Mulch versus Compost

Mulch versus Compost

When doing gardening work, besides planting, weeding, and watering the plants which most if not all people are familiar with, there are some other procedures you might want to familiarize yourself with. 

One (or rather two!) of these procedures are mulching and composting. You might ask yourself what they are. Well, let’s start from the beginning.

If your garden is mainly a couple of flower beds, then you will perhaps be satisfied with buying some specialized flower soil which is enriched in factories and planting your flowers in it.

However, if your garden is bigger, perhaps you will want to avoid such huge costs and do a little bit of enriching your own. There are two ways you can go about doing this, and in this article, you will find out a little bit about each one, as well as which type of soil enrichment is right for your needs, as both have their benefits and drawbacks.


Compost and composting

It is possible to define compost as decomposed organic matter – any fruit that is not picked up and instead falls to the ground and rots will technically become compost – a lot of the materials that the fruit consisted of will be broken down by worms and bacteria and enrich the soil below the fruit tree. This means, in theory, that each year the fruit tree sustains the ground below it by itself, as if unpicked, the fruit will “feed” the tree naturally. This decayed material, when completely decomposed, is called hummus.

To mimic this process, a lot of people have dedicated a special place in their garden to get a bunch of hummus they can later put wherever they want. Usually, composting is done in a specialized container, by putting whatever organic material you can get into it. However, a lot of experts suggest that you mix so-called “green” material – such as rotten vegetables, with “brown” material, such as twigs and hay. This will allow you to get a better mix and will enrich your soil better.

But what is compost used for then? Well – we already explained that it is added to enrich the soil with nutrients – but what has not been said is that it should be mixed INTO the soil since it is very strong. Some say that using compost alone can actually inhibit growth since the natural difference between the nutritious value of the soil and compost is so big that the plants will not want to spread into non-composted soil.

Therefore, use compost – decayed organic material – to help your plants grow.


Mulch and mulching 

What is mulching then? While you can use compost as mulch, we would not recommend using mulch as a compost. Let’s explain why. Mulching is the process of using organic or non-organic material to put on top of the soil in order to prevent the spread of weeds or retain moisture. While for composting you can use basically any organic material, mulching is a bit more restrictive when choosing what you’re using for mulch. If you decide for organic mulch, be sure to use a bit more durable material which can still decompose in time – wood chips and grass clippings are among the most common materials.  

If going for non-decayable and more permanent materials, you can use plastic (black plastic is very common to trap heat and prevent weed growth), stones, or even glass. Be mindful that each of these materials also has its benefits and drawbacks and you might prefer one over another based on your needs, so be sure to do your research. 

Therefore, to sum up – if you are mulching you will still add some nutrients into the soil, but you will have to wait until the material (if you went organic) decomposes naturally. Therefore, if you feel your soil is not especially bountiful with nutrients, maybe you should consider composting before mulching.

Then, if you decide you want to try mulching as well, know that your plants will appreciate it since mulching has a couple of clear pros:

- If you mulch and cover the soil above your plants with any material, the weeds will have a much harder time finding a place to plant themselves and grow. This will reduce the time you will spend weeding the plants, which can be the most annoying part of gardening work.

- When there is rainfall, the soil actively retains some of the moisture. However, hotter temperatures mean this moisture will evaporate back and dry out your plants. Interestingly enough, mulch does not allow this to happen as the temperatures reaching the soil are lower and moisture is retained.


Should I mulch or compost?

The answer to this questions depends on your needs and the place you live in.

None of these two procedures is strictly better as they are similar but different enough to serve two different purposes. Composting is used to enrich the soil by mixing the compost in it to prepare for planting, whereas mulching is used more for protecting the soil and plants after the plants have already been planted. 

If you take all of this into consideration, it is easy to come to some conclusions:

 - If your garden is already rich in nutrients and the plants usually thrive, you can skip the composting part, but it is still advisable to compost a bit, just to keep tabs on this and avoid any potential future mishaps if the soil loses its richness.

- Mulching is generally always a good thing to do with your plants. It offers protection to the plants, but you should definitely be careful with it as well. Using too much mulch can undo your good work and actually suffocate your plants, so if you are gardening as a hobby with a small number of plants, perhaps it is not needed either.

One thing is for certain – you are the judge of your own situation and can see best if you need both, either or none of the above.