If you recycle yard clippings in your curbside cart, you are already part of the local process for making compost and mulch. But if the soil in your yard is bare and your garden needs nutrients, you are missing out on the best part.

Do you know the difference between compost and mulch? Compost is made from decomposed plants, grass and other vegetative matter, converted by microorganisms into the texture of soil. Gardeners and farmers usually use it as an amendment, working it into the existing dirt to help plants grow. Compost improves soil, boosts plant growth and strengthens your landscape’s resistance to disease and drought.

In contrast, mulch is generally made from woody plant material, reduced to a uniform small size by a grinder. Mulch is designed to decompose slowly after placement on top of soil. Like compost, mulch also eventually recycles nutrients back into the soil, but it takes longer and serves other purposes first. Rather than promoting growth, the main purposes of mulch are to reduce erosion, suppress weed growth, retain soil moisture and moderate soil temperature.

You can buy mulch and compost at garden stores, home improvement stores, some equipment rental yards, and from processors of yard trimmings and other organic material. This latter category includes Peach Hill near Moorpark, American Soils near Simi Valley, and Agromin’s site at Ormond Beach. Agromin also sells from its office location in Oxnard and from U-rent equipment rental yards in Camarillo, Saticoy and Simi Valley. Additional locations also make and offer just mulch, but not compost. These include Agromin’s site at the Simi Valley Landfill and Ojai Valley Organics Recycling on Old Baldwin Road.

Sometimes you can get lucky and receive free mulch from tree-trimming crews working in your area. If you see tree trimmers feeding branches into a grinder, shooting mulch into the back of a truck, you can stop by and ask them to dump their load on your front yard. It saves them a trip to the compost or mulch processing site.

While compost is worked into soil, generally at a ratio of 70 percent topsoil to 30 percent compost, mulch is meant to be placed on top of dirt. The recommended depth for mulch generally varies from 1 inch for cosmetic purposes to 3 inches for moderation of soil temperature, and 6 inches for suppression of weeds between tree rows in an orchard.

As mulch compacts and decomposes, periodically add more to maintain the desired thickness, but most experts recommend keeping mulch away from actual contact with the stems or trunks of the plants or trees. Mulch piled up against plants or trees can cause rot.

A protective border, edging or area of raised soil around mulched areas can keep material from blowing out with winds or washing out with rains or watering. Keep your eye on the environment and enjoy local mulch and compost.