Organic matter is essential to a healthy flower garden, and manure is one of the best sources of organic matter there is. Not only does it add nutrients to the soil, but it also improves soil health and structure, which is one of the biggest factors of a robust garden.
But not all manures are created equal – some are better for flowers than others. So how do you choose the right manure for your garden?
Using manure in the flower garden introduces nutrients, organic matter, and beneficial microorganisms to the soil. For best results, use well-composted cow or chicken manure to deliver essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium to the plants for healthy growth and abundant blooms.
Whether you apply easy-to-find cow manure or less common rabbit and sheep manure, almost all sources of manure will benefit your garden if used properly.
How does manure help flowers?
Manure has been used for centuries in gardens to improve soil structure and add the nutrients plants need to grow. The three vital nutrients that manure contributes to soil are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK), all of which are used by flowers and vegetable plants alike.
Nitrogen is the main nutrient responsible for leaf growth and green vegetation of both flower and food crops. If you’ve ever seen a plant with yellowed leaves, it’s possible there wasn’t enough nitrogen in the soil.
Phosphorous helps with root development and flower production, making it a particularly important nutrient for vegetable root crops as well as tubers such as dahlias. Phosphorous helps plants turn the energy they get from the sun into carbohydrates stored in the roots and tubers.
Potassium is lesser known but equally important for overall plant health. This nutrient is responsible for facilitating the movement of water and nutrients through the plant’s cells, much like how our veins transport blood. Without enough potassium, plants are more likely to have stunted growth and wilt easily on hot days.
In addition to an excellent nutrition profile, aged manure mixed into garden soil has a few other qualities going for it, such as:
- improves the ability of garden beds to drain properly,
- helps soil maintain proper moisture levels
- attracts beneficial microorganisms and worms
- potentially bolsters plant health to increase its natural ability to resist pests and pathogens
When used as a top dressing, manure can also serve as an organic mulch, helping to control weeds and prevent your garden beds from drying out during the heat of summer.
Top dressings are applied as a 1-3 inch layer on the soil surface instead of being mixed into the soil prior to planting.
Lastly, composted manure makes an excellent soil amendment for potting soils and container gardens. The manure provides a rich and fertile environment for the plant roots which depend on the soil in the container for all their nutrient and moisture needs.
Common manure types for flowers
The type of manure you use in your garden will depend on what you are using it for, as well your ability to find a reliable source for it.
While your home and garden center almost surely sells manure in bags for garden use, it is often easiest to get fresh manure directly from the source by contacting local farms and farm stands.
I’ve had great luck getting fresh or composted horse manure from equestrian centers and boarding stables. Sometimes they’ll even load your truck for you since you’re doing them a favor by taking the waste away!
If you have the time and interest, you can even consider raising smaller animals, like chickens or rabbits, in your backyard to ensure you have a ready supply of homegrown manure to use in your garden.
Whatever type of manure you choose to use, it is helpful to know that different types of animal manure are used slightly differently, are composted and applied in different ways, and contain varying amounts of the vital nutrients that plants need.
Cow manure is one of the most popular varieties of manure for garden use and with good reason. Economical and nutrient-rich, cow manure is often the most accessible variety of manure to find.
When it’s well composted and ready for the garden it is often referred to as “black gold” in anticipation of the benefit it will provide the soil.
Cow manure is quite dense and is high in ammonia, so it should always be thoroughly composted before use to prevent your soil from getting too heavy or burning your plants.
Cow manure frequently contains weed seeds and should be composted only by using hot composting methods. Hot composting ensures your compost pile heats up to at least 140° F, which is hot enough to kill most weed seeds.
Like cow manure, horse manure is a great option to add to garden beds and contains many of the same nutrients that plants need. Because of its size and consistency, it is often easier to apply to garden beds than cow manure, but it takes longer to compost.
High in weed seeds, fresh horse manure needs to be composted using hot composting methods before use, a process that usually takes about two to three months to finish. After being aged, horse manure can be added to garden beds at any point throughout the year and is sure to enliven your soil.
Chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen and is considered the best manure to use when growing vegetables, particularly leafy greens and brassicas like kale and cabbage.
If you have the space, keeping chickens in your backyard is a great way to guarantee that you not only have a ready supply of homegrown eggs but also plenty of fresh poultry manure to add to your garden.
Due to its high nitrogen content, fresh chicken manure must be composted for at least six to nine months before use to avoid burning your plants.
When cleaning out your coop, old chicken bedding, complete with wood shavings or straw, can be added to your compost pile and allowed to age over winter, or the manure can be applied directly to your garden in autumn.
The manure will have naturally composted and will be safe for planting by springtime. Unlike horse and cow manure, chicken manure does not contain weed seeds, so it can be composted using hot or cold composting methods.
Cold composting simply means piling all of your organic materials together in a heap and letting nature take its course. This is the least labor-intensive way to compost, but it also takes the longest amount of time.
Sheep manure is considered a “cold manure,” meaning it has a lower nitrogen content and can be applied directly to your garden without the composting or aging process. Its pelleted shape also makes it easy to apply, and it can be used as an organic mulch to prevent weeds by applying it as a top dressing in your beds.
While it is low in nitrogen, sheep manure is still a balanced manure, and its high phosphorous and potassium content makes it an excellent choice to support strong root development.
Though sheep manure does not have as many weed seeds as cow or horse manure, it can still contain some seeds and may benefit from hot composting before use.
Like sheep manure, rabbit manure is a cold manure that can be added directly to your garden without the risk of burning your plants. Its pelleted form also makes it easy to apply, and, as it is most often produced by domesticated pet rabbits, it does not contain weed seeds.
