Fertilizer vs. Manure: Which to Use?

Fertilizer vs. Manure: Which to Use?

when to use manure or fertilizer

by Matt Gibson and Erin Marissa Russell

If you have never worked with either fertilizer or manure, the difference between the two may be a bit puzzling. They both have a strong smell that may be a little overwhelming for those with sensitive noses. Both are also common additives for gardens to enrich soil and improve plant growth. Aside from these commonalities, fertilizer and manure vary quite a lot. One is all-natural, while the other can either be all-natural or a mix of various chemicals, mineral additives, and unknown substances.

Understanding the values and differences of each substance can help you make well informed decisions when it comes to soil amendments in your garden. Read on to learn all you need to know about fertilizer and manure and how each substance can improve your garden’s soil.

About Fertilizer

Commercial fertilizers are used for both
gardens and lawns in order to provide certain nutrients, namely nitrogen,
potassium, and phosphorus, in highly concentrated doses. When you purchase
manufactured fertilizers, you will know precisely which nutrients the
fertilizer provides and the amount of each nutrient the fertilizer offers.

Because fertilizers offer nutrients in such
highly-concentrated forms, you will not need to use very much in order to
replenish soil with the appropriate amounts needed to provide for your plants.
The amount of fertilizer needed will be especially small in comparison to
organic matter fertilizer alternatives, such as compost or manure.

It is unfortunately quite easy to over
fertilize lawns or young plants. Over fertilization can lead to burnt or
damaged roots. An unsightly example of overapplication of fertilizer is a lawn
that turns completely brown after fertilization.

Advantages of Fertilizer

  • Nutrients available immediately
  • Delivers nutrients in appropriate
    amount and proportions
  • Can save time and effort compared
    to manure
  • Does not introduce plant and
    animal disease causing organisms

Disadvantages of Fertilizer

  • Most fertilizers do not contain
    micronutrients
  • Fertilizers do not support
    microbiological life in soil
  • Adding fertilizer does not add any
    organic material to soil
  • Fertilizers can be costly
  • Overuse or misuse can burn plant
    tissue and cause toxic concentration of salts
  • Fertilizers can release nutrients
    too quickly
  • Nutrients can be leached out of the
    soil very quickly by rain or irrigation.

Manure

Manure is essentially animal poop. Not all
animal droppings can be used in the garden, however, such as the droppings of
household pets like cats and dogs. The droppings of cows, sheep, poultry, and
horses are the manure that is commonly used in the garden.

Fertilizers don’t often contain manure, but
manure can be used as a fertilizer. Manure contains nitrogen, which is one of
the most beneficial nutrient resources in soil. Beyond nitrogen, the nutrient
content of manure is quite minimal in comparison with commercial fertilizers,
depending on what the animals ate before producing the manure, and the age of
the manure. Manure is generally mixed into the soil, as much of the nitrogen
evaporates into the atmosphere if left atop the soil, rather than staying in the
soil, where it is needed. Manure is commonly used as a soil amendment to
replenish soil with depleted nitrogen levels.

Advantages of Manure

  • Improves soil structure
  • Improves water retention and
    infiltration
  • Encourages microorganism activity
    which break down organic material, break down contaminants in soil and converts
    nutrients into usable forms
  • Greater residual effects on later
    crops than fertilizer

Disadvantages of Manure

  • Diluted source of nutrients
    compared to inorganic fertilizers
  • Can be a source of weed seeds,
    harmful pathogens, and pharmaceutical compounds (depending on what the animals
    were treated with)
  • Composition can be highly varied
    depending on what the animals eat
  • Release of nutrients is variable

Using Manure As Fertilizer

Manure is not the only organic material, or
all-natural material that can be used as a fertilizer. Pine needles, bone meal,
grass clippings, fish emulsion, and compost are all frequently used to
fertilize the soil to benefit lawns and plants. Decaying organic matter, such as
dead leaves, grass, or pine needles, can be left atop the soil in order to
fertilize while acting as a mulch and helping to retain soil moisture.

A major benefit of using organic matter
fertilizer alternatives compared to synthetic fertilizers  is that the natural nutrients in organic
matter feed and encourage beneficial microbes in the soil, which leads to
healthier, more workable soil. The main drawback of using organic matter
fertilizers is that they are far less concentrated than synthetic fertilizers,
which means less nutrients per pound of fertilizer.

