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Are mulch and compost the same thing?

7 Minute Read
Mulch and compost are not the same thing. The simple answer, is that mulch is used on the top layer of the soil to control weeds, retain moisture and regulate temperature, whereas compost is used beneath the top layer of the soil to benefit the soil itself in providing essential nutrients.
The topic of mulching and composting comes up regularly, as it is an important part of caring for your garden, but can sometimes be a little confusing. Knowing the difference and acting upon accordingly is what sets the professional home gardener apart from the backyard tidy-upper. 

What is mulching?

The word has a nice sound to it, doesn’t it. Mulch is when a material is applied over the surface of your soil to cover it, helping to prevent weeds from growing through, retaining moisture in the soil over the dryer period of the year, and regulating the temperature in the colder period of the year. So simply put, mulch is beneficial year-round in your garden.

What type of mulch should I use?

A good question, with an answer that depends on a number of factors, but ultimately on personal preference for the aesthetic finish and the level of cover you wish to put down.

Bark mulch – Bark mulch is the most popular method of biodegradable mulching, applying wood chips, bark chips or bark nuggets. Where it starts to get confusing, is the different types of wood they are made from is better suited to different plants, so as a rule:
·      Hardwood bark is best used in perennial beds and around shrubs and trees.
·      Softwood bark is best used around larger trees and shrubs.

Straw mulch – Straw mulch is a great biodegradable alternative to bark mulch, and has the additional benefit in that it deters pests and rodents.

Mulching compost – This is where it starts to get confusing! We set out to tell you the difference between the two, but have thrown this into the mix! Compost can be successfully used as a mulch, it looks natural but is worth remembering that it is not as successful as other mulches in stopping weeds from sprouting through. 

Decorative stone – aggregates such as decorative stones and slate chippings are also great mulches, but also gives a nice finished look to your beds and borders. One thing to note when using aggregates as mulch, is that you will need to make sure you water enough as it will be harder for the water to find its way down into soil.

Weed control fabric – quality mulch weed blocking fabrics are a great alternative, in that they are cost effective and work well. A good weed block fabrics allow water to pass through slowly whilst stopping the light from passing through. They can be finished by covering with bark, decorative stone or gravel and in doing so you will increase their longevity.

What is Composting?

Every gardener knows that the quality of soil is what will make or break your plants, it can be the difference between happy plants growing well or sickly struggling plants that are nutrient deficient. Composting is about giving your soil the beneficial nutrients it needs to become a long-term fertiliser for your plants.

Unlike mulching which happens above the soil, composting happens below. So you can mix it into your topdressing or directly into the soil, it doesn’t matter just as long as the goods can get down to the roots of your plants. 

Our finishing thoughts

If you want to see the best results in your garden, with strong healthy plants thriving and minimal pesky weeds poking their unwanted heads, then you want to be both composting and mulching.

We hope that’s covered the mulching vs compost question, but if you are looking for further advice our technical team of expert gardeners will be happy to help.

Mulch and Mulching Composts

Melcourt Mulch Ornamental Bark

A high performance 'deluxe' bark for a neat decorative finish.

Strulch Straw Mulch Material

Organic wheat straw mulch that deters slugs and snails.
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Melcourt Bark Pine Mini Chips

A neat well-screened pine bark with 2-25mm nominal particle size.
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Silver Grey Granite 20mm

Light silver grey when dry, and dark silver with speckles when wet.
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Blue Slate Chippings 20mm

Naturally flat and angular in shape, providing a neat finish.
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Melcourt Large Bark Nuggets

Long-lasting, high performance, chunky 15-75mm bark mulch. 
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Levington TMPC Mulch Compost

A mulch designed to overcome tree and shrub problems. 
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Melcourt Spruce  Ornamental

A popular high-performance mulch, dark brown in colour.
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