The Difference Between Mulch and Compost

mulch and compost piles
As a gardener, you probably already know that both mulch and compost are important to the success and long-term health of your plants and flowers. But do you actually know the difference between these two materials? Although the terms seem to be used interchangeably by many people, mulch and compost are actually different things, and they have different purposes. Clearing up any confusion that may be rolling around in your mind will help to ensure that you use both mulch and compost correctly going forward.

Understanding Compost

To start, let’s create a clear definition of compost. When talking about compost, you are talking about organic matter that has already decomposed. Many people make compost in their backyard, but you can purchase it as well if you so choose. Things like food scraps and lawn clippings can be piled together in a designated place in order to create compost. While not a fast process – a proper compost can take a year or more to create – the end result will be a powerful organic substance that can work wonders in your garden.

The potential uses for compost are many. For one thing, you can add compost to a planting hole, along with potting soil, in order to provide roots with all of the nutrients they need to thrive. Or, for plants that are already in place, you can rake a little bit of compost into the dirt near their roots to deliver nutrients in much the same way. Basically, using compost is a great way to ‘feed’ plants, whether they are new to your garden or they have been there for years.

Understanding Mulch

Just as is the case with compost, mulch is also an organic material. However, mulch is intended to be used on top of your soil as a protective layer for your plants. Rather than working mulch down deep into the soil to feed your plants, you will leave it resting on top of the ground as a form of insulation. When done properly, mulch can help to keep moisture in the ground, it can prevent weed germination, and it will eventually make the soil more nutritious as it breaks down over time.

Two of the most-popular mulch materials that are used by the average home gardener are grass clippings and shredded leaves that have fallen from their trees. If you have grass as part of your landscaping, you already have access to free mulch each time you mow the lawn. And, if the trees on your property drop their leaves once a year, you can shred those leaves and use them for mulch material as well.

Although mulch and compost are certainly not the same thing, they do both have the potential to work wonders in your garden. By using each of these powerful organic materials correctly, you can give your landscaping the care and nutrients it needs to thrive all throughout the growing season.