Can you use shredded paper as media to grow plants?
Hardiness Zone: 5b
Marlena from East Berlin, PA
Depending on its makeup and absorbency, shredded paper could serve as a useful medium for sprouting seeds, similar to the way a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag works for sprouting seeds. But in terms of using it as a growing medium, the structure of most paper does not allow it to retain moisture long enough to support any real growth. My guess is that certain types of papers may have better potential as a growing medium than others. Paper made from cotton fibers, for example, may have a higher likelihood to retain moisture, but it's still doubtful that it would work very well. This is because one of the properties that makes paper so useful to us is the ability of paper fibers to bond together and form a mat when all the moisture is removed. In fact, the smaller the pieces the easier it is for the fibers to bond together once they dry. Raw paper doesn't contain enough beneficial nutrients to support plant life, but it's still incredibly useful in the garden. It's worth saving for the compost pile and shredded paper could make an almost impenetrable weed barrier, while gradually breaking down and adding organic matter to the soil.
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I do not think so as wet newspapers are used to block weeds from growing in the yard. I think the roots would not be able to breathe or get nourishments.
The short answer is - no. Unfortunately, when wet, it quickly turns into a paste-like consistency which prevents the roots from breathing and exchanging dissolved minerals. Besides, it does not contain the required minerals and cannot support the growth of bacteria normally present in the soil and essential for the plant. One might think mixing it in with the soil could help, which is possible (to an extent), but more serious problems arise: it promotes the growth of fungi. The fungi disrupt plant life not only directly but also by killing the soil bacteria (through action of antibiotics they produce). Moreover, paper often contains harmful chemicals which need to be broken down (e.g. by composting) prior to being used as a medium for plant growth. So, as Ms. Ellen Brown said, it has to be composted and then it makes a great medium. Shredded paper composts more readily, while composting helps to break down harmful chemicals and carbohydrates that would promote fungal growth.
I've used newspaper two different ways for growing plants.
First experiment was: using about 30+% shredded crunched up newspaper (soy ink is used by our local paper) mixed with 70% perlite. This was put into small containers on the patio for tomato seedlings, and also as a seed starting medium for tomato seeds. Worked stunningly well. I won't bother with soil ever again now that I've found this is easier. I mixed some fish fertilizer pellets right into the mix when potting up - and followed through faithfully watering with a mix of fish fertilizer and molasses all summer. The tomato plants given this treatment were simply stunning - beautiful enough they could have been pictured in a seed catalog. Their output of fruit was heavy. Their counterparts in the garden, in regular soil, fed in the same manner, were less attractive but reasonably productive.
My second experiment wasn't completed, but late in the season I had several tomato seedlings which hadn't been potted on. So I stuck them into containers with ONLY wadded up strips of newspaper. I ripped the paper into strips about 1" - 1-1/2" wide and wadded each strip into a ball. I figured it would have a harder time breaking down into glue around the roots this way - and I was right. So basically the plants were potted into lots of tiny wadded up pieces of paper. I fed them same as the above plants - and they actually grew - and put on flowers. Sadly, the season ended and frost grabbed them before I could find out what would have happened. True, they were a bit thin, not nearly as gorgeous as the first experiment, but they started at a disadvantage having been in their tiny seedling cups wayyyyy too long anyway. One note: I did water carefully to make sure the water would cover all the paper, and later I'd pour off any excess that wasn't absorbed.
So the short answer is, don't listen to the experts who tell you, "no." Just try it. You have nothing to lose except a few seeds, a little fertilizer and time. It's a lot of fun.
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