Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

How to Use Brown Grocery Bags for Mulching Weeds

By Jennifer Loucks ; Updated September 21, 2017

Ask for paper instead of plastic the next time you purchase groceries and recycle the bags in your garden. Brown paper grocery bags will decompose naturally while creating a barrier that eliminates weed growth. The bags kill weed growth by blocking the sun and lowering moisture absorption. The process may be used for several growing seasons in areas where weeds are excessive; however it will deplete nitrogen from the soil.

Mulching with Paper

Prepare the soil by turning it over with a shovel to flip the weeds and grass under the soil in the spring. Gently work around existing plants that will not be moved. Use a pitchfork to work around roots to prevent damage.

Lay brown paper bags over the entire area by ripping them open to lay flat on the ground. Use two layers of bags if the weeds are excessive. Cut holes in the bags to fit around existing plants.

Shred newspapers into strips and place as mulch around the openings of existing plants. This will create mulch that allows water to enter the ground yet prevent weed growth.

Cover the paper bag layer with a 2 to 3 inch layer organic material such as bark mulch or garden compost.

Spray existing plants with a foliar fertilizer if the plants begin to yellow from a lack of nitrogen.

Till the paper bag mulch area in the fall season after growing is complete. The tiller should penetrate through the mulch and paper bags and work it into the ground. The decomposing paper bags will add nutrients to the soil for the next growing season.

Repeat the paper bag mulching process on the same area if the weed growth has not been eliminated or the soil quality needs improvement.

Test the soil nutrient levels prior to planting as the decomposition process will deplete the soil nitrogen levels. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer to replace lost nitrogen.


Things You Will Need

  • Shovel
  • Pitchfork
  • Brown paper bags
  • Newspaper
  • Compost or mulch
  • Foliar fertilizer
  • Tiller
  • Soil test
  • High-nitrogen fertilizer


  • Several layers of newspapers will work in the same manner as a brown paper bag.

About the Author


Jennifer Loucks has been writing since 1998. She previously worked as a technical writer for a software development company, creating software documentation, help documents and training curriculum. She now writes hobby-based articles on cooking, gardening, sewing and running. Loucks also trains for full marathons, half-marathons and shorter distance running. She holds a Bachelor of Science in animal science and business from University of Wisconsin-River Falls.