is simply beautiful, there are no spaces between rows to weed, and I rarely need to put my feet in the dirt to harvest or care for my plants. I can garden barefoot! It’s an investment in money and time to do it this way, but it’s a one-time outlay. This year we are building an irrigation system so watering will be almost automatic as well. That has been our weak point in past seasons. I expect much higher yields and hope to provide the majority of our food this year. Thanks for the section on food preservation, by the way. Your readers have offered some great time saving tips. This is the first year our entire garden will be grown from seed, started indoors as it is still quite cold here in Ohio. The great thing about gardening is there is always something new to learn and try, and no matter what, the results are delicious and healthy!

  17. Jerry says

    Egg shells are excellent for keeping tomato worms away from your plants because they do not like to crawl across them, it hurts their little feet. TRY IT!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>