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What’s the Difference Between Compost & Fertilizer?

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The pros and cons of compost versus fertilizer – explained…

For those new to gardening, figuring out the best strategies for growing a healthy and productive garden can be a long process of trial and error. We hope to clear up some of the confusion for you, and get you off to a good start with your new garden!

One of the questions that new gardeners may sometimes be confused about is the difference between “compost” and “fertilizer.”

While compost refers to naturally composted organic material, fertilizer can mean anything from fish emulsion to blood meal, to chemical cocktails of synthetic nutrients. However, in general, “fertilizer” will most often be used to refer to synthetic fertilizer types.

There are many differences between compost and chemical fertilizers – both in when, and how to use them.

As organic gardeners, we steer clear of the synthetic stuff. After all, your garden can absolutely get all the nutrients it needs from natural sources, without the nasty side effects like chemical runoff, soil depletion, etc.

But in case you are still on the fence, here are a few of the pros and cons of compost versus chemical fertilizers, from



  • Creates nutrient rich soil
  • Aides in soil moisture retention
  • Assists in disease resistance
  • Helps control weeds


  • Takes time to make your own
  • Compost pile can smell
  • Physically laborous
  • Large amount needed for success (problematic for large gardens)



  • Adds nutrients quickly
  • Immediate nutrient availability for plants
  • Targets plant’s specific needs


  • Overload of nutrients can occur
  • Can upset microbial balance
  • Generally chemically produced
  • Chemicals can release into groundwater

Bottom Line:

With proper composting application and soil amendments you shouldn’t need to apply fertilizer at all… Although fertilizers have their uses (especially with houseplants), and can be extremely helpful for specific nutrient deficiencies, with compost you are guaranteed a natural, organic compound that improves the quality and health of the soils over time.

Read more about the differences between compost and fertilizer at


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