Safety Issues With Manure and
Fertilizer

In general, both fertilizer and manure are
safe to use, but there are a few varying safety concerns for each that
gardeners should consider. Manure is animal waste, which is not something you
want to accidentally ingest or get in your eyes or nose. Make sure to wash your
hands thoroughly after working with manure, and stay focused and mindful of not
touching your mouth, nose, or eyes while working with it. Manure should be
worked into the soil instead of applying it directly to plants. Garden
consumables should always be washed before eating but especially if they are
grown in soil containing manure, or any other fertilizer. 

Commercial fertilizers are highly concentrated
and excess use can result in environmental concerns from runoff which can
affect streams and waterways. Some manufactured fertilizers, especially those
that are non-organic, can be harmful to pets and animals. Always read a
commercial fertilizer’s label and take note of safety concerns to consider
before purchasing so that you know that the product is something that you will
be comfortable using.

Important Differences Between
Manure and Fertilizer

  • Manure is not as rich as
    fertilizers in plant nutrients
  • Manure is prepared in the field
    and is decomposed by dumping animal and plant waste into open pits, whereas
    fertilizers are created in factories through chemical procedures
  • Manure is organic material that is
    prepared by decomposition of crop residue or animal droppings, which is added
    to the soil to improve fertility. Fertilizer is any substance, organic or
    inorganic, that is added to the soil to increase the yield of crops.
  • Manure is insoluble in water and
    slowly absorbed by the soil. Fertilizer is easily dissolved in water, therefore
    can be used by plants immediately
  • Because manure is generated out of
    decayed plant and animal waste, it provides humus to the soil, which increases
    the soil’s water retention capability. On the other hand, fertilizer does not
    provide humus to the soil, nor improve water retention
  • Manure is economical and can be
    prepared by farmers themselves, whereas fertilizers are industrially
    manufactured chemicals that are often costly
  • Manure does not cause any harm to
    soils, but in fact, can raise the quality of the soil in the long run.
    Fertilizer, on the other hand, can be harmful to the soil if used in excess,
    and can cause harm to organisms that are already present in the soil

Fertilizer Versus Manure

Manure has many benefits that you cannot get
from chemical fertilizers. Organic matter enhances the physical properties of
the soil structure, lightens the texture of the soil, enhances rainfall
infiltration, and increases the cation exchange capacity. Increasing the cation
exchange capacity refers to the ability of the soil to store nutrients and
pesticides which makes them more productive than if you were just applying
fertilizer alone.

Manure applications increase the activity of
microbial life within your soil, which improves soil quality tremendously.
Adding manure increases the amount of organic matter in your soil. Extra
organic matter helps increase your soil’s water retention capability.

Using manure as mulch is not recommended, as
doing so allows large amounts of ammonia nitrogen to be lost into the
atmosphere. However, large-scale commercial farmers that allow organic matter
like manure to remain just above the topsoil in no-till farming operations are
actually containing runoff issues by doing so.

Manure and fertilizer compliment each other.
As fertilizer is often a chemical product, there are specialized instructions
that should be used when adding it to your soil. There are no instructions to
be followed when adding manure to the soil. Excessive use of fertilizer can
reduce the soil’s fertility and lead to water pollution, so whenever possible,
it is best to replace fertilizer with manure. Manure is an organic substance
which is environmentally friendly and also recycles the waste of plants and
animals, so it is better to replace fertilizer with manure as often as
possible.

Common Questions and Answers About
Fertilizer Versus Manure

Can I plant directly into manure?

Manure can be used as a soil amendment or as a
component in compost, but you should not plant directly into manure without
combining the manure with soil or other mediums. The high levels of nitrogen
and ammonia can “burn” plants if manure is not diluted in a soil mixture.
Plants can be burned by manure that hasn’t been aged for at least six months
due to the nitrogen, ammonia, and salts fresh manure contains. In compost,
manure that includes bedding is a balanced green and brown ingredient.

To use packaged commercial manure as a soil
amendment, refer to the instructions to determine how much to use and what to
mix it with. If your manure didn’t come with instructions, the general
guidelines below will tell you how much you need as an amendment; work the
manure into your soil to a depth of six to eight inches. Chicken manure must be
worked into the soil within 12 hours of spreading, or evaporation will waste
much of its valuable nitrogen.

