What is compost?
Is it the same thing as fertilizer?
How easy is it to confuse the two?
When comparing compost vs fertilizer, what are some of the essential differences to keep in mind?
Compost is an additive meant for improving the quality of soil for your plants. It is made from material that has decomposed and mixed with soil, water, air, and heat to allow microorganisms to form within the matter. It can be made at home or purchased commercially.
Fertilizer, on the other hand, is basically food for plants. It is found commercially and can be targeted to a specific plant’s needs, and it can be used to improve the overall health of a plant.
Many people get the two confused. In fact, it’s generally acceptable to refer to compost as a type of fertilizer, but not the other way around; fertilizer is not a compost. Fertilizer is used to give plants plenty of nutrients, while compost is used to make the soil itself nutrient-dense.
In this article, we’ll show you some of the differences between compost and fertilizer so you can determine which one is right for your needs. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you’re looking for an option that will help improve the environment while making it easier for you to garden conveniently and sustainably, compost may be the way to go.
Check out the information in the section below to find out more.
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Comparing Compost and Fertilizer
Understand the pros and cons of compost and fertilizer so you can better compare the two and determine which to use in your specific situation.
Here are a few pros of picking compost for growing your plants:
- It’s easy to make your own compost. All you need is a compost bin, a compost pile, and a source of heat. With a little time, you’ll have compost thanks to the natural process by which it is formed.
- Compost makes soil that is very nutrient-rich, especially when it comes to nitrogen. Nitrogen-rich soil is great for your plants. Other nutrients may be present in the soil when you compost, too.
- Some composting may help plants resist disease and illness. This is often dependent on the type of compostable materials you use, the type of plants you grow, and the state of the soil as well.
- Some composting may help prevent the spread of weeds in your yard. Once again, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to reduce weeds with composting too.
- Composting is a great way to reduce waste while improving your plants at the same time. Live a low-waste lifestyle while reaping the benefits of healthier garden plants when you compost.
And here are a few cons when it comes to compost:
- Although it’s not too difficult, there is still some effort and time involved in composting. You will need to heat and turn the compost pile or buy a machine that does this for you. It also takes a while to allow organic waste to decompose.
- If you you don’t have a machine that heats and turns compost for you, it can be physically difficult to process the compost pile. Some individuals may not have the physical stamina to do this.
- It can take a lot of time to gather enough composting materials to really benefit your plants. A bigger garden will need a lot of compost, so when you’re just getting started, you may not be able to use your compost right away.
- Some areas do not accept compost municipally. You will need to find a way to use all of your compost at home if you can’t dispose of it at a local site.
- Compost can have a strong smell, and in some areas it may be against HOA rules to compost in your backyard. More and more HOAs are allowing compost because of its environmental benefits, but some still do not.
If you’re thinking of using fertilizer instead, keep these pros in mind:
- If you don’t have a place to make your own compost at home, fertilizer is able to be purchased from many hardware stores. It’s easy to find and can be used right out of the bag in many instances.
- Fertilizer can be designed for a specific type or family of plant. This way, issues known to that plant species can be targeted.
- Fertilizer is always nutrient-rich and adds plenty of necessary ingredients to the soil. Since it’s made to contain nutrients, it’s always going to have just the right ones present.
- You can plant directly into fertilizer and start seeing the benefits right away. You may still need to mix some types of fertilizer with soil, but it’s often not impossible to simply plant right into the fertilizer instead.
- You don’t usually need as much fertilizer as you need compost. A little goes a long way, so you don’t have to worry about using a ton to achieve your plant goals.
But don’t forget the cons of using fertilizer, too:
- Fertilizer can cause the balance of your soil to be thrown off. Microorganisms may not function the way they’re supposed to because of this, and some plant disease may be worse due to the inappropriate pH balance of the soil, too.
- When you use fertilizer, you may add too many nutrients to the soil, which may contribute to plant disease and death. Overdoing it with nutrients can be just as bad as under-feeding your plants.
- Fertilizer contains a lot of chemicals. These chemicals will be absorbed by any plant that grows in the fertilizer—including those you eat.
- Fertilizer can and often does contribute to groundwater contamination. When fertilizer runoff is present, groundwater contamination is a lot more common. And since groundwater contamination is a major issue, it’s important not to contribute to it any more than you have to.
- It’s expensive to buy a lot of fertilizer every time you need to add it. Fertilizer is pricey and buying it is inconvenient at best.
Now that you’ve learned a little more about the pros and cons of fertilizer and compost, you may be wondering which one to use. How can you tell which one of the two is the best choice for your needs? Should you use both, or should you just forego both of them and use neither?
It’s a good idea to use one or the other, but using both may overload the plant with nutrients and actually make it less healthy than it would’ve been otherwise. You may need to have your soil tested if you want to know for sure whether or not it needs the benefits of composting, or you may simply want to give composting a try and see how it works for you.
Generally, if you need to add nutrients to the plant itself, you should use fertilizer. But if you need to add nutrients to the soil for any plant that may grow there, compost is the better choice.
Of course, if your concerns are environmental, by all means stick to composting! It’s more convenient, better for the environment, and less likely to pollute groundwater. All in all, of the two, composting is the better overall decision in most instances.