How to Kill Grass Naturally, Using Newspapers

Organic Way to Get Rid of Unwanted Lawns and Open Up Planting Beds

Grass blades in lawn backlit.
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Organic gardeners often wonder how to kill grass and eliminate lawns without using herbicides — and without excessive work. Well, there is an easy and natural way to do the job in preparation for opening up planting beds. It is a method that involves using newspapers to smother your lawn.

The job goes pretty quickly, but the smothering process takes several months to play out. So lay the newspapers down in fall if you want to be gardening in the spot by next summer. 

Getting Rid of Grass, Step 1: Mowing (Optional)

Why is step 1, mowing, labeled as optional? The reason is that the natural way to get rid of grass discussed below will kill tall grass as certainly as it will kill short grass. So what would be the argument in favor of bothering with mowing? It will be easier to get the newspapers to lie flat on top of shorter grass. But either way will work, so it is really up to you.

Getting Rid of Grass, Step 2: Laying Newspapers

In order to kill grass effectively using this natural method, it is important to keep two things in mind as you lay the newspapers over the lawn:

  1. The layer of newspapers must be thick: about 10 sheets.
  2. Overlap each 10-sheet stack of newspapers with the next stack in the row. The overlap should be by a few inches. Likewise, when you start laying a new row, overlap it with the first row. In other words, the overlapping should occur in both directions (up and down, plus left to right).

When you first begin this grass-killing project, you may find that you are wasting too much time opening up sections of newspaper and counting the sheets. But as you proceed, you will develop a quicker, if less precise method.

You will come to learn approximately how many sheets per section (be it sports or whatever) is the norm with the newspaper publisher in question. Once you get the knack for it, you will simply start laying sections down, unopened. This will mean laying more individual "shingles" (to use an analogy to roofing a house), but it will speed up the process a lot. It is a shortcut that you will develop a feel for once you get going.

Are you wondering if using newspapers to kill grass — sometimes referred to as "layering" — qualifies as "natural?" Put your mind at ease. Most newspapers nowadays are safe to use in the garden

Incidentally, although spraying water on the newspapers (to keep them from blowing around) might seem like a good idea, wetting them actually makes the newspapers more difficult to work with. They will tend to break apart too much when wet. So keep the newspapers dry while you are spreading them; a better way to prevent blowing will be explained in the next step.

Natural Way to Kill Grass, Step 3: Laying Mulch on the Newspapers

Since you will be applying mulch as a final step, anyhow, a better way to keep the newspapers from blowing is to keep a bucket of mulch handy, so that a bit of mulch can be applied on top of the newspapers immediately if the wind starts to become a problem.

When you are through laying newspapers, go back and spread a layer of mulch (5 or 6 inches, say; it is not an exact science) uniformly over the newspapers. A thick layer of mulch will press the newspapers tightly against the lawn, which will smother the grass faster. Now that you are done working with the newspapers, spray some water over the entire area. This will further pack down the mulch and get the sod to rot faster.

You are done. Now you just wait (at least several months) for the layer of newspapers and mulch to kill the grass. Sod, newspapers and mulch will eventually all break down, adding nutrients to your soil. At that point, you will be ready to start gardening in the space.

Conclusion on Killing Grass With Newspapers

Have you ever wanted to convert a lawn area to a flower bed (without using herbicides) but dreaded doing so because of the work involved? Let's face it: The thought of rototilling, digging sod out by hand, or even renting a sod-cutter can be daunting. This is especially true if you have a large lawn area. The good news is that you do not have to do any of those things to get rid of your unwanted grass.

Besides being organic and giving you a chance to recycle newspapers, what makes this grass-smothering project nifty is that it involves relatively little work on your part. Instead, you let time do the work for you. It is one of the easiest ways to start a garden from scratch in what had been a lawn area.