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Compost vs. Fertilizer: Which is Better as Garden Fertilizer

Discover the pros and cons of compost and fertilizer in gardening, and learn which is the best option for a healthy, flourishing garden.

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Those who are into gardening are always looking for ways to make it look green and healthy. Using compost, mulch, and fertilizer are some ways to improve soil fertility and soil health. However, it may be challenging to pick the right medium to boost plant growth. 

Each one has advantages and disadvantages; therefore, it must be selected carefully as per the garden’s needs. Finding the best solution for garden fertilization should also be good for the environment and soil health in the long run. 

If you are looking for an affordable solution, compost and mulch can be ideal. For quick fixes and specific causes, it’s best to stick to a professional-grade fertilizer. We’ll discuss how compost and fertilizer perform and compare them for garden use. With some hit and trial, you may find the right solution for your plants and master the art of gardening. 

Understanding Compost 

Understanding Compost-fertilizer

Compost is an organic nutrient source for the soil and plants. It may include food scraps(vegetable and fruit peels), leaves, and tree branches. When this organic matter decomposes, it releases nutrients to replenish the soil. Compost can have nutrients similar to fertilizer but has more of a slow-release mechanism as it decomposes. Therefore, the nutrients may not be delivered readily to the plants. 

It can take anywhere from weeks to months for compost to show any change in the soil composition and plant health. The mixture of decaying natural substances mostly releases nitrogen as microorganisms decompose them. There may be some amount of potassium and phosphorus in the compost. Compost is great for soils when you do not wish to change its composition too much.

What are the benefits of compost?

Here are some major benefits of compost: 

  • It can maintain the natural health of the soil. 
  • Compost promotes healthy microbial activity in the soil. 
  • The soil can get adequate minerals from the decaying matter. 
  • Soil can retain moisture if it’s rich in organic matter. 
  • It promotes the growth of plants in an organic manner without chemicals. 
  • Compost can decrease the chance of plants getting diseases. 
  • Organic matter can reduce weed growth. 
  • Water infiltration is balanced with compost. 
  • Compost is a cheaper and more organic alternative to chemicals.
  • It can work well for backyard gardens. 

What are the drawbacks of compost?

Here are some disadvantages of compost: 

  • Compost offers nutrients slowly.
  • When using compost, it may not change the soil pH as needed.
  • Composting can be a time-consuming and laborious task.
  • There may be bad odor issues as the compost organic matter decomposes. 
  • Compost requires an open and large area for storage. 

How to use compost for gardening?

You may use the compost by applying it around the plant’s two- to three-foot diameter area. You may replace the compost once it has been processed by microbial activity. This will prevent weeds from growing, support organic activity, and improve water filtration. Moreover, compost will retain moisture in summer and drought-like conditions. 

Understanding Fertilizer


Fertilizers are chemically balanced nutrients that can be used to boost plant growth. They may come in forms such as granular, powder, spray, liquid, and spikes. Fertilizers mainly contain phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium in different ratios. You may decide which ratio to use for a specific plant in the growing and dormant season. There may be some amount of zinc, sulfur, iron, and calcium in the fertilizers. 

Fertilizers, when added in the right quantity and growing season, can help the plants thrive and deliver more flowers and fruits. Using fertilizers is one sure way to keep plants and trees in good shape while getting maximum yield.

The targeted nutrients present in fertilizers work great if you are commercial farming or are serious about maintaining your home garden. It can be a reliable and sustainable way to have an evergreen and lush garden.

You may choose from organic and inorganic fertilizers. Apart from compost, organic ones may include bone meal and manure. Inorganic fertilizers are in powder or liquid form that is carefully formulated for specific plant species. 

It is easy to use fertilizers as they come in known ratios. Moreover, nutrients are readily available from fertilizers. To check the composition of the fertilizer label, look at the ratio such as 10:6:8. Here, 10 is for nitrogen, 6 is for phosphorus, and 8 is for potassium. 

What are the advantages of using fertilizers?

