Difference Between Compost Vs Fertilizer? Garden Tips 2023

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compost vs fertilizers

The best way to make your garden healthy is by adding nutrients. While some of the best sources are compost and fertilizer, many gardeners can be confused about which is most useful. We’ll highlight the differences between compost and fertilizer to help you decide how to make your garden thrive.

Difference between compost and fertilizer: Compost is created from a mixture of brown material, such as dead leaves, and green material, such as fruit scraps. Fertilizer is created synthetically and can be individual nutrients or a mixture of them. Both allow your garden to have enough elements for sustained plant growth and you will need to add either compost or fertilizer, or a mixture of both, to your garden throughout the year.  

What is compost?

what is compost

Compost is a mixture of many things but all of them need to be organic. Most often, gardeners will have a compost bin in their backyard but you can purchase compost if you want to add more to your garden.

There are two main components of compost: green matter and brown matter.

The green matter is items such as vegetable and fruit scraps and freshly mown grass clippings. In contrast, the brown matter is dried leaves, old plants, and even shredded newspaper.

Compost needs a mixture of brown and green matter for the best results. Not only does this create compost that is full of diverse nutrients but by layering the two types of matter, you can decrease any unpleasant odors.

It can take anywhere from four weeks to four months for compost to be ready for your garden. To speed up the process, you should turn your mixture every few days so that oxygen is mixed in. You should also monitor the moisture content of your compost as it won’t break down very fast if it is too dry.

There are other ways of creating compost including the use of worms. You can either add worms to your compost bin or you can create a separate housing structure where you feed the worms and then collect their castings.

Pros of Compost

Price

Compost is virtually free to create. All you need is a bin and many local municipalities will actually offer discounted compost bins for your backyard.

After that, simply collect yard waste such as grass trimmings and fallen leaves and then add in vegetable and fruit trimmings. If you have coffee grounds, you can even add these in.

Gardening has a lot of hidden costs to it, so if you can use what you have around your home to make nutrient-dense compost, you can save your money and put it to better use.

No waste

When you look at your garbage, how much of it is food waste? While you can’t put all of your food waste into your compost, you can divert a lot of it from the landfill.

Every day you have leftover apple cores, carrot tops, and banana peels. Instead of filling your garbage with them, put them in your compost so you can complete the lifecycle of these plants.

Gardening also produces a lot of waste in the form of leaves and old plant material. Again, you can put these items in your compost and make better use of them.

Cons of compost

Time

Unfortunately, good compost takes a while to break down. Even under ideal conditions, compost can take at least a few weeks to be ready and most will take a few months.

You can speed up the process by regularly turning your compost and by ensuring the pieces you add are small in size so they decompose quicker.

And, while you can simply bury some compost materials in your garden, this doesn’t work if you want to store large amounts of green and brown materials.  

Smell

Proper composting methods should ensure there are no foul odors in your compost bin but not everyone is as diligent about their compost as they should be. Unfortunately, as green waste decomposes, it can emit a strong smell.

Try your best to layer brown and green material to stop this smell. Proper aeration can also help with the smell but this can take a bit of time and effort.

Rodents

There is some debate over whether compost will attract rodents and other pests but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that you may come across at least one critter when caring for your compost bin.

The biggest defense against rodents is ensuring you don’t put any meat, bones, or oil into your bin. These items will definitely attract unwanted critters.

During winter, rodents will look for warmer areas for their habitats and compost bins can prove to be a tempting residence. When adding to your compost in the winter, you might want to make some loud noises to scare off any critters who are nearby.

If you are worried about mice and rats in your compost, you can find bins that have a mesh bottom. Be sure to secure the sides to the ground so there aren’t any access points.

What is fertilizer?

what is fertilizer

Fertilizer is isolated chemical compounds that act as nutrients for your soil. Common components of fertilizer include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium.

While the most common fertilizers will have different ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, you can also purchase individual elements.

You can also find a fertilizer that is made specifically for different plants. For example, grass fertilizer will be high in nitrogen to create that lush, green look.

Pros of Fertilizer

Specific garden needs

By far the largest benefit of fertilizer is that you can purchase exactly what your garden needs. If you have tomato plants, you can buy tomato fertilizer and if you have tropical plants, you can buy tropical fertilizer.

You can also purchase individual nutrients. So, if you test your soil and find out that it is deficient in calcium, simply add calcium fertilizer to better balance your soil.

Cons of Fertilizer

Cost

You will need to purchase fertilizer, which is an added cost. Furthermore, if you have plants that are heavy feeders, such as tomatoes, then you will need to regularly add fertilizer to the soil, which further increases the cost.

Burns plants

When you apply fertilizer, you need to be careful as it can burn plants if left in high concentrations. This is especially true of the sensitive roots of plants.

When adding fertilizer, always dilute it with water or, if you add it directly to your soil, water really well afterward. As for grass fertilizer, use a special spreader to ensure you have an even distribution, or else you will have burnt patches on your lawn.

The main difference between compost and fertilizer

Organic vs chemical

Compost is made from organic materials. This includes plant matter, leaves, grass, and vegetable scraps.

In contrast, fertilizer is a chemical compound that is engineered for specific nutrients. You can find a mixture of chemicals or isolated ones in fertilizer form.

Free vs cost

For the most part, compost is a free substance. Most gardeners have their own compost bin that they create from scraps in the garden and the kitchen.

Fertilizer always needs to be bought. You can save some money by purchasing large, bulk bags of fertilizer but you will still need to pay for it.

Which one to use?

If you have an all-purpose garden that is in good shape, using compost is recommended. You can spread out the nutrient-dense material and incorporate it into your soil.

Using compost is great if you have a smaller garden and if you have enough compost that you can add to your garden at least two times a year.

Some plants require specific amounts of nutrients and in this case, using fertilizer is better. This is especially true for indoor plants as it is easier to add liquid fertilizer to a container than to try to dig around the plant and add compost.

Fertilizer is also better if you have a larger garden or yard and don’t have enough compost to spread around. Areas like your lawn are too large for compost and so the fertilizer will ensure an even distribution of nutrients.

Do you need to add fertilizer if you use compost? Vice versa

If you are worried about your soil, it’s a good idea to test it. You can purchase simple soil tests that will tell you if it is deficient in specific nutrients.

If you are using compost in your garden, you shouldn’t have to add fertilizer but you may want to if you have plants that take up a lot of nutrients from the soil or who have very specific needs.

Typically, if you are using fertilizer, you don’t need to add compost. However, as fertilizer only has a few specific nutrients, adding compost will ensure your garden has a wide array of nutrients.  

Conclusion

Both compost and fertilizer add nutrients to your garden. While compost is free and created from green and brown materials, you may not have enough of it for your garden, which is why fertilizer is also useful.

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