Compost & Fertilizer. Do You Really Need Both?

“What’s the difference between compost and fertilizer?”

This is a common question among beginning gardeners. It seems like many websites with articles on compost or fertilizer use them interchangeably, making it confusing for anyone who hasn’t worked with either.

The best answer I’ve come across is to think of compost as feeding the soil and fertilizer as feeding the plants.

Do you really need both?

Short answer, yes.

Long answer, that depends on what you’re growing. Heavy feeders like tomatoes, peppers and watermelon will require fertilizer at least once throughout their life. Lighter feeders like herbs, radishes and carrots might not need it.



It’s always a good idea to add compost to your soil in preparation for planting. It keeps your soil healthy, not just for the plants in this year’s garden, but also in the year’s to come.

You can buy organic compost or you can make your own out of things you typically throw away. Egg shells, coffee grounds and shredded newspaper are a few of the items you can use.



Fertilizing can be used when appropriate throughout the growing season and benefits the plants you have now in your garden.

For example, when a tomato plant begins to flower, it needs an increase in potassium. You can add fertilizer to provide the plant with what it needs to produce a high yield.

Fertilizers are made of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Nitrogen is great for leaf growth; phosphorus encourages flowering and root development; and potassium  helps regulate plant metabolism and is critical to plant stress tolerance.

Every plant, depending on where it is in it’s cycle, needs different amounts of N-P-K. I use FoxFarm liquid fertilizer for my plants. The amount I give them, again, depends on what plant I’m fertilizing.

Too much fertilizer can also cause problems with your plants, so make sure to do some research and give them the proper amount they need

Crop Rotation

In combination with composting, crop rotations can be vital to your soil. Crop rotation is moving plant families around in the garden so no family is planted in the same place two (or three or more) years in a row. This helps prevent pests and diseases that have survived the winter from destroying this year’s garden.

Along with pest control, properly planned crop rotations can help improve your soil. By avoiding planting two heavy feeders in the same location two years in a row, you can preserve the nutrients in your soil.

For example, if you plant tomato, a heavy feeder, and then the following year plant broccoli in the same location, those plants are going to drain your soil of nutrients in that spot.

Combining crop rotation with a good compost ensures a healthier soil and leads to a better garden.


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