Gardening Basics: Mulch or Compost?

Planting young tree by kid

Let’s start this read by doing a quick definition: compost is an organic matter that has undergone decomposition and is usually used as fertilizer, whereas mulch is a composition of organic residue that has not undergone decomposition and is generally used for protection.
These are both technical definitions. Compost is used primarily to provide nutrients for the plants, especially to help propagate new seedlings. Mulch, on the other hand, is used to provide soil protection for existing and grown plants. Most gardeners prefer doing both processes to ensure vegetation growth stability as well as most lawn and landscape services because they understand the dynamics of their use.

Compost Use

Composting is done by piling up most organic scraps you can find. Lawn residue, kitchen scraps, and garden clippings make good materials for compost. A good compost usually takes a year to decompose, but recently, it can be sped up by a formula of the exact ratio of materials and water. A good indication of decomposition is the absence of the putrid smell, which tells us that it is still in the breakdown process. When compost has fully decomposed, it is often referred to as humus and has a brown color with a pleasant smell. Compost completes the natural soil cycle and replenishes the soil with nutrients needed to sustain plants.

After tilling soil, compost is usually applied around where you dig holes for new plants. Compost provides nutrients to the soil, but it is not advised to fill in new holes with it. New plants tend to be stagnant as it absorbs as many nutrients as they can from a compost filled hole instead of extending its roots to regular soil to look for more, making it grow slower.

Mulch Use

garden in spring doing the mulching of the flowerbeds

Mulch is usually composed of organic matter that may be a combination of such or a particular material. Leaves, wood chips, barks, shredded yard waste, and sawdust make good mulch. Its main use is to discourage the growth of weeds, provide moisture retention, and prevent soil erosion and visits from unwanted pests. You can also use stones, plastics, and straw depending on the type of protection, insulation or landscape contouring you need.

Some people find it easier to get mulch from a supplier other than improvising on their own, as using the wrong materials for mulch may do more harm than protection. Fresh mulches can compete with plants for nutrients. Also, unfiltered materials may contain grass seeds that will eventually propagate.

Shredded leaves are preferred during the gardening season as well as properly shredded grass. Cedar chips are preferred for perennial beds since it breaks down slowly and provides coverage that can last several seasons.

The Interchange

You can’t use mulches as a compost, especially during the till process, but compost can be used as mulch in terms of weed prevention.
Mulch materials vary, and they don’t serve as compost during the tilling process simply because they cannot provide nutrients right away. Mulch made with organic materials, however, provides nutrients over time as they decompose naturally around the soil.

On the other hand, composts, during its decomposing process, are made to breakdown everything organic, including weed seeds and most permaculture process or no-till gardening prefer using compost as mulch.

Mulching and composting have brought continuous development in common organic gardening approach. Soil development has improved over the years, and the proper use of mulch and compost will not only enhance your gardening skills but help the environment entirely.