  • Cow manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With no bedding, 75 pounds
    • With bedding, 95 pounds
    • Composted, 200 pounds
  • Sheep manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With no bedding, 40 pounds
    • With bedding, 50 pounds
  • Poultry manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • Without litter, 20 pounds
    • With bedding, 30 pounds
    • Composted, 70 pounds
  • Horse manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With bedding, 65 pounds

Can I spread fertilizer when it’s
windy?

Unless you’re using a drop spreader, avoid
applying dry, or solid, fertilizer when it’s windy outside. If you put out
fertilizer on a windy day, you risk the wind carrying your fertilizer off to
neighboring gardens, the street, or whatever else may be nearby. Some gardeners
recommend watching tree branches and hedges—if it’s windy enough to move the
foliage noticeably, it’s too windy to fertilize.

Can I use flower fertilizer for
vegetables?

Using a fertilizer meant for flowers on
vegetable plants won’t do them any harm. The fertilizer just won’t be optimized
for your vegetables, so the results won’t be as impressive as they would with a
veggie-specific fertilizer blend. That said, you don’t want to use fertilizer
meant for lawns in your garden. Lawn fertilizer has too much nitrogen for other
plants, and the weed control chemicals in lawn fertilizer can be damaging to
the plants in your garden.

Can I use manure in my vegetable
garden?

Amending the soil in your vegetable garden
with manure adds nutrients and organic matter, making the soil better able to
support healthy plants. It’s best not to use fresh manure, as fresh manure can
burn your plants due to the high nitrogen and ammonia content, and it can also
contain weed seeds if the manure is from an animal that consumes plants. Manure
should be aged at least six months before you use it in an active garden.

If you must use fresh manure, wait 120 days
before harvesting or eating vegetables that come into contact with the ground
to avoid spread of salmonella, E.coli, parasites, and other pathogens. Experts
recommend gardeners not use manure from pigs, cats, or dogs in the garden, as
their waste can contain pathogens that can live in the soil and infect humans.
Chicken and cow manure are most commonly recommended for vegetable gardens,
with chicken manure having the most beneficial nutrient profile for your
plants.

Can organic farmers use manure?

Organic farmers can use manure in their gardens as long as it meets the USDA and National Organic Program regulations. You can review the regulations for manure in organic farming in this tipsheet from the Sustainable Agriculture Program.

Can you over fertilize plants?

Yes, it’s possible for plants to get too much
of a good thing when it comes to fertilizer. When levels of the nutrients that
plants need to thrive are too high, they can actually be harmful. Too much
fertilizer can also result in excess salt building up in the soil. Plants that
are over fertilized can see stunted growth and become vulnerable to diseases
and infestation by garden pests, even resulting in death. In addition to
stunted growth, signs of over fertilization include wilted or yellowed foliage,
“burned” or dried out leaf margins, collapse of the plant, and eventually,
death.

If your plants show signs of over
fertilization, reduce fertilizer use and flush the soil out thoroughly with
water three or four times, allowing the water to drain completely between
treatments. Sometimes, it’s best to use less fertilizer than product packaging
recommends—and remember to only fertilize your plants when they’re in an active
growth period.

Can you put too much manure in
your garden?

Too much manure can give your garden too much
nitrogen and ammonia, resulting in plants being “burned.” Follow the
instructions on commercially packaged manure for dosage, or follow the
guidelines below, worked into your soil to a depth of six to eight inches.

  • Cow manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With no bedding, 75 pounds
    • With bedding, 95 pounds
    • Composted, 200 pounds
  • Sheep manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With no bedding, 40 pounds
    • With bedding, 50 pounds
  • Poultry manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • Without litter, 20 pounds
    • With bedding, 30 pounds
    • Composted, 70 pounds
  • Horse manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With bedding, 65 pounds

Can you put chicken manure
directly in the garden?

The high nitrogen content of fresh chicken
manure means it will “burn” plants it comes into contact with, especially
tender young plants. Before putting chicken manure in your garden, you need to
age it for at least six months, or use it in one of the following ways. First,
you can add chicken manure to a compost pile, if you have one going, or just
mix it with lawn clippings or dead leaves. Untouched, the compost is ready in
six to 12 months, or if you turn the compost every once in a while, you can
have it ready in four to six months. A quicker solution is to make manure tea
by placing the chicken manure in a burlap sack with a brick or large rock, then
soaking the sack in a trash can filled with water for three to four weeks.

