A homeowner has many options when it comes to providing a healthy environment for plants. While numerous types of fertilizers can be an effective way to quickly amend soil to grow healthy plants, they contain synthetic chemicals. Compost, on the other hand, is an organic alternative to fertilizers, and a homeowner has easy access to compost. There are pros and cons to both methods of providing plants with nutrition.
Compost application via soil top dressing
Benefits of Compost
Compost, sometimes called “black gold,” consists of decomposed organic matter that enhances the soil with nutrients and microbes. Typically it includes recycled material including decayed vegetables, fruit, grass clippings and plant foliage. Compost also has microscopic fungi, mycorrhizae, bacteria, protozoa and nematodes; together with earthworms and arthropods. This mixture creates a symbiotic food web within the soil. The decomposing material feeds the organisms and helps to aerate the soil while also keeping it moist. Compost also helps plants fight disease, helps to prevent erosion, controls weeds and can be mixed with store-bought potting soil. Tightly packed soil, such as clay, becomes easier to work with when you add compost. If you create your own compost, you also decrease the volume of trash that goes into landfills.
Disadvantages of Compost
The drawbacks of compost are few. If you make your own compost, it is important to make sure that any plant remnants you add to the mix do not have soil-borne pathogens that might infest healthy plants. Destroy diseased or damaged plant parts instead of adding them to a compost pile. Patience is very important when making your own compost. It takes time for the decayed matter to break down and you might have to wait a few months until you see significant results from your composting efforts.
Benefits of Fertilizer
Fertilizer applications target the needs of plants to help them grow faster. If a plant is lacking micro- and macronutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium or phosphorus, adding fertilizer provides a quick and easy solution to alleviate deficiencies. You can purchase fertilizer for specific types of plants. If your plant needs immediate nutrition, fast-release fertilizers provide instant nutrition. On the other hand, slow-release fertilizers, like pellets, provide nutrition over an extended period.
Disadvantages of Fertilizer
The biggest difference between fertilizer and compost is that while compost enhances the soil to create a beneficial environment for plants, fertilizer feeds plants. Fertilizers may overload the soil with nutrients. Chemicals in fertilizer can upset the symbiotic relationship of microbes in soil while compost is a naturally balanced mixed of microorganisms that provide a healthy medium for plant growth. The chemicals in fertilizer can also harm the environment if they are overused and seep into underground water reserves or runoff into nearby bodies of water. The excess nitrogen from fertilizers can spur algae growth that depletes the oxygen supply for fish. From an economic standpoint, compost, especially if you make your own, is less expensive than fertilizer. Poor plant health is often due to poor soil conditions. Improving the soil with compost instead of using fertilizer is a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way of maintaining healthy plants.