compost and mulch

I have been thinking about the difference between compost and mulch. It’s not compost I want for my garden, it’s mulch.

Compost is moist, fine, dark crumbly soil. You really need to dig compost in. If you leave it on the surface, it just dries out and the micro creatures die. But if you dig it in, I find it disturbs the top layer of soil and mulch.

Mulch is compost but not yet fully decomposed. The contents of my heap decompose very quickly because I water it with saved shower and kitchen water and so it is always very damp. (It doesn’t mind being quite wet because it sits on the bare ground and has good drainage).

So getting it before it becomes fine compost is quite a challenge. You need to get it at the right time. Too decomposed and it’s compost. Not decomposed enough when put on the garden, it will dry out and not do its mulch job which is to

1. cover the soil to protect it from the hot sun and

2. allow space underneath for the micro creatures to party, continuing the decomposing process in situ thereby enriching the soil and feeding the plants.

Warning: People who are into neat tidy gardens are advised not to try this.


  1. I put a ton of mulch on my garden. It really helps keep the weeds down and the moisture in while we are away all week. I use bark chips as I have a ton of them. 2 big trees taken down the last two years, and all the small branches chipped by the tree company.

  2. Sift your compost through a piece of coarse hardware cloth. What comes out the bottom is compost. What remains on top the sifter is mulch.

  3. Great post! And I imagine you are also working hard to maintain the moisture level in the flower beds!

  4. Hi Catmint~~ So true! The stuff in my bins is compost. More like worm food right now. My shredded leaves are mulch, or top dressing. The stuff I purchase by the pickup load is called compost but it can be dug in or used as a top dressing. Either way it's all good stuff that the soil eats up all too quickly.

    It's almost summer for you. Has it been a good growing season so far?

  5. Hi Catmint,
    OK, I just love your comment about people who like tidy gardens. Those kind of people, in my opinion, are not true gardeners, because their penchant for neatness, can get in the way of having a healthy garden. Of course, I have just admitted that I am not a very tidy person ;-)

  6. I like the idea of my microbes partying...I may stop by with a six pack and join in the fun!

  7. Well amidst all these confessions of non-tidiness I will add my own: mulch is the easy stuff I can gather from the forest floor or sometimes get from the county in the form of shredded wood or leaves. It never goes into my compost pile, it just composts on the garden. I consider my compost to be the fine vintage, used carefully where it will be most appreciated.

  8. I can see the advantage of mulch, especially with your dry conditions. All the insects and bugs must be very grateful for your efforts!

  9. Very interesting post! It makes me think, what do I need for my garden - compost or mulch, or both?

  10. So true - about mulch and compost. A couple of years ago I started throwing the deadheaded flowers, etc behind bushes where they couldn't be seen. That soil turned out to be great. Sometimes when I run out of compost, I go digging behind the bushes - Gloria

  11. thank you all so much for your comments.

    Hi Deborah, it's great having your own bark chips - so much better than having to buy mulch in plastic bags.

    Thanks Nell, for your neat definitions.

    Yes Shady, I am working hard to keep up the moisture level. Today was the first hot day, 39, and a few wilted but came good later.

    Hi Grace, yes it's been an amazing growing season so far, with quite a lot of rain and now heat.

    Hi Noelle, I do feel the need to tidy up the garden every so often, but I never love it until it gets untidy again.

    CG, what a wonderful fantasy, all different life forms partying away together.

    Pomona, your compost sounds very impressive and exclusive, whereas the mulch sounds positively common! (LOL!)

    Hi Easy, I'm sure the bugs are grateful for my efforts, I'm certainly grateful for theirs!

    The answer, Tatyana, may be how you define both.

    Hi Gloria, interesting comment - I guess the soil quality differs in different places, so it makes sense to move it to where you need it most.

    Cheers, catmint


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