One of the most common misunderstandings among new gardeners is the difference between compost and mulch. Because the terms are often used synonymously, the misconception arises that they are the same. Composted manure, as with all kinds of compost, is also not mulch per se, but compost can be used as mulch. Once you understand the differences between mulch and composted manure, you will be able to use them both beneficially in your garden. While the main difference is the materials that they are made of, there are some terminology issues that first need resolving.
Mulch and Compost
Mulch is the covering that is put down on the soil around plants in order to protect them. Mulching is the act of putting down the protection, whether it is wood chips, straw or other organic items. Compost, on the other hand, is the result of breaking down organic plant matter. Composting is the process of piling up all types of organic matter and letting Nature take its course. Even though the terms have distinct meanings, there is some overlap. The elements used for mulch can be thrown on a compost pile, and compost can be used as mulch to protect plants.
Composted manure is one type of compost used to fertilize plants. Comprised mainly of carbon and nitrogen, compost needs a healthy mixture of both to be effective. For plant beds that need an extra amount of nitrogen, however, adding additional manure to your compost pile will do the trick. Poultry manure has the highest nitrogen content of all livestock.
Using Mulch and Compost
Now that the distinction between compost and mulch is clear, knowing how to properly use them is the next step. As stated, compost is broken-down organic matter that is used to fertilize garden beds. Mulch is a protective covering that adds warmth, reduces weed growth and keeps soil moist. Compost, once it is fully prepared, can be used as mulch and distributed around plants. Not only does it fertilize the soil and the plants with vital nutrients, it also keeps the soil warm and moist. Weeds can grow through compost, though. Some crops like to have mulch around them. Strawberries, for instance, do well with a layer of straw covering the soil.
Whether it’s straw, wood chips, shredded leaves or other carbon-rich clippings, mulching benefits plants in ways different than compost. Whereas compost is an organic fertilizer, mulch is an organic covering. Mulch too much, however, and you might keep your soil too moist. To get the best of both methods, use compost as mulch. That way you will add nutrients to the soil while keeping it warm.
Both mulch and compost are made of organic plant matter. Mulch acts as a layer of protection to keep the soil warm and damp while discouraging weed growth. Compost fertilizes the soil, adding carbon and nitrogen in varying degrees to encourage plant growth. Compost can be used as mulch, doing both jobs at the same time. If you have the room, start a compost pile and a mulch pile. Doing this, none of your lawn and garden clippings will go to waste. Depending on their composition, throw them on one pile or the other, making organic additive beneficial to your garden and saving money in the process.