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Compost vs Fertilizer – Which Should You Use?



As more cities are going on lockdown again because of COVID-19, you may want to start looking at your garden for entertainment. Whether you want to take up a new hobby or have been an avid gardener for years, enhance your garden by helping your plants grow. Compost and fertilizers are two options that you can use to help your plants grow as healthy as possible.

For someone new to gardening, it may be a bit challenging to know which option you should get. Without going into much detail, you should get compost if you want a more natural option and have time to wait. On the other hand, you should get fertilizer if you are on a time crunch. Still, we recommend compost as a whole because it is better for the environment and safer to use.

To find out why we made these recommendations, read on. In this article, we offer a close look at compost and fertilizer and explain our recommendations in more detail.

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Overview of Compost

Compost is comprised of decomposed organic matter. Any organic matter like animals, fruits, or leaves can be added to a compost pile. Even items like egg shells or grass clippings are suitable for composting. For this reason, you can either buy compost at the store or make it yourself using your kitchen scraps.

What It Feeds

What makes compost so beneficial is that it feeds soil, not the plants. Through the decaying process, a lot of good bacteria and microbes go into the soil. This creates a soil that is much richer and promotes plant growth. By feeding the soil, all plants can benefit for long periods of time.

How It Works

Composting takes advantage of the natural decomposition process. In order for organic material to break down, bugs, bacteria, and microbes must be present. All of these materials and items create a carbon rich environment, which creates healthier soil.

As you plant plants in healthier soil, they are able to absorb the nutrients from the soil. Hence, healthier soil grows healthier plants.


One of the biggest benefits of compost is that it is a natural alternative to fertilizer. It utilizes the natural process of decomposition to aid soil and plant growth. This means that you can grow healthier plants without the need of chemicals and harsh materials.

Another benefit of compost is that it can be a more affordable option for those on a strict budge. Since you can create compost on your own, you can simply create a compost mixture using your own table scraps and waste from your kitchen.

Finally, another great benefit of compost is that it feeds the soil directly. When you create healthier soil, your plants as a whole benefit, now and in the future.


Even though composting has a lot of benefits, there are a few drawbacks as well. Most notably, you won’t see a change overnight when using compost. The reason for this is that your compost mixture must decay, absorb into the soil, and then nourish the plants. This makes the process of using compost much longer. You will need to be patient if you want to use compost.

Another drawback of compost is that it can have a smell. By relying on the decomposition process of organic matter, a rotten smell can come about, especially if you use compost over a large or confined area.


Overall, compost is a natural alternative to fertilizer that nourishes the soil directly. As long as you are patient and can put up with the smell, composting will benefit your garden dramatically and naturally.


  • Natural
  • Affordable
  • Nourishes the soil directly
  • Retains soil moisture
  • Prevents erosion
  • Takes longer to use
  • Can create a foul smell

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Overview of Fertilizer

Fertilizers, either organic or inorganic, are sprinkled throughout your garden so that they can nourish the plants and promote growth. Organic fertilizers use plant and animal sources for their nutrients. Inorganic fertilizers, on the other hand, are made from minerals, gases, or inorganic waste.

What It Feeds

Whereas compost feeds the soil, fertilizers feed the plants. This is because the fertilizer adds nutrients that the plants absorb. They don’t really impact the health of the soil at all. You can think of fertilizer as being like vitamins for your plants.

applying Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food on plants

How It Works

The process of how fertilizer works is pretty straightforward, unlike composting. You sprinkle the fertilizer into the soil. This gives plants the opportunity to absorb the fertilizer. This is helpful in the case that the soil is depleted of nutrients and minerals.


The biggest strength of fertilizer is that it works very rapidly. Inorganic fertilizers especially work very quickly, meaning that you don’t have to wait to see the results. You should see an improvement in your plants in a very short amount of time.

Another benefit of fertilizer is that there is a variety of options to choose from. On top of organic and inorganic varieties, you can get fertilizers specific to exact plant types or needs. This allows you to target the needs of your garden specifically.

The last major benefit of fertilizer is that they don’t require you to put up with the smell or do any heavy labor yourself. For the most part, you just sprinkle the fertilizer over the plants, and they are good to go.


Like with compost, fertilizer has some drawbacks as well. Most notably, fertilizers normally contain hazardous chemicals. This makes your garden less natural. Additionally, these chemicals can burn your plants if you use too much at one time.

