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Operation Cover-up preserves water from rainy day

After Dirt Garden finally got a good soaking, it was time to pull out stacks of newspaper and sacks of mulch for Operation Cover-up.

We know the rest of the summer is likely to be hot and dry, so the idea is to conserve what moisture there is under and near our plants.

Mulching saves time in the garden, because you have to weed less, water less and tend less to consistently moister plants.

Besides, a little ground cover makes your garden look neater than bare soil.

Operation Cover-up is a three-step process.


I do is save non-glossy parts of the newspaper, and, the slippery parts go into the recycling after I’ve pulled out the ads and coupons I want. Don’t use the glossy parts because they can slip and slide under the mulch, and it’s important to put something down that will stay where it is told.

You want to have about six layers of paper over the soil to block out weeds, and the nice thing about newspaper is that you can fold in every which way to add up to the ultimate layering level.

Overlap the edges by a generous 2 to 4 inches, and don’t get too close to the trunk of any plant. I usually leave several inches for small plants and a foot for trees. When you get to the mulch step, you can scatter a bit of mulch.


Wet down the paper as you go if it’s a windy day, just to keep the newspaper where it is.

If it is calm, you can spray the whole area when you finished putting down the newspaper layer.

I like to use a watering can because the effect we’re going for is damp basement, not swampland.


Newspaper isn’t pretty and will blow into the neighbor’s yard if isn’t dealt with firmly, so you need to cover it with something.

Some people like rocks, some like wood chips or bark. Whatever you like is good.

I don’t use cypress mulch because I dislike the idea of cutting down old-growth forests to make my garden look and smell pretty. I look for mulches that are from the Midwest and sustainable, like pine bark.

Because your newspaper is covering the soil and is damp, you don’t need a super-thick layer of mulch. I don’t make it more than an inch or 2 deep. Too deep and you can actually smother the soil.

Do not water the mulch layer during installation; if the soil and newspaper are damp, that is plenty. After Operation Cover-up is finished I never water the mulch, just individual plants. Bark mulch will rot and get icky if it gets and stays wet.

Anne Gregory is a garden putterer, not a gardening expert, and writer and editor. Garden photos (JPEGs, please) and tips may be sent to (please put “The Dirt” in the subject line) or 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.