If you have the space for it, keeping pet rabbits in your backyard is a great way to guarantee a ready supply of fresh manure for your garden and potted plants. Rabbit manure is also less smelly than many other manure varieties and won’t cause undesirable odors in your compost bin and garden.
Llama and alpaca
Llama and alpaca manure may be more difficult to find, but it is an excellent manure to add to your garden if you happen to live near an alpaca farm.
Like rabbit and sheep manure, llama and alpaca manure is a cold manure that can be applied directly to your beds and is pelleted, making for easier application.
Interestingly, of all the varieties of manure, llama and alpaca manure has the highest concentration of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous, and your plants are guaranteed to love it.
As you can see, there are many types of manure that you can use in your garden, each with its own set of benefits. The best type of manure for your garden will depend on what you are growing and what stage of growth your plants are in. By using composted manure in your garden, you can improv” the quality of your soil while also adding vital nutrients that your plants need to thrive.
What is the best manure for flowers?
Properly composted horse or cow manure is one of the best choices for flower beds as the ratio of nutrients these manures contain is ideal for flowering plants. Horse and cow manure are also two of the easiest manures to acquire in bulk.
If you are interested in having a source of manure at home, rabbit manure is ideal, and its ease of application makes it popular with many gardeners.
Avoid these types of manure
Not all manure is considered equal. Although aged manure from rabbits, chickens and other livestock is perfectly safe for garden use, manure from humans and household pets, like cats and dogs, should not be added to your garden.
Manure from carnivorous animals, including humans, is more likely to harbor harmful pathogens that can be transmitted into your plants or contaminate your clothes and hands during gardening.
Pig manure is also controversial, though some gardeners use with. Pigs are omnivores, and just like the cats and dogs mentioned above, if the meat in their diet is contaminated with harmful bacteria you could be introducing them to your skin and food via the garden.
How to Use Manure in the Flower Garden
Manure is incredibly easy to use in gardens and is sure to have your beds growing healthy, thriving plants in no time. However, before getting started, it can be helpful to understand the basics of composting fresh manure and how to apply it to your plants properly.
Make sure it’s well composted
Different types of raw manure have varying composting requirements; however, it’s recommended that you compost all types of manure before use to increase the bioavailability of nutrients and improve your garden soil’s overall structure.
Due to the presence of weed seeds, cow, horse, and sheep manure benefit from being produced as hot compost, when compost piles are turned daily to ensure the temperature remains above 140° F.
Piles are checked regularly for proper moisture levels, and water is added as needed so that compost piles have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
When using hot composting methods, compost will be finished within two to three months and ready for use.
Because of its smaller size and lack of weed seeds, alpaca, rabbit, and chicken manure can be composted using hot or cold composting methods.
Cold compost piles are either not turned at all, or turned infrequently, so they do not achieve the temperatures of hot compost piles. Because of this, they take longer to finish, and compost won’t be ready to use for six to nine months.
Manure can also be applied directly to gardens at the end of the growing season and naturally allowed to decompose and become incorporated into the soil over the winter. By spring, manure should be mostly composted, and your beds will be ready to plant.
To keep learning about fertilizing your garden in the fall to prepare for next year, jump over to this article for all the details: Fertilize Your Garden In The Fall For Next Season’s Success.
Regardless of what composting method you use, it is advised to wait at least one month after applying manure before you begin planting, even if it’s for non-edible crops like flowers.
Apply at the correct rate
Aged manure can be added directly to your garden or planting containers as a top dressing by lightly sprinkling a thin layer of manure on top of your soil and gently working it into the top three inches of soil.
Cold manures such as rabbit and alpaca can also be used as a side dressing on plants throughout the growing season by adding a quarter cup of manure around the base of plants for a nutrient boost.
For large-scale projects, such as starting a new garden site where the manure will compost directly in the soil, apply manure at a rate of about 40 pounds per 100 square feet and work the manure into the top 6” of soil. This equates to about two bags or 5-gallon buckets’ worth of manure in a 10×10 foot garden bed.
If the manure is well composted and will be applied at the start of the growing season, you will need to apply the compost at a heavier rate to account for some of the nitrogen lost during the composting process.
Each type of livestock manure will also have somewhat different amounts of nutrients which affect the application rate but keep things simple by sticking to the general rule of 40 pounds per 100 square feet.
However, if you want the details that will help you planning the amount of manure you’ll need, the University of Wisconsin’s horticulture department has a very informative article with much more information about the application rates for manure in the flower garden.
Is horse manure good for flowers?
Horse manure is high in nutrients like potassium and phosphorous, which plants need to thrive, so it is a valuable addition to flower beds. Horse manure is not as high in nitrogen as other types of manure, and it should be composted before use to increase the bioavailability of its nutrients and eliminate weed seeds.
Should you use manure or fertilizer in a flower garden?
Manure is a safe and organic option to add to your garden beds. It provides the nutrients your plants need to grow, but it also improves soil structure by making your soil lighter and fluffier and boosts the water holding capacity of your beds.
In the absence of animal manures, you can use fertilizer to ensure your plants get the nutrients they need. Just be sure to stick to organic fertilizer from natural sources such as alfalfa meal, kelp meal, and rock phosphate to more closely mimic the benefits of composted manure.
Can I use manure in flower pots?
Aged manure works just as well in flower pots as it does in garden beds, adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil for your plants. Before adding the manure to your pots, be sure it is adequately composted to avoid burning your plants and eliminate undesirable odors.