If you are a new gardener, you may not be familiar with the differences between compost and fertilizers. This can lead to a great deal of confusion when browsing the gardening aisle at the store. If you plan on gardening in the future, understanding these differences can be extremely important.
In the simplest terms, fertilizers feed plants. Compost feeds the soil. While this may not sound like it makes a very big difference, it really can make a big impact on the future of your garden and its soil, and there is actually a difference.
Fertilizers do add nutrients to the soil. However, the ingredients are focused on meeting the needs of the plants. Fertilizers have been shown to actually prevent the growth of microbes needed to keep the soil healthy. This throws the soil’s chemistry out of balance and can actually lead to breakdown of the soil food web, especially if used year after year. The impact can be even worse if chemical fertilizers are used instead of organic fertilizers.
Compost, unlike fertilizers, actually promotes healthy microbe growth within the soil. It feeds the soil food web and increases the health of the natural soil. Over time, this creates a more nutrient rich soil that is beneficial for the plants and vegetables that you place in it. This is because compost is actually made up of microscopic fungi and bacteria. Other organisms like crickets and earthworms are also present in compost, which further benefits the soil. The end result is soil that allows the plants and vegetables to feed themselves.
Composting also helps the soil retain much needed moisture, and research has also shown that composting can also assist in enhancing the disease resistance of some plants, like tomatoes and vegetables. This can reduce the amount of crops you lose to disease, which often leads to wasted expenses.
Fertilizer and compost can be used together. However, it is important that you remember how fertilizer can affect the future composition of your soil. If you do choose to use fertilizer, it is recommended that you stick to organic fertilizer or only use it for the short term.