Mulch Vs Compost: Differences, Pros, Cons, and More

A small green plant sprouting up from the soil

Are you looking for info on how to prepare your garden for next season? If so, knowing about both compost and mulch is essential. If used correctly, these nutrient-rich materials can help you grow stronger and healthier plants. Though commonly mistaken as being the same thing, compost and mulch have their own pros and cons.

Once you have a better understanding of their differences and similarities, you’ll be able to make an informed decision for your garden. Here are the topics we’ll be covering to help you create a healthy and thriving garden:

Before we get into what distinguishes these two materials, it’s important to understand what compost and mulch actually are.

What is compost?

A metal bucket filled up with food scraps

Compost is a mixture of decaying organic matter that’s added to soil to help it retain moisture, balance its density, and improve its overall health. It’s usually composed of a combination of kitchen scraps and yard waste. This includes tree leaves, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, fruit, vegetables, and other organic material.

Adding compost to your garden bed brings more nutrients to your plants and soil. You can make it at home through a variety of methods, including an electric composter and a composting tumbler. Though you can sprinkle it on top of your garden soil like a mulch, this isn’t necessarily the most effective way to use compost. Compost is usually mixed into the underlying soil by hand or with a rake. If you’re still unsure about using compost to nourish your garden, check out a few of the pros and cons listed below.  



  • Balances soil density
  • Protects plants from disease
  • Reduces food waste
  • Nourishes soil
  • Can be odorous
  • May attract pests
  • Involves some work
  • Unattractive appearance


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Lomi allows you to turn food waste into plant-ready nutrients in under 24 hours. Boost your plants while reducing your waste.


What is mulch?

A bunch of yellow straw hanging in a barn

Mulch is a layer of material used to cover the top layer of soil, whether that be in a garden, lawn, or individual potted plant. There are non organic mulches and mulches made up of organic materials like lawn clippings, grass clippings, and shredded leaves. Both types of garden mulch can be used to suppress weeds and improve soil structure.

Unlike compost, which you can create at home with a compost bin, people tend to buy mulch from garden centers. Another distinction between the two is that mulch is exclusively applied to the top layer. This can give your garden soil a more uniform and attractive appearance. If you have more questions about the differences between mulch vs compost, this list of mulch pros and cons may help.



  • Comes in many varieties
  • Often visually appealing
  • Conserves soil moisture
  • Reduces weed growth
  • Not always organic
  • Can be expensive
  • Less variety in nutrients
  • Can suffocate plants

What’s the difference between mulch and compost?

Different chemical symbols and a plant sticking out of soil

The key difference between compost and mulch is that mulch is used on the top layer of soil while compost is placed closer to the roots beneath the top layer. Compost is also composed of a variety of organic materials, whereas mulch is typically just one thing like straw, grass clippings, or wood chips.

Another notable difference between mulch and compost is that mulch isn’t always organic. There’s rubber mulch and plastic mulch, neither of which are common among more eco-conscious gardeners. Compost can also be created at home in a wider variety of ways, whether it’s through indoor composting methods, an outdoor bin, a compost tumbler, or an electric device.



Can compost be used as mulch?

Someone holding a big handful of finished compost

Yes, compost can be used as mulch. Anything that can be placed over the top layer of soil to improve the soil’s health can be considered a mulch. That said, not all compost should be used as a mulch. The best compost mulch is composed mostly of yard waste like leaves, wood chips, and bark.

You’ll want to avoid using compost that contains food scraps that aren’t fully broken down. Partially decomposed food isn’t always a problem when the mixture is buried under the soil, but the compost could attract pests if placed on the top layer as a mulch. If you’re equally curious about compost vs fertilizer, the answer is essentially the same. Compost fulfills a similar purpose to fertilizer and can effectively replace it.

Compost vs mulch: which is better for your garden?

A row of healthy green plants in soil ready to harvest

Compost and mulch can both be used to achieve a thriving garden with healthier soil and plants. Mulch is great at limiting weed growth and helping soil retain moisture. It can also give your garden a more visually appealing look. That said, compost is superior at adding nutrients to soil and balancing soil density. Compost is typically made up of a wider range of materials, so it can also offer a better variety and balance of nutrients.

Though you can use both, compost is usually better for your garden. Compost can improve soil structure and provide your soil with important nutrients. Composting is good for the environment too, as it reduces the amount of waste being sent to landfills and is only made up of organic materials. This isn’t true for all mulch, as some varieties have been linked to water pollution and soil contamination



Try Lomi for an easy way to make your own compost at home

Someone lifting a handful of nutrient rich dirt from lomi

Composting doesn’t have to be complicated. With the right device, you can make your own natural fertilizer at home in less than a day. If you want to create your own nutrient-rich dirt indoors with no odors or labor, Lomi could be the solution for you. This electric composter is the best small compost bin for people who live in apartment buildings and don’t create much waste.

Lomi is so compact that you can store it on your kitchen counter. It’s incredibly efficient and user-friendly. All you have to do is insert your food waste, turn on the device, and you’ll have nutrient-rich dirt for your vegetable garden, indoor plants, and more. The device uses heat, abrasion, and oxygen to transform your waste in a matter of hours. It’s that easy.

There’s nothing wrong with adding some organic mulch to your garden beds, especially if it’s something like pine needles or shredded bark. Despite the many benefits it has to offer, mulch can’t fill the role of compost. Compost is hard to compete with, as it can be a mulch, fertilizer, and soil amendment all in one. No matter which method you choose, whether it be an outdoor compost pile or a kitchen composter, you can create something that’s good for your soil and good for the planet. 

Written by: E Sawden