Compost vs Manure: The Differences Explained

Gardeners go to great lengths to improve the quality of their soil. The healthiest growing conditions promote fast and plentiful growth of plants, vegetables, and shrubs.

Compost and manure have merits; this article explains their benefits, best usages, and how to get the best mix for your backyard’s needs.

What is Compost

Compost is the result of the natural decomposition of organic matter; any remains from organisms, plants, or animals that contain carbon. It consists of leaves, shredded twigs, plant waste, and vegetable scraps.


Compost is an environmentally friendly alternative to fertilizer as it is the product of the breakdown of recycled green waste.

Compost adds organic matter to the soil, flower beds, and lawns. It is nutrient-rich and promotes healthy plant growth, which, in turn, aids their ability to fend off common diseases.

Compost feeds and amends soil, contributes to the improved flavor and nutritional value of all edible crops.

How Does Compost Improve Soil?

Compost helps your soil, regardless of its type, react with any water it receives.

If you have sandy soil, compost absorbs water that would otherwise run away; without stopping at the plant’s root systems. The compost slowly releases the moisture as and when the plants need it.

Conversely, in heavy clay soils, compost adds porosity, a series of minute drainage holes. They give any settling water an escape route and prevent the roots from becoming waterlogged.

Compost is full of microbes including beneficial bacteria and fungi. They thrive in this habitat and extract nutrients from the minerals within the soil. All plant life flourishes when receiving the nutritional boost.

Other benefits to compost are it is organic, inexpensive, and amends the soil to build disease resistance.

How to Make a Compost Pile

It is easy to make compost at home and requires little effort. It is by far cheaper and more eco-friendly than fertilizer, which is why seasoned gardeners call compost “Black Gold.”

Cold Composting

Cold composting is the go-to method of most gardeners as it is virtually effortless. It is so-named because there is no need to monitor and regulate the temperatures within the pile.

Add layers regularly – rest assured the bottom is decomposing, in readiness for use in around 6-months.

  • Corner off an area of the yard. Wooden pallets are ideal or construct a simple timber box.
  • Begin the pile with a good mix of brown (carbon-rich) and green (nutrient-rich) materials. It is the base layer and should be substantial.
  • Brown materials include leaves, twigs, ashes, dried grass clippings, and are inactive ingredients.
  • Green materials include farm animal manure, fresh fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grinds, and fresh lawn clippings.
  • The high nitrogen content of the green materials causes a chemical reaction when interacting with the carbon. It causes the pile to heat up and begin the decomposing process.
  • For the fastest decomposition, keep the ratio of carbon:nitrogen materials between 25:1 to 30:1
  • Always use the compost from the bottom of the pile first; this is the richest, loamiest fertilizer for the soil.
  • Water the pile frequently, enough to soak everything but not too much that it sits in the water. Water sets the microbes to work.

Carbon-rich, brown materials include cardboard, newspaper, bread, ash from fireplaces, wood chips and shavings, burlap, cotton, leather, and pine needles.

Nutrient-rich, green materials include eggshells, pulled weeds that haven’t already seeded, urine, rotted fruit and vegetables, and tea bags.

Hot composting produces faster results but is very time and energy-consuming. The construction of the pile is the same as the cold method but requires turning every few days. You have to monitor moisture and temperature levels to keep it at the optimum 130 – 140F.

What is Manure?

Manure is the dung created by the digested and partly digested contents of a farm animal’s stomach. It also contains urine, spilled feed, and bedding.


It is a natural fertilizer that enriches the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients.

How Does Manure Improve Soil?

Manure alters and improves the texture of any soil. It tightens loose, sandy soil, and loosens compacted, clay soil. It also aides water absorbency and drainage.

It is a rich organic product that, when added to soil, supplies plants with extra nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Not only does this aid their growth, but it also adds to their color and flavor.

The high nutrient content warms the soil, which, in turn, speeds up decomposition time and reduces the acidity levels.

Manure is also a valuable energy provider to earthworms and fungi. It helps to break down components in soil.

Where to Buy Manure

Manure is an eco-friendly resource that, if not free, is relatively inexpensive to buy.

Pre-rotted and bagged stuff are available in most garden centers and agricultural stores at a price. Ordering online incurs delivery costs and is the most expensive method.

Farmers, zookeepers, and stable owners happily give manure away for free, providing you take a shovel, trailer and do the hard work yourself.

Considerations when collecting manure.

  • Don’t be perturbed if it’s mixed with lots of bedding material; it assists the speed of the rotting process.
  • Choose the pile that looks like it has sat for the longest period; it will be drier, smell least, and further rotted.
  • Ask the farmer if they have used chemical fertilizer to keep flies at bay.

Is Manure Safe to Use on Plants?

Manure is an excellent soil enhancement, although it must have sufficient time to completely rot; this usually takes between 6 and 12-months.

Fresh manure is high in nitrogen and ammonia, both burn plants.

There are also high levels of bacteria in unrotted dung. If placed into the soil in this form, the bacteria carry to plant life and contaminates it; this is dangerous in any edible crops.

The best place for manure to break down is on a compost heap. In this instance, compost vs. manure doesn’t apply; the result is the combination and benefits of both products.

If you decide to leave it to rot alone, prepare for the smell. Try and keep it as far from any living quarters as possible.

When manure is drying, cover with brown composting materials such as dried leaves or shredded newspaper to mask the odor.

The Negatives of Using Compost or Manure

Both products are excellent soil amendments; when mixed with soil that alter and improve its consistency, composition, and health.

But, there are downsides to both;


  1. Making compost is time-consuming; it can take a year until your first batch is ready and safe to use.
  2. Using compost before it has fully decomposed causes heat build-up that kills vegetation.
  3. Compost is odorous; mask the smell from a pile with a layer of shredded paper.
  4. The best quality compost is relatively expensive.


  1. It is less readily available than compost unless you live on or near a farm or zoo.
  2. Fresh manure is harmful; it can contain parasites detrimental to the health of lawns, plants, and edible crops. It has to rot for at least 6-months.
  3. If not cured correctly, it can contain E.coli and other dangerous pathogens.
  4. You can’t escape the pungent smell, but there are methods of masking it. As the drying out process develops, the odor becomes less noticeable.
  5. Cattle and goat manure can introduce weeds to otherwise healthy lawns.

Final Thoughts

Using compost or manure adds vital organic matter to the soil. Both products are environmentally friendly, amend and improve their quality while reducing and recycling the amount of green waste we produce.

Compost and manure assist long-term soil improvement; they release nutrients slowly for gradual positive results. They improve aeration, water filtration, and soil structure.

They work well hand-in-hand; manure speeds up the decomposition process of compost. They are also excellent stand-alone products.

Neither is better than the other; they perform similar jobs and have advantages and disadvantages. Both materials feed the soil and negate the need for expensive fertilizers.

Anthony Marsh
Anthony Marsh is a writer with deep roots in the soil of western New Hampshire. His first experiences with gardening were at the age of 10 where his parents allowed him to plant and cultivate his first vegetable garden. Twenty years later he’s continued with his passion for gardening and actively rescues abandoned plant life.

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