The advantages of fertilizer in the garden are:

  • Fertilizers promote quick plant growth.
  • More nutrients are available when using pure fertilizers. 
  • Fertilizers are great when the soil lacks one or more nutrients. 
  • It can replenish the nutrients and soil pH quickly. 
  • Fertilizers are good for both micro and macro-nutrients.
  • It contains trace nutrients such as zinc, manganese, and magnesium. 
  • Commercial farming or large gardens can benefit from fertilizers.  
  • Using professional-grade fertilizers helps eliminate the guessing work. 

What are the drawbacks of using fertilizers?

Here are some disadvantages of using fertilizers: 

  • If you add too much fertilizer, it may alter the soil quickly.
  • It can cause groundwater and soil pollution. 
  • Using fertilizer may lead to decay in plants due to more nutrient intake. 
  • Fertilizers may be expensive in comparison to compost. 

How to use fertilizers for gardening?

Go through the fertilizer packaging instructions to use it correctly. You may have to dilute the liquid ones and mix the powder ones in water for uniform application. One way to apply fertilizer is to dig holes around the roots and place them uniformly in those holes. When using spikes and slow-release fertilizers, insert them into the ground and add enough water to release the nutrients. 

Compost vs. Fertilizer

Here’s a comparison b/w the two so you may choose the right one: 

Availability of nutrients

Compost takes time to decompose and make the nutrients available to the plants. This delays the intake of nutrients if the plant is in the growing season. However, it may be beneficial in dormant fall and winter months. To suffice the needs of the garden in the growing season, you can use fertilizers with high nutrient availability. 

Impact on the environment

As discussed earlier, compost can prompt water infiltration for healthy soils. This also allows the distribution of manure into the soil so the roots may absorb the nutrients. When chemical fertilizers are added to the soil, they get dissolved with rainwater or irrigation and seep into the soil. It leads to the pollution of soil and groundwater. So, chemical fertilizers can cause erosion and poor drainage of soil.

Application frequency 

The application frequency of compost may depend on the bioactivity of the compost and the impact that is visible on the plants. Since it releases the nutrients slowly over time, you may not need to apply it repeatedly in one season. Fertilizers can be applied twice in a month or two in the growing season.

They dissolve in the presence of water from rain and irrigation, requiring reapplication. You can easily prevent this by adding slow-release fertilizers or spikes to the soil. Also, always practice caution when using fertilizers, as that may quickly change the soil pH. 


Compost is more affordable than fertilizers. If you are making compost from kitchen scraps and fallen leaves, then it will be a no-cost solution for your garden. The cost may go high as you choose professional-level fertilizers with specific nutrient profiles. 

Compost or Fertilizer as Garden Fertilizer

Compost or Fertilizer as Garden Fertilizer

Choosing which one to use as a garden fertilizer can be a challenge. You can figure out which one to use depending on the following: 

  • Look at the plant’s current needs and the condition of the leaves and stem. 
  • Keep a note of the plant’s growing and dormant months. Spring and summer are usually growing seasons, and fall and winter are dormant. 
  • Set a budget for gardening supplies and spend accordingly. 
  • Fertilizer and compost needs will depend on the garden area and plantation size. 
  • Learn what plant species require more compost/fertilizer, water, and soil needs. 

Your approach to gardening may also impact the choice of plant food. Using compost rich in organic matter will be better for the environment. It won’t harm the soil or add chemicals to the plants. 

If your goal is high yield and quickly fixing rotting plants, then fertilizers are best to deliver accurate nutrition. Moreover, if your plants are already healthy, you may not need a strong fertilizer, and just compost alone can be sufficient. 

Wrapping Up

Now you know the advantages and disadvantages of using compost and fertilizers. Compost is more of a slow-release organic feed for the plants. On the other hand, fertilizers are great for a quick fix. You can use compost for your garden if the plants are already in good shape and may need a little extra help to get through more seasons. 

If the plants are struggling in various areas, such as yellow leaves, root disease, and soil deficiencies, then it’s better to switch to a professional-level fertilizer. You may also use both together, considering the needs of the plants throughout the year. Also, include mulch to ensure low weed activity and better water filtration in the soil for healthy roots. 

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