Fertilizer vs. Manure: Which One Should You Choose for Your Garden?

If you’re new to gardening, you might find yourself confused about the difference between fertilizer and manure. Both are commonly used to improve soil and promote plant growth, but they have distinct characteristics and advantages. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of each option, helping you make informed decisions for your garden.

The Difference Between Fertilizer and Manure

Fertilizer is a product specifically designed to provide plants with essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, in concentrated doses. Commercial fertilizers clearly state the nutrients they contain and their proportions, allowing you to tailor your garden’s needs accordingly. Fertilizers deliver immediate nutrients to the plants, requiring only a small amount to replenish soil fertility.

On the other hand, manure is essentially animal waste, commonly sourced from cows, sheep, poultry, or horses. Unlike fertilizers, manure is an all-natural soil amendment that offers minimal nutrient content compared to synthetic alternatives. However, manure provides other benefits, such as improving soil structure, enhancing water retention, and stimulating microorganism activity.

Advantages of Fertilizer

  • Nutrients are immediately available to plants.
  • Provides precise amounts of essential nutrients.
  • Saves time and effort compared to manure.
  • Does not introduce disease-causing organisms.
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Disadvantages of Fertilizer

  • Lacks micronutrients.
  • Does not support microbiological life in soil.
  • Does not add organic matter to the soil.
  • Can be costly if used excessively.
  • Overuse can lead to burning plant tissue and toxic salt concentration.
  • Nutrients can be quickly washed away by rain or irrigation.

Advantages of Manure

  • Improves soil structure.
  • Enhances water retention and infiltration.
  • Stimulates beneficial microorganism activity.
  • Has greater residual effects on later crops.
  • Economical and can be prepared by farmers.

Disadvantages of Manure

  • Diluted nutrient content compared to synthetic fertilizers.
  • Can contain weed seeds, harmful pathogens, and pharmaceutical compounds.
  • Composition varies depending on animal diet.
  • Release of nutrients is variable.

Using Manure as Fertilizer

In addition to manure, there are other organic materials that can be used as fertilizers, such as pine needles, bone meal, grass clippings, fish emulsion, and compost. These materials provide natural nutrients to the soil while promoting beneficial microbial activity. However, it’s important to note that organic matter fertilizers are less concentrated than synthetic fertilizers, meaning fewer nutrients per pound of fertilizer.

Safety Issues With Fertilizer and Manure

Both fertilizer and manure are generally safe to use, but there are some safety concerns to keep in mind. Manure is animal waste, so it’s crucial to wash your hands thoroughly after handling it and avoid touching your face. It is recommended to work manure into the soil rather than applying it directly to plants. When consuming garden produce, always wash it thoroughly, especially if grown in soil containing manure.

Commercial fertilizers, especially non-organic ones, can have environmental impacts if overused. They can also be harmful to pets and animals. Always read the label and consider safety concerns before purchasing and using commercial fertilizers.

Key Differences Between Manure and Fertilizer

  • Manure is less nutrient-rich than fertilizers.
  • Manure is organic material while fertilizers are chemically created.
  • Manure provides humus and improves water retention, while fertilizers do not.
  • Manure is economical and can be prepared by farmers, while fertilizers can be expensive.
  • Manure does not harm soil, whereas fertilizers can harm existing organisms.
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Fertilizer Versus Manure

Manure offers several benefits that cannot be obtained from chemical fertilizers alone. The organic matter in manure improves soil structure, water retention, and microbial activity. It also contributes to the cation exchange capacity, making it more productive than using fertilizer alone.

However, manure and fertilizer can complement each other. While chemical fertilizers provide specific nutrients, manure improves soil health and long-term fertility. Excessive use of fertilizers can reduce soil fertility and cause water pollution, so whenever possible, it is best to replace fertilizer with manure.

Common Questions and Answers About Fertilizer Versus Manure

Here are answers to some common questions about fertilizer and manure:

Can I plant directly into manure?

It’s not recommended to plant directly into fresh manure as it can “burn” plants due to its high nitrogen and ammonia content. Manure should be mixed with soil or composted before use.

Can I spread fertilizer when it’s windy?

Avoid applying dry or solid fertilizers on windy days to prevent them from blowing away. Liquid fertilizers can be applied with caution.

Can I use flower fertilizer for vegetables?

While using flower fertilizer on vegetables won’t harm them, it’s best to use a specific fertilizer blend for optimal results.

Can I use manure in my vegetable garden?

Manure can be used in vegetable gardens, but it should be aged for at least six months to avoid burning plants with excessive nitrogen and ammonia. Fresh manure can contain pathogens that can be harmful to humans.

Can organic farmers use manure?

Yes, organic farmers can use manure as long as it meets organic farming regulations.

Can you over-fertilize plants?

Yes, over-fertilizing plants can cause stunted growth, diseases, and infestation. It’s important to follow recommended dosage and application guidelines.

Can you put too much manure in your garden?

Excessive or fresh manure can damage plants due to the high levels of nitrogen and ammonia. Follow recommended guidelines and consider aging the manure before use.

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Can you put chicken manure directly in the garden?

Fresh chicken manure should be aged for at least six months or used in specific ways to avoid burning plants. Follow recommended guidelines for safe application.

Do carrots need manure?

Carrots don’t require manure and can be negatively affected by its use.

Do onions like manure?

Onions don’t benefit significantly from manure and should not be grown in recently manured soil.

How do you add manure to soil?

Manure can be added to compost, mixed into soil, or steeped into a tea. Follow recommended guidelines for dosage and application.

How much chicken manure should I put in my garden?

Spread 20 pounds of chicken manure without litter, 30 pounds with bedding, or 70 pounds of composted chicken manure per 100 square feet of soil.

How much manure should I add to my garden?

The amount of manure needed depends on the type and should be spread and worked into the soil according to recommended guidelines.

How often should I put manure in my garden?

In most cases, a yearly application of manure is sufficient. Vegetable and potato gardens may benefit from fall and spring applications, while flowers gardens benefit from early spring application.

How quickly does fertilizer work?

The speed at which fertilizer works depends on its type. Quick-release fertilizers start working in days, while slow-release fertilizers can take months to have an effect.


Choosing between fertilizer and manure for your garden depends on your specific needs. Fertilizers provide concentrated nutrients and immediate availability, while manure improves soil health and provides long-term benefits. It’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option and make informed decisions based on your garden’s requirements. By understanding the differences between fertilizer and manure, you can effectively enhance the health and productivity of your garden.