Another drawback of fertilizer is that you really aren’t targeting the actual issue, which is nutrient-depleted soil. Instead, you are sprinkling on chemicals sort of like a band-aid for the soil. Though this will benefit the plants, it will not help the soil in any way.

Fertilizers can also give your plants too many nutrients. Too many nutrients can cause your plants to die, just like having too few nutrients.


Fertilizers are a good option if you need to help your plant out quickly. However, they are less natural and are more finicky to use. For this reason, most people would prefer compost, so long as they are willing to wait the required amount of time.


  • Fast acting
  • Easy to find
  • Can target your specific needs
  • Filled with harmful chemicals
  • Can burn plants
  • May over-fertilize plants
  • Does not improve soil

What’s the difference between compost and fertilizer?

Simply put, the difference between compost and fertilizer is what they are nourishing. On one hand, compost nourishes the soil. This allows the soil to provide the needed nutrients and vitamins for the plant, causing your garden to be healthier.

Fertilizer, on the other hand, nourishes the plant directly. This causes more immediate results, but it can pose a danger to the plants if you use too much at one time.

Really, that is the only difference between compost and fertilizer, aside from the obvious difference of the materials used within the treatment.

Which should I get?

Choosing between compost and fertilizer is really up to personal preference. You will need to consider a few factors in order to determine which one is right for you. Here are some factors to think about:

Time Frame

Compost and fertilizers work over different time frames. Compost takes much longer to see a result in your plants. Conversely, fertilizers have almost immediate results.

If you need to improve your garden quickly, say for some event or gathering at your home, then you might want to select fertilizers over composting. The fertilizers will give you a quick enough result so that you can have a better garden over a shorter amount of time.

Compost is the better option if you are not on a time crunch. If you simply want to improve your garden for your own enjoyment, then you should opt for compost. Though it will take longer, compost will give you more natural and long-lasting results.


Compost, especially if you make it yourself, requires a bit more labor than fertilizer. If you are excited to get your hands dirty and don’t mind doing labor, then compost will be your best bet. The extra work that compost requires makes it a great option for those who like feeling connected to their garden.

Many people don’t really like getting dirty, though, or doing much labor. If you are one of these people, use fertilizer instead. Fertilizer requires much less labor and work on the gardener’s end.

Your Nose

Compost can create a foul smell since it relies on the decomposition process. If you have a sensitive nose, or your neighbors will get mad about the smell, you should forgo compost and select fertilizer instead. Your nose will thank you.

For those who live in airy places, the smell of compost may not bother you. If your nose isn’t that sensitive, then you might want to opt for compost over fertilizer.


Finally, the last thing to think about, and arguably the most important, is whether or not you want to use chemicals in your garden. Though chemicals can really target the issue quickly, they can also be hazardous for your and the plant’s health.

Compost is a much more natural alternative to fertilizer. It does not use chemicals or harsh ingredients, making it better for the plants, your home, and the planet. You don’t have to worry about things like runoff when using compost since it does not use harmful chemicals.

What can I put in my compost?

You can put any organic matter in your compost pile. This includes fruits, vegetables, meats, grass, leaves, paper, or anything else organic. Your kitchen is the easiest place to find ingredients for your compost.

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Quick Look: Our Top Choices

Image Product Details
Our Favorite Compost Dr. Earth 727 Compost Starter Dr. Earth 727 Compost Starter
  • 100% natural
  • Made from organic alfalfa meal
  • seaweed extract
  • and soil microbes
  • Our Favorite Fertilizer Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food
  • Can be used on any plant type
  • Will not burn your plants
  • Our Favorite Compost: Dr. Earth 727 Compost Starter

    Dr. Earth 727 Compost Starter

    The best way to compost is to use ingredients from your home, but you should get a starter kit to make the decomposition process easier. The Dr. Earth 727 Compost Starter is made from 100% natural and organic alfalfa meal, seaweed extract, and soil microbes so that the compost starter can speed up the composting process. Coming in 3 pounds or four pack options, you can get as much starter as you need for the size of your garden.

    Our Favorite Fertilizer: Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food

    Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food

    The Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food offers nutrients and vitamins for just about any plant type. You can use this fertilizer on flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs, and house plants. If use as directed, it will not burn your plants, leaving them healthy and flourishing.

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    When it comes to helping your garden, you can either use compost or fertilizer. Compost will treat the soil directly, whereas fertilizers will target the plants. Even though both come with their own benefits and drawbacks, we recommend compost over fertilizer. It is safer to use and better for our environment, making it a win-win in our books.

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