Most keen gardeners are interested in anything that enhances their gardening.
Compost and manure are two of the most popular natural ways to nourish your plants.
Both improve soil structure and add beneficial nutrients and microorganisms.
Your garden deserves only the best. So, which is it – compost or manure?
In this article I’ll unpack the differences between these soil nourishers to help you decide which one to add to your garden’s menu.
What Is The Difference Between Compost And Manure?
Compost and manure have many similarities: they’re both decomposed organic matter that enriches the soil and helps grow healthy plants. But these soil supplements have different ingredients, benefits, downsides, and uses.
Right, let’s start comparing!
What Is Compost?
Everything alive (organic matter) will decompose at some point. Bacteria, fungi, and insects break down the organic matter more and more until it’s… compost!
When talking about compost you make at home, the ingredients are usually things like fruit and veggie scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, shredded paper, and garden waste.
You can make compost in different ways, from the indoor bokashi method or worm composting to composting outdoors in a vessel or open pile.
Compost’s nutritional value depends on its ingredients, preparation, and storage.
Bullet List Pros And Cons Of Compost
Here’s where compost shines and falls short:
Seven compost pros:
- It’s nature’s recycling – an eco-friendly way to deal with organic wastes.
- Waste products are turned into a nourishing soil supplement.
- It helps grow healthy plants by encouraging soil to retain and drain water better, improving airflow, and adding nutrients and composting creatures.
- It has instant and long-term benefits.
- Everyone can make it – there’s a composting method to suit every home and lifestyle.
- You can make it cheaply or for free.
- You can control what goes into your compost to keep it chemical-free
Seven compost cons:
- It takes time and effort to compost animal-based food scraps safely.
- Compost needs space.
- You need to wait 2 weeks to 2 years for plant-friendly compost.
- Compost you don’t keep an eye on can stink and attract animal and insect pests.
- Messy compost piles can spoil your garden’s beauty.
- Compost slowly releases small amounts of nutrients.
- Unfinished compost can hurt plants.
What Is Manure?
Manure is also broken down organic matter – except, in this case, livestock’s digestive systems do the work. Livestock digest the organic matter they munch, then excrete (nutrient-rich) wastes from their bodies as manure.
Manure can be pure (only poop) or include livestock bedding (urine-soaked straw or hay).
There are four forms of manure:
- Fresh: The heavy, stinky form it has after it’s recently been excreted.
- Aged: This is manure that’s been around for months – it’s mature manure!
- Hot-composted: Manure is mixed with carbon-rich ingredients and composted at temperatures between 131 and 140°F for several weeks to destroy weed seeds and disease-causing organisms.
- Pasteurized: This manure has been heated to kill anything harmful.
Aged, hot-composted, and pasteurized compost don’t smell bad and are easier to work with than fresh compost. The pasteurized and hot-composted forms are safest for you and your garden.
Farm animals have different digestive systems and diets, so their poop’s nutritional value differs. Here’s a glance at the manures most commonly used in the garden:
High in nitrogen usually doesn’t contain weed seeds.
Breaks down easilyLow in nutrients
Well-balancedOften contains weed seeds.
Potassium-richBreaks down easily
Bullet List Pros And Cons Of Manure
Let’s see what makes manure special and potentially shady.
Seven manure pros:
- It can kick-start hot-composting systems.
- Manure improves soil structure.
- It helps maintain healthy air and water levels in the soil.
- It adds helpful microorganisms and insects to the soil.
- It’s free or inexpensive.
- Livestock do most of the work to create a nutritious soil supplement.
- Composting manure is a planet-smart move, as it lowers greenhouse gas emissions.
Seven manure cons:
- Fresh manure contains disease-spreading organisms.
- It can harbor weed seeds.
- Manure can contain antibiotic residue.
- It can contain herbicide residue.
- Fresh manure can burn plants if applied directly.
- Fresh manure is heavy, stinky, and tricky to apply.
- Urban dwellers might struggle to get their hands on manure.
Table Of Comparison Compost Or Manure
Now that we’ve got an idea of compost’s and manure’s strengths and weaknesses, let’s put them head to head:
Nutrient % In Dry Weight*
Available and slow-release nutrients
Top 2 Benefits
– Anyone can compost – even if you live in a small apartment.
– You can control what goes into your soil supplement.
– Gives plants fast- and slow-release nutrients.
– Some manures contain more nutrients than the average backyard compost.
Top 2 Disadvantages
– Even fuss-free methods need monitoring.
– Takes time – from 2 weeks to 2 years.
– Fresh manure’s high ammonia or nitrogen levels can harm plants.
– Can contain disease-causing organisms.
*Source: Montana State University Extension
Manure Or Compost Which Is Better
Right, so compost and manure are both soil-enhancing superstars that help create conditions for plants to thrive. But does one outperform the other?
For me, the winner is compost because I enjoy creating my soil supplement. I like knowing the recipe (no weed seeds, harmful organisms, or herbicide surprises for my garden!). And I find it super satisfying to turn my organic wastes into something that nourishes my plants.
Plus, I believe anyone can find a composting method that’s right for their energy levels, space, budget, and type of organic waste.
If you’re close to a farm or zoo with plenty of livestock manure up for grabs, your garden would likely love a helping! Plants don’t need to wait as long for manure’s nutrients as for compost’s – it’s the fast-food option of the 2. Manure also tends to have more nutrients than compost.
But be aware that you must be more careful when using manure than compost because of its risks. Pasteurized or hot-composted manure is usually safe to use, though.
Should I Use Compost Or Manure?
Whether compost or manure is a better choice for your garden depends on which of the 2 you have available in the amounts you need, your gardening goals, and your preferences.
If, for example, your main goal is to increase your soil’s organic matter, compost is likely the right pick, whereas if you’re looking to boost your soil’s nutrient content, manure is your better bet.
Is Garden Compost As Good As Manure?
Compost and manure are evenly matched multi-tasking soil supplements.
They both succeed in keeping soil aerated, balancing water levels, maintaining a vibrant community of helpful microorganisms and insects, and adding organic matter.
Can You Use Manure As Compost?
You can use pasteurized or properly hot-composted manure as you’d use compost.
So, feel free to swap compost for manure for your next annual application. Work 1-2 inches of manure into the top 10-12 inches of soil in the fall, as you’d do were you using compost.
However, keep fresh manure (and its high ammonia or nitrogen content) away from your plants.
Compost Vs Manure For Vegetable Garden
Your better pick for veggie gardens? Compost!
Although pasteurized or hot-composted manure should be free from disease-causing organisms, compost is still a safer choice for nourishing soil that will grow your food.
Compost Vs Manure For Grass
Compost or manure for grass? Manure!
Compost and manure are both great options for working into lawns, but manure’s higher nitrogen content (especially chicken manure) gives it the edge over compost.
Compost Or Manure For Flowers
Which soil supplement should you use for flowers? Your choice!
Finished compost and pasteurized or hot-composted manure are equally good for your blooms.
If you decide on manure for your flowers, go for cow or horse manure.