Compost vs. Manure

What's the Difference?

Compost and manure are both organic materials used to improve soil fertility and enhance plant growth. However, they differ in their composition and preparation methods. Compost is created by decomposing a mixture of organic waste materials, such as kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and leaves, through a controlled process called composting. It is rich in nutrients, humus, and beneficial microorganisms, making it an excellent soil conditioner. On the other hand, manure is animal waste, typically from livestock like cows, horses, or chickens. It contains high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential nutrients for plants. While both compost and manure can enrich the soil, compost is more versatile and can be used in various gardening applications, while manure is primarily used as a fertilizer.


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DefinitionDecomposed organic matter used as a soil amendment.Animal waste used as a fertilizer.
SourcePlant material, food scraps, yard waste.Animal waste (e.g., cow, horse, poultry).
CompositionRich in nutrients, humus, and beneficial microorganisms.Contains nutrients, organic matter, and microorganisms.
OdorGenerally has a mild, earthy smell.Can have a strong, pungent odor.
ApplicationUsed as a soil conditioner and fertilizer.Applied directly to soil as a fertilizer.
Maturation TimeTakes several months to a year to fully decompose.Can be used immediately or after a short period of composting.
Nutrient ContentVaries depending on the source materials.Contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
PathogensComposting process reduces or eliminates pathogens.May contain pathogens if not properly managed.
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Further Detail


Compost and manure are both valuable organic materials used in gardening and agriculture. They play a crucial role in improving soil fertility and providing essential nutrients to plants. While they share similarities in their ability to enhance soil health, there are distinct differences between compost and manure in terms of their composition, nutrient content, application methods, and environmental impact. In this article, we will explore these attributes in detail to understand the unique benefits and considerations associated with each.


Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic matter, such as leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and plant residues. It undergoes a controlled process of decomposition, where microorganisms break down the materials into a stable, nutrient-rich substance. On the other hand, manure consists of animal waste, including feces and urine, along with bedding materials like straw or wood shavings. It is a byproduct of livestock farming and often contains additional organic matter from the animal's diet.

Compost and manure differ in their composition due to the sources of organic matter used. Compost is typically a blend of various plant materials, resulting in a diverse nutrient profile. In contrast, manure primarily contains nutrients derived from the animal's diet, making it rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. However, the specific nutrient content of both compost and manure can vary depending on the source materials and the composting or decomposition process.

Nutrient Content

Both compost and manure provide essential nutrients for plant growth, but their nutrient content differs. Compost is known for its balanced nutrient composition, containing moderate levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, and zinc. These nutrients are released slowly over time, providing a steady supply to plants without the risk of nutrient burn.

Manure, on the other hand, tends to have higher nitrogen content compared to compost. This makes it an excellent source of nitrogen for plants that require a boost in vegetative growth. However, excessive application of fresh manure can lead to nitrogen leaching and potential water pollution. It is important to age or compost manure before use to reduce the risk of nutrient imbalances and environmental harm.

Application Methods

Compost and manure can be applied to the soil using different methods. Compost is often spread evenly over the garden beds or incorporated into the soil during planting. It can also be used as a top dressing around established plants to improve moisture retention and suppress weed growth. Additionally, compost is an essential ingredient in potting mixes, providing a nutrient-rich medium for container gardening.

Manure, on the other hand, is commonly used as a soil amendment or fertilizer. It can be spread directly on the soil surface or tilled into the ground before planting. However, due to its higher nitrogen content, fresh manure should be applied with caution to avoid burning plant roots. Aging or composting manure for several months helps eliminate pathogens and reduces the risk of nutrient imbalances, making it safer for plant use.

Environmental Impact

Both compost and manure contribute to sustainable agricultural practices by recycling organic waste and reducing reliance on synthetic fertilizers. Composting organic materials, including food scraps and yard waste, helps divert waste from landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Compost also improves soil structure, enhancing water retention and reducing erosion.

Manure, when properly managed, can be a valuable resource for soil fertility. However, its application requires careful consideration to prevent environmental issues. Fresh manure contains pathogens and can contribute to water pollution if it enters water bodies through runoff. Therefore, it is crucial to follow proper manure management practices, such as appropriate storage, composting, or applying it at the right time and rate to minimize environmental impact.


Compost and manure are both beneficial organic materials that contribute to soil health and plant growth. Compost offers a balanced nutrient profile and improves soil structure, making it suitable for a wide range of gardening applications. Manure, on the other hand, is rich in nitrogen and can provide a significant boost to plant growth when properly aged or composted. However, it requires careful handling to avoid nutrient imbalances and environmental harm.

Ultimately, the choice between compost and manure depends on the specific needs of your plants, the nutrient requirements of your soil, and the availability of these organic materials. By understanding their attributes and considering the factors mentioned, you can make an informed decision to maximize the benefits of compost or manure in your gardening practices.

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