If your garden is dormant, you can go ahead
and use the fresh chicken manure if you have three or four months before you’ll
be planting. Spread 50 pounds of chicken manure over 100 square feet of soil
and till it or work it in to a depth of six to eight inches. It will age right
in the ground and give your soil a nutrient boost so it’s ready for spring
planting if you spread the chicken manure after fall harvest is complete.
Chicken manure needs to be worked into the soil within 12 hours of being
spread, or much of the nitrogen it contains will be lost to evaporation.

Do carrots need manure?

Carrots don’t need manure, and using manure on
carrots can have undesirable results. If you use fresh or aged manure when
growing carrots, the carrots will send out side roots, leading to a forked or
leggy appearance.

Do onions like manure?

Because onions don’t need much nitrogen to
thrive, they don’t benefit much from manure. In fact, you should avoid growing
onions in soil that has been treated with manure recently.

How do you add manure to soil?

There are a few approaches you can use when
adding manure to soil depending on your needs and timeline. If you have a
compost pile going, manure is an excellent addition to the heap and is balanced
between green and brown. If you aren’t composting yet, you can do a quick
version by mixing manure with lawn clippings or dead leaves and turning the
pile occasionally. The finished compost will be ready in four to six months.
(If you don’t turn the pile, it will take six to 12 months to be ready.) Even
quicker is compost tea, where you put the compost in a burlap sack weighted
with a brick or large rock, then soak it in a trash can full of water for three
or four weeks.

If manure is fresh, you can use it as a soil
amendment as long as your garden is dormant and you have three or four months
before the planting season. If your manure has been aged for at least six
months, you can use it as a side dressing, or like compost or any other soil
amendment. Spread the manure on top of the soil, then till or work it down to a
depth of six to eight inches. (Mix in chicken manure within 12 hours to ensure
you don’t lose the nitrogen it contains as it evaporates.) Follow the package
instructions, or use the amount listed below, depending on the type of
fertilizer you have.

  • Cow manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With no bedding, 75 pounds
    • With bedding, 95 pounds
    • Composted, 200 pounds
  • Sheep manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With no bedding, 40 pounds
    • With bedding, 50 pounds
  • Poultry manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • Without litter, 20 pounds
    • With bedding, 30 pounds
    • Composted, 70 pounds
  • Horse manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With bedding, 65 pounds

How much chicken manure should I
put in my garden?

Per 100 square feet of soil you’re treating,
spread: 20 pounds of chicken manure without litter, 30 pounds of chicken manure
including bedding, or 70 pounds of composted chicken manure. Then till or mix
the soil to a depth of six to eight inches. Make sure to mix the chicken manure
into the soil within 12 hours of starting to spread it, or you’ll lose lots of
valuable nitrogen as it evaporates. If your manure is fresh instead of aged for
at least six months, you should only use it in a dormant garden with three or
four months until planting time. Spread 50 pounds of fresh chicken manure per
100 square feet of soil you wish to treat, and till or work it in as you would
aged chicken manure.

How much manure should I add to
my garden?

The amount of manure you should use depends on
the type you have (which animal the manure comes from). Prepackaged manure
should come with instructions. If your manure doesn’t have directions, you can
follow the guideline below to find out how much manure to add to your garden.
Once you’ve spread the manure, work it into the soil down to six to eight
inches. Poultry manure in particular needs to be mixed within 12 hours of
spreading on the soil, or you’ll lose a lot of the nitrogen to the air. If
manure is fresh instead of aged for at least six months, make sure to only use
it in a dormant garden when you have three or four months before you’ll be
planting. Fresh manure can “burn” plants with its nitrogen and ammonia content,
not to mention can contain pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli, and parasites
that you don’t want near plants you’ll be working with or eating.

  • Cow manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With no bedding, 75 pounds
    • With bedding, 95 pounds
    • Composted, 200 pounds
  • Sheep manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With no bedding, 40 pounds
    • With bedding, 50 pounds
  • Poultry manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • Without litter, 20 pounds
    • With bedding, 30 pounds
    • Composted, 70 pounds
  • Horse manure—apply per 100 square feet of soil:
    • With bedding, 65 pounds

How often should I put manure in
my garden?

Most of the time, a yearly application of
manure is more than sufficient to keep soil fertile and balanced. For vegetable
or potato gardens, you may wish to add manure in both fall and spring. For
flower gardens, add manure in early spring. For acid-loving plants such as
blueberries and azaleas, either add manure in early fall or skip it altogether.

