When it comes to fertilizing your garden and flower beds, many options are available. Sure, compost, manure, and fertilizer are materials that enrich the soil and feed your plants, but wouldn’t you like to know which one to use to get the best results and provide your vegetables, flowers, and shrubs with what they truly need? Here are the main differences between these three soil amendments, their benefits, and how you should use them.
What are compost, manure, and fertilizer, and what do they do?
First of all, you ought to know what these amendments are made of and how they help your soil and plants.
Composts & Manures
These amendments are the result of the composting process of organic materials such as manure, post-consumer waste (food waste, dead leaves and/or grass clippings) with the addition of some humus (black soil) to make the product less sticky and more workable. Composts and Manures are known as the ultimate soil conditioner since it adds beneficial microorganisms to improve soil structure and fertility. They are also a natural source of essential nutrients for plant growth. In addition, their organic matter increases water and nutrients retention of sandy soils.
Although compost and manure have a similar role, composts offer more of an added value with the particularity of the other ingredients that are added to the recipe. For example, Fafard Biofor Compost contains bark that breaks up and aerates compacted clay soils, thus facilitating drainage and root development. Fafard Biosol Sea Compost contains seaweed and crustaceans flour to help plants better resist stress, frost, diseases and pests. Both Compost are approved for organic gardening and contribute to healthy and vigorous plant growth.
How, when, and where using compost & manure
Compost & manure are an excellent amendment for flower beds, vegetable gardens, lawns, and planters —it can be used basically anywhere at any time! Once a year, spread a few millimeters evenly on your lawn to nourish it, apply a few centimeters at the bottom of your planters, or spread a thin layer on top of your flower beds and vegetable garden and mix it to ensure growth and flowering.
A fertilizer is a concentrate of organic and/or mineral substances intended to provide additional nutrients to plants to improve their growth and favours abundant bloom and/or harvest. Its formulation includes a combination of predetermined percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K) as well as other micronutrients.
Natural or synthetic fertilizers
There is a wide range of fertilizers on the market of all types (water-soluble powder, granular, liquid, etc.) which are grouped under two main categories: Natural and Synthetic Fertilizers.
Synthetic fertilizers, such as ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphate and potassium sulfate, come from a mineral source (non-living) and have undergone chemical or mechanical processing. Nutrients are easily absorbed by the plants to provide fast and striking results.
As for natural fertilizers, they are composed of organic (animal or vegetable) and/or mineral sources that have only undergone mechanical transformation (drying, crushing or sieving). They include bone meal, blood meal, feather meal, chile nitrate, potash sulphate, compost, manure and seaweed. Their action is generally slow and long-lasting because they must first be transformed by soil micro-organisms to be assimilated by the plants, which makes the risks of leaching and root burn almost nil. They are also less concentrated than synthetic fertilizers. Indeed, you will notice that the numbers on the packaging are always smaller.
How, when, and where using Fertilizers
Synthetic granular fertilizers are generally applied about every six to eight weeks. Slow-release fertilizers work for months, so one application is generally all that is needed for a growing season. Water soluble or liquid fertilizers are fast-acting. They should be applied every two weeks to compensate for nutrient loss due to leaching. Natural Fertilizers should be applied every four weeks as they release the nutrients progressively. Fertilizers should always be applied throughout the growing season according to the manufacturer recommendation on the packaging since their formulation varies.
Compost and fertilizers should be used together
To sum it up, your garden and flowerbeds need a balanced supply of nutrients throughout the year. It is important to understand that all these products are complementary and that each one plays a crucial role in the growth of your plants. Compared to compost & manure, which feeds the soil (or improves the quality of the soil), fertilizer nourishes the plants. Compost and manure alone are not enough. Their contribution will slowly be depleted during the season and since fertilizers contain a greater quantity of nutrients, they will complement the work of compost or manure to obtain a healthy and vigorous growth of your plants throughout the season. (See graph)
Hopefully we have demystified the use of compost, manure and fertilizer and answered all your questions. Visit your nearest garden centre to find all the products you need to complete your gardening projects!