Humus Vs Compost: Are Compost Vs Humus The Same?

Some gardeners use the terms “humus” and “compost” interchangeably. Although they are beneficial to the crops, they differ in many ways. The ultimate product of the degradation process is humus. Meanwhile, compost refers to a stage in that process when decomposed organic materials benefit the soil the best. If you need a detailed answer to the difference between humus and compost, let’s dig into basic soil terminology!

Organic Material Vs Organic Matter

To understand the differences between humus and compost, you must first understand the distinction between soil organic matter and organic material and how each benefits healthy soil.

Soil includes five ingredients: parent material, moisture, gas, living organisms, and organic matter. This term or the so-called “manure” refers to two phases of dead animals or plants in the soil.

Organic material refers to dead animals and plants in the process of decomposition. It includes dead insects, worm castings, and animal carcasses.

When it has entirely degraded, the decomposed organic matter remains the stable, fibrous element.

The organic matter (manure) is inert. Hence, it does not influence the chemical characteristics of the garden soil.

What Is Humus?

Humus is the backbone of organic materials. Some people define it as a naturally-developed compost.

Finished compost contributes humus to the earth. You can also find it on the jungle floor, where leaves and organic things naturally degrade.

You can make humus soil by adding compost to the soil. Otherwise, humus can improve lawn plants when vegetation breaks down and turns into a part of the soil.

Humus is spongy, allowing it to store up to 90% of its water content. So, humus-rich soil can retain moisture efficiently and be more resistant to drought.

The sponge also adheres to and retains essential minerals for plants, such as calcium and phosphorus. Plants will absorb these vital nutrients through their root system.

The soil can be more resistant to drought - Humus Vs Compost

The soil can be more resistant to drought

What Is Compost?

A lawn compost is a container of manure in the process of decomposition. It includes dead plant resources, such as dead leaves, grass clippings, or vegetable scraps.

When those come together and stay wet, bacteria go on a feeding frenzy, dissolving the substances at their core.

In comparison to humus, the completed compost pile has the appearance and smell of new soil and is clear of large bits of matter. They improve the soil structure when put into the crop.

This combination also enhances aeration, boosts water-holding capacity, supports adequate drainage, and boosts microbes’ soil activities for your garden.

The combination can strengthen soil structure - Humus Vs Compost

The combination can strengthen soil structure

Differences Between Compost Vs Humus

You can tell the difference between humus and compost by checking their appearance and decomposing process.


Compost pile is soil with decomposing fruit peels or discarded meat in it. You can distinguish them since it is heterogeneous.

Humus has a darker hue and a moist sponge-like softness. It’s softer than garden topsoil, which is brown and gritty.

When left alone, humus has practically no exposure to animals and humans. The degradation continues to spread.

Level of decay

Any pile which is still decomposing is compost. When it gets more stable, it becomes humus.

In other words, in comparison to humus, compost is when the leaf is still decomposing. It is humus when you can’t see the leaf since it has blended with the soil.

Human involvement

Compost involves human involvement in its decay, which is one of the reasons why it has the name. Meanwhile, humans do not affect humus development.

The composting bins keep receiving biodegradable matter from human habitats. You can’t see the formation of this manure.

Look at the leaf at the park in your town. Park rangers don’t collect these leaf heaps every day.

They develop there. When you visit, they have disappeared, and new leaves are taking place.

Humans may intervene in the process - Humus Vs Compost

Humans may intervene in the process

Method of decay

Compost breaks down in the presence of oxygen. Hence, you should know how people intervene in the process.

Aerobic decomposition is the term for this reaction. This process is possible because man-made dumpsters come with aeration holes or are open.

Meanwhile, humus results from anaerobic decomposition or breakdown that proceeds without (or with very little) oxygen.


Because the matter has wholly decomposed, compost has significant levels of N-P-K nutrients.

On the other hand, humus contains more methane and carbon since the anaerobic process is similar to fermentation.

The nutritional concentration is different - Humus Vs Compost

The nutritional concentration is different

How to make humus soil and compost?

You can make compost for your garden in a specialized bin or a simple container. Remember to choose ones that you can empty at the end of the season and leave no residue.

On the other hand, you often make humus using a big plastic container and pour some water and plant material there.

Gardeners also use humus-rich soil as a lawn top dressing, a mulch, and a soil amendment.

Compost’s most common application is as a soil amendment. Simply add a few inches of humus to your composted soil before planting each spring, and you’ll soon have crumbly, dark topsoil that yields healthy, sturdy plants.

You can learn more tips for applying compost to your soil and plants from this video:

Humus vs Compost: Comparison table

We have compared the humus and compost in crucial terms. Now, let’s summarize their differences.

AppearanceSoft and darkHeterogeneous
Level of decayDecomposed completelyStill decomposing
Human involvementNoA lot
Method of decayWithout oxygenWith oxygen
Nutrient contentThe high content of methane and carbonThe high content of N-P-K
How to applyIn a container filled with water and plant materialsIn a container filled with compost and can be emptied

What Should You Choose For Your Garden?

Compost is a plant nutrition supplement, whereas humus is a carbon-rich waste. Here are some benefits you can get when choosing one over the other.

When to choose humus?

Humus aids in the storage of moisture, which is essential for gardens in dry weather. Humus also provides an environment where other nutrients may form appropriate for the plants.

Although humus is still vital, composting gives more immediate advantages and eventually produces enough humus to be effective.

When to choose compost?

Good compost is damp but not wet, making it light enough to dig. It’s also good to use immediately from the pile, cutting down on the time it takes to have it distributed and working in the soil.

Your garden plants respond well to compost once you’ve applied it. They may flourish because of the minerals and carbon in the soil.

Moreover, the material itself aids in aerating the soil. Better aeration leads to a better drainage system as well as root development.

Further reading:

Determine your needs to choose the better one - Humus Vs Compost

Determine your needs to choose the better one


Both humus and compost are decomposing organic. The difference is in the way in which the procedure takes place.

In composting, the substance decomposes in oxygen as microbes absorb the organic one. On the other hand, humus results from the degradation of materials without oxygen.

Hopefully, the comparison between humus and compost above can help you distinguish the two manures and determine which is better for your garden plant.

Thank you for reading!

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