How quickly does fertilizer work?

Some types of fertilizer work more quickly
than others. Quick-release nitrogen fertilizers or soluble fertilizers start
working in just days, while slow-release nitrogen fertilizers take months to
start working (but their effects last longer). Combination fertilizers that
have quick-release and slow-release components will start working in days but
have the lasting effects that make slow-release fertilizers so beneficial.

Is chicken manure acidic?

Chicken manure is not particularly acidic.
While there is a range of variation in the pH level of chicken manures
depending on age of the poultry, age of manure, diet of the birds, and more,
most chicken manure has a pH that falls between 6.5 and 8.0. This pH range
makes chicken manure neutral to alkaline, not acidic.

Is it OK if it rains after you
fertilize?

If it rains after you fertilize, the rainfall
will help the earth absorb the fertilizer by watering it into the soil.
However, it’s best not to fertilize just before rainfall because the rain can
wash the fertilizer into bodies of water and storm drain systems, where it can
affect your community’s water supply by increasing water pollution. It’s best
to get the benefits of fertilizing before it rains by watering the fertilizer
in yourself, so the amount of water is more controlled and fertilizer running
off into the water supply can be avoided.

You can do a quick test to determine how long
you need to water in order to soak your fertilizer in well. Place a few tuna
fish cans around the area you’ll fertilize, then turn on your sprinklers,
irrigation system, or start watering. Keep an eye on the tuna cans and the
clock so you know how long it takes for the cans to collect a quarter inch of
water. This is the amount of time you’ll need to water in fertilizer
sufficiently without polluting your local water supply, lakes, and rivers.

Is it OK if it rains before you
fertilize?

Rainfall before you fertilize your garden is a
benefit, as the moisture in the soil will help the fertilizer be absorbed more
efficiently. You can water the fertilizer in yourself after applying it to make
sure it spreads down into your soil.

Is steer manure better than
chicken manure?

Whether steer manure is better than chicken
manure depends on whether you’re amending your soil for nutrition or texture.
Poultry manure has more of the nutrients plants need to thrive than steer
manure does. On average, chicken manure and all poultry manure provides triple
the nitrogen and double the phosphate steer manure does. However, if you’re
adding manure to your soil to improve its texture and not its nutrition, you
can usually get more bang for your buck volume-wise when you purchase steer
manure. In short, chicken manure offers more nutrition than steer manure, but
steer manure is more economical as a soil texture amendment.

Is steer manure the same as cow
manure?

Steer manure and dairy cow manure are different
because of the varying diets of dairy cows and steers. The N-P-K ratio of dairy
cow manure averages 10-4-8, while steer manure’s N-P-K ratio averages 14-5-8.
And while it’s rare to find beef cattle manure on the market, its N-P-K ratio
averages 11-7-10. Dairy cow manure is popular among gardeners because it’s mild
nutritionally, lessening the risk of over-fertilizing and “burning” your
plants. Steer manure also contains more salt than dairy cow manure, and too
much salinity in your soil can lead to stunted plant growth or the inability to
grow plants at all. Steer manure also has a higher likelihood of containing
weed seeds than dairy cow manure does.

Should I fertilize in the morning
or evening?

You should fertilize your plants when you
water them so the water will help the fertilizer soak into the soil. For most
gardeners, this means they should fertilize in the morning, before the heat of
the day in summer (and to take advantage of the warm rays of the sun in colder
seasons). Wind also tends to be less severe in the morning, so fertilizing and
watering in the morning minimizes the chance that dry or granular fertilizers
will blow away before your soil can absorb them. Plants get stressed when
summer heat is at its worst in midday and the afternoons, and that stress
reduces their ability to make use of the nutrients in fertilizer.

Should I water plants before
fertilizing?

If you use liquid fertilizer in your garden,
you should definitely water your plants before each application of fertilizer.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, watering plants before giving them liquid
fertilizer is important because hydrating the soil before using liquid
fertilizer will prevent your plants being “burned” at the roots, as can happen
when liquid fertilizer is applied to dry soil. However, if you use a granular
or dry fertilizer, you don’t need to water plants before an application.
Instead, water them afterward so the water can help the fertilizer soak into
the soil, lessening the risk of the fertilizer being blown away by wind before
plants can use it.

