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Compost vs Mulch (What’s the Difference?) – GIY Plants

Mulch vs compost in flower bed

You’ve heard of both compost and mulch. You might have even heard the terms used interchangeably. In reality, they’re two completely different things and not synonyms at all. So, what sets them apart, you might ask?

Below, we’ll cover the differences between mulch vs compost. You’ll also learn how to use each one to ensure a strong, healthy garden.


Pile of red mulch

What is Mulch?

Mulch is a relatively thick material, that is either organic or inorganic, that covers the top layer of soil. The material is frequently made up of wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, or moss.

Uses of Mulch

Add a layer of mulch to your soil to hinder the growth of weeds, protect young or delicate plants, or to lock in moisture by reducing evaporation. In fact, mulch can help reduce water usage by up to 25 to 50 percent!

Mulch can also help lessen the chances of soil erosion from natural elements like rain and wind. Soil erosion is problematic as it washes away the important, fertile top layer of soil. As a result, this can make it harder for plants to grow.


Compost bin

What is Compost?

Compost is a mixture made from decomposed organic material, like leaves, animal byproducts, and/or food scraps.

Uses of Compost

Compost is essentially a natural plant fertilizer. It’s added to existing soil to improve its nutritional value. In turn, it can help make plants healthier and grow faster, reduce greenhouse emissions, and eliminate the need to use chemical fertilizers.

Like mulch, compost can help play a role in reducing soil erosion, preventing weeds, and retaining soil moisture. (However, mulch tends to be better in these three areas.)

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use Compost as Mulch?

Yes, you can use finished compost in replacement of organic mulch. This way, your garden will reap the benefits of both at the same time: protection from weeds and the elements while also adding extra nutrients to the soil.

However, the reverse – using mulch as compost – isn’t possible as mulch doesn’t have the same nutritional value of compost.

Is Compost or Mulch Better?

Since they are used for two different purposes in a garden, neither compost or mulch is automatically better than the other. Though, since compost can be used as mulch, and mulch can’t be used as compost, some might consider compost to be superior.

So, if you only want to make one, opt for compost. Although, mulch is overall easier to make. It’s also better at protecting the ground than its compost counterpart due to its thicker, heavier composition.

A Recap: What is the Difference Between Compost vs Mulch?

The main difference between compost and mulch is their uses. Compost is used to provide nutrients for the soil. On the other hand, mulch is used to protect the soil and the plants it contains.

They also look quite different from one another. Mulch tends to be thicker than soil. Compost, however, is often ground up to about the same consistency as soil.

In addition, compost is composed of decomposed materials while mulch is typically not decomposed. Mulch can be either organic or inorganic, but compost can only be the former. Last but not least, compost is typically mixed into the soil while mulch is placed on top of the soil.

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