Compost vs. Fertilizers: Which One Is Right for Your Garden?

If you’re new to gardening, you may be wondering about the difference between compost and fertilizers. Both have their own roles in creating a healthy environment for your plants, but it’s important to understand how to use each one properly to avoid harming your beloved greens.

What Is Compost?

Compost is the result of blending various decaying organic substances, such as manure and dead leaves. It not only adds nutrition to the soil but also helps retain moisture. You can easily find compost at big box stores and nurseries, or you can make your own.

Advantages of Using Compost

Compost, also known as black gold, offers numerous benefits to gardeners. It promotes healthy microbe growth within the soil, enhances the health of the natural soil food web, creates nutrient-rich soil for plants to thrive, and even controls weeds. Additionally, compost helps with aeration and moisture retention while assisting in disease resistance for certain types of plants.

Disadvantages of Using Compost

One drawback of compost is that it takes time to be effective, especially if you make your own. It may take a few months for homemade compost to fully decompose and become usable. Another consideration is that compost doesn’t come with a guaranteed scientific analysis like fertilizers do, and its acidity can vary depending on the composition. So, it’s essential to test your soil before applying any amendments.

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What Is Fertilizer?

Fertilizer is a combination of natural and synthetic materials that provide essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, to support plant growth. It can be applied directly to the soil or used as a foliar feed.

Advantages of Using Fertilizer

One of the key benefits of fertilizer is its ability to add specific nutrients to the soil, enabling plants to grow faster and addressing any deficiencies they may have. Fertilizers come in various forms, including fast-release and slow-release options, allowing you to choose the best type for your plants. Furthermore, fertilizers provide a guaranteed scientific analysis, giving you precise information about the nutrients you’re adding to your soil.

Disadvantages of Using Fertilizer

Using fertilizers improperly can lead to nutrient overload in the soil, disrupt the symbiotic relationship between soil and microbes, and harm the surrounding environment. Excessive use of fertilizers and the chemicals they contain can also cause eutrophication in bodies of water, resulting in the death of organisms living in them.

How to Make Your Own Compost

If you’re interested in making your own compost, you can create a DIY compost bin. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll need and how to start the composting process:

What You Need

  • Coarse draining material (like straw or twigs)
  • Fresh manure and soil
  • Garden waste
  • Water (if necessary)

How To Start Your Compost

Begin by placing a layer of coarse material at the bottom of the self-assembly bin. Then, add garden waste in alternating layers of different materials, creating a compost “sandwich.” If the arrangement is too dry, add some water.

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Compost needs heat to work effectively, so sprinkle some manure or soil on each layer to introduce bacteria and fungi that break down organic material. Leave the pile for around three months, then uncover and remove the compost. Put it back in for another three months, as this helps add air to the mixture. After the final three-month period, your compost should be ready to use in your garden.

How To Use Compost and Fertilizer

Both compost and fertilizer have their pros and cons. Fertilizer works quickly to amend the soil and promote plant growth, while compost is organic and more cost-effective, especially if you make your own.

You can apply fertilizer throughout the growing season to plants that require consistent feeding. On the other hand, compost can be used as an annual top dressing. For some plants, you can apply both compost and slow-release fertilizer as new growth begins in spring.

Both compost and fertilizers can also be applied as foliar feeds, with compost tea being a preferred option. Compost tea contains antioxidants and vitamins that help plants during times of stress. However, avoid applying foliar fertilizers during periods of plant stress, as it may attract pests and damage weakened plants.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: Why is compost better than fertilizer?

    • A: It’s not about one being better than the other. Both compost and fertilizers have their appropriate applications. Sometimes, they can even be used together.
  • Q: Do plants grow faster with fertilizer or compost?

    • A: It depends. Compost provides a more complete nutrient profile, making plants grown in compost-enriched soil healthier.
  • Q: Is compost better for the environment than fertilizer?

    • A: In optimal situations, compost is better for the environment since it doesn’t leach into the earth or nearby waterways. However, compost can harbor diseases and pests that can be detrimental to the surrounding environment.
  • Q: Can you use compost and fertilizer together?

    • A: Absolutely! You can include a side dressing of compost and apply your favorite fertilizers for an annual soil refresher.
  • Q: Can too much compost hurt plants?

    • A: Yes, too much compost can harm plants that need a more neutral pH or excellent drainage. Always conduct a soil test before applying compost.
  • Q: Is it okay to grow plants in just compost?

    • A: Some plants can grow well in compost alone, but most plants need a combination of compost and topsoil for optimal results.
  • Q: Why do farmers prefer using compost and not chemical fertilizers?

    • A: Compost provides a more complete nutrient profile and doesn’t have the same negative impact on the environment as some chemical fertilizers.
  • Q: Can I just put compost on top of the soil?

    • A: Absolutely! This is a great option for plants that don’t require high fertility and helps refresh the soil.
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Remember, both compost and fertilizers have their roles in creating a thriving garden. So, choose wisely and enjoy the fruitful results! For more tips and resources, visit Ames Farm Center, where you’ll find everything you need to nurture your green thumb. Happy gardening!