What are the advantages of using
manure?

Using manure in the garden has lots of
advantages, which is why gardeners have been amending soil with manure for
generations. The list below details the advantages of using manure—the ways it
benefits soil, plants, gardeners, and the environment.

  • Adding manure to the soil in your
    garden helps plants to grow strong and healthy and produce flowers or fruit to
    their maximum capability.
  • Gardeners can choose among a
    variety of ways to utilize manure in the garden. It can be added to compost,
    used as a side dressing, mixed into soil as an amendment, steeped into a tea,
    or in the case of composted manure, applied as a mulch.
  • It’s easy to find manure for sale
    at nurseries and garden centers, and many farmers sell the manure their animals
    produce. Some even give manure away for free as long as you haul it off their
    property yourself. (If you do end up choosing manure from an individual or
    small farm, be sure to find out whether the manure you receive is fresh or has
    been aged. Manure needs to be aged for at least six months before it’s safe to
    use in an active garden.)
  • Manure is chock-full of nutrients,
    including: micronutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also produces
    carbon.
  • Manure is a practical,
    low-maintenance choice compared to other ways to improve soil fertility because
    it’s easy to transport and only needs to be applied once a year, as opposed to
    the more rigorous schedule some other types of fertilizer can require.
  • Soil that’s been treated with
    manure will stay more consistently moist throughout the seasons than soil that
    doesn’t contain manure. That means less stress on plants because water is
    steadily available—and less stress on you because you won’t need to water your
    plants as frequently. While manure is helping your soil hold on to moisture,
    it’s also helping it retain nutrients, keeping those steadily available to
    plants as well.
  • Using manure in your garden
    doesn’t only benefit you individually; it benefits the environment by
    increasing the carbon in soil and reducing carbon in the atmosphere, decreasing
    erosion and runoff of the soil, and lessening nitrate leaching. Choosing manure
    also cuts back on the energy demand of nitrogen fertilizers, some of which rely
    on natural gas.
  • The nitrogen in manure is also
    more stable than the nitrogen in commercial fertilizers, manure releases its
    nitrogen slowly into soil over time, better meeting the needs of your plants
    than nitrogen that isn’t gradually dispensed.
  • When you amend your garden’s soil with manure, you’re not just nourishing your plants. You’re also improving the texture of the soil by aerating and loosening it, which improves drainage and allows air to circulate around plant roots. Lack of air circulation in the soil can contribute to plant diseases such as root rot. These qualities mean that manure isn’t just a fertilizer; it’s a soil conditioner and soil amendment that can help make sandy, compacted, or clay soils more suitable for gardening.

What are the disadvantages of
using manure?

Like any technique or product, manure has its
disadvantages. The drawbacks to using manure that gardeners should consider are
listed below. Note that many of these potential disadvantages become invalid
when manure is aged for at least six months, which is the minimum before it
should be applied to an active garden anyway.

  • Because many of the animals whose
    waste we use as manure eat plants, seeds of invasive plants, like pigweed and
    lamb quarters, are prevalent in many types of manure. That means if you spread
    manure in your garden, you could introduce weeds along with the nutrients
    you’re aiming for. Aging manure for six months will reduce the likelihood that
    the weed seeds will sprout.
  • If animals consume hormones, heavy
    metals, or medicines that survive the digestion process, those components will
    be part of manure as well, and some gardeners will wish to avoid applying them
    to plants that produce food. An example of substances that can sometimes be
    found in manure and absorbed by food crops include skatole, indol, and other
    phenols.
  • Fresh manure has a pungent aroma
    many people can’t stand. Once manure has aged six months, its smell diminishes.
    However, some people find even the milder smell of aged manure offensive. Once
    the manure is incorporated into the garden’s soil, though, the smell should
    dissipate.
  • Long-term use of manure can make
    soil more acidic than is optimal for gardening while simultaneously draining
    the soil of calcium needed by plants.
  • Manure that has not been aged can
    spread diseases to humans because it may contain pathogens, such as salmonella,
    E. coli, or parasites. Because of these dangers, fresh manure must be kept away
    from food crops, produce handling areas, gardening supplies used on food crops,
    and anywhere it can enter a water supply by runoff.
  • Quantities of manure that are
    required to amend a large garden can be hefty—and so can the bags manure is
    often packaged in. As a result, treating a large area with lots of manure can
    be physically difficult and exhausting.
  • The salt manure contains can build
    up in garden soil if manure is applied frequently over long periods, and the
    accumulated salt can damage plants, stunt their growth, or even prevent
    anything from growing in the salt-permeated soil. Manure that comes from cattle
    raised on feedlots is especially likely to contain lots of salt.
  • Using too much manure—or fresh
    manure—can result in damaged plants that are “burned” by an excess of nitrogen
    and other nutrients, though these components are beneficial in proper
    quantities. If excess nutrients are driven into other areas by rainfall, they
    can cause environmental problems as well. For example, excess nitrogen that
    enters a body of water can result in a harmful algae bloom.

What are the three types of
manure?

Manure falls into three broad types or
categories: green manure, farmyard manure, and compost manure. Green manure is
a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not the animal waste we traditionally associate
with the term “manure.” Instead, green manure refers to cover crops. As the
name implies, farmyard manure is made of animal waste and materials commonly
found with it, such as livestock bedding or feed, animal hair, or the food farm
animals eat. Compost manure is farmyard manure that has been composted during
its aging process.

What fertilizer is high in
nitrogen?

You can often tell which fertilizers are high in nitrogen if you know what the numbers on fertilizer packages mean. When you see a set of three numbers separated by hyphens (such as 30-10-20), the first number gives you the percentage of nitrogen the fertilizer contains. Urea is a fertilizer that’s 46 percent nitrogen, while ammonium sulfate has 21 percent. In comparison, standard landscaping fertilizers range from 2 to 12 percent nitrogen.

What is the purpose of fertilizer?

Because as plants grow, they will deplete even the richest soil of nutrients as they use them, fertilizer exists to replenish these nutrients and keep your garden’s soil stocked with the nutrition plants need to thrive. Fertilizers most commonly contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, but they may contain other nutrients, such as sulfur, magnesium, and calcium. Some fertilizers contain only one or two nutrients to suit specific needs. In some cases, fertilizers can help plants grow faster, produce bigger blooms, or yield larger fruit and vegetables. You’ll often hear people refer to fertilizer as plant food, but this isn’t quite accurate. Plants make food for themselves using the process of photosynthesis. Fertilizer is more like a multivitamin for your plants.

Want to learn more about fertilizer versus manure?

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension covers Fertilizing a Garden

The Old Farmer’s Almanac covers How to Apply Fertilizers to Your Garden

The Old Farmer’s Almanac covers Manure Guide

American Dairymen covers Manure vs Fertilizer

National Center for Appropriate Technology covers Manure in Organic Production Systems

Cooperative Extension covers Manure and Soil pH

Backyard Boss covers Compost vs Manure

Best Juicy Tomatoes covers The Best Tomato Fertilizer

Gardening Know How covers Pros and Cons of Using Manure Fertilizer

cs.mcgil.ca covers Fertilizer

ecochem covers Manure Is An Excellent Fertilizer

Fine Gardening covers Fertilizing Basics

Gardeners Corner covers What Needs Manure?

Gardening Know How covers Benefits of Manure in the Garden

University of Florida covers Vegetable Gardening: Applying Fertilizer

Gardens Alive covers Using Manure Wisely

HGTV covers Chicken Manure

Home Grown Fun covers 5 Tips for Using Manures in Garden

SFGate Homeguides covers Difference Between Manure and Fertilizer

Hunker covers Purpose of Fertilizers

Hunker covers How Long Can Fertilizer Sit on Lawn Before Rain

Key Differences covers Difference Between Manure and Fertilizer

USDA covers Environmental Benefits of Manure Application

nola.com covers When and How to Apply Plant Fertilizer

Off Grid News covers 4 Types of Organic Manure

Poultry One covers Using Your Chickens’ Manure as Vegetable Garden Fertilizer

Kitsap covers More On Fertilizer

Royal Horticultural Society covers Chicken Manure

Royal Horticultural Society covers Organic Matter

SARE covers Chemical Characteristics of Manure

Smiling Gardener covers Garden Fertilizer Tips

University of Nebraska Lincoln covers Manure Vs. Commercial Fertilizer

University of Wisconsin Madison covers Using Manure in the Home Garden

wheelbarrow manure bag fertilizer in garden with text overlay ferilizer versus manure when to use

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“Fertilizer vs. Manure: Which to Use?” was first posted here

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