Does Topsoil Have Manure in It? Can I Put Manure on Top of Soil?

manure forkful of rotted cow dung

Picture this: a lush, vibrant garden bathed in sunlight, its greenery thriving in nutrient-rich soil. If you’re an avid gardener, this idyllic scene is what you dream of. But in your quest to create the perfect garden, you might have found yourself pondering one intriguing question: Does topsoil contain manure?

The interaction of topsoil and manure is a topic that frequently causes debate in the worlds of agriculture and gardening. Is manure naturally present in topsoil, and can you simply sprinkle manure on top of your garden soil for a green thumb boost? 

Yes, topsoil may contain manure, but it is not always present. In this horticultural exploration, we’re about to embark on a journey beneath the surface, where the worlds of topsoil and manure intermingle, often hidden from the naked eye. 

Join us as we dig deep into the earthy secrets of topsoil composition, unravel the mysteries of manure’s role in nurturing your plants, and unveil the best practices for enhancing your garden’s vitality. It’s time to cultivate a richer understanding of your garden’s foundation and harness the power of manure for a flourishing oasis right in your backyard.

Understanding Topsoil Composition

soil layers

Topsoil, the uppermost layer of soil, is the foundation of healthy plant growth. It’s the layer where the magic happens—where seeds germinate, roots anchor, and nutrients are absorbed. To comprehend the interplay between topsoil and manure, we must first delve into the composition of this essential layer.

Topsoil is a dynamic blend of mineral particles, organic matter, water, air, and a bustling community of microorganisms. The composition typically includes:

  • Mineral Particles: Sand, silt, and clay, in various proportions, form the mineral component.
  • Organic Matter: This component includes decomposed plant and animal material, which enriches the soil.
  • Microorganisms: Bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms play a pivotal role in soil health.
  • Water and Air: Essential for nutrient transport and root respiration.

Organic matter is the unsung hero of topsoil. It acts as a storehouse for nutrients, enhances soil structure, and improves moisture retention. Manure, a rich source of organic matter, can significantly contribute to the vitality of topsoil.

What is Manure?

Before we proceed, let’s clarify what manure is and its place in the world of organic amendments.

Manure is organic material derived from the waste of animals like cows, horses, chickens, and pigs. While it might not sound glamorous, it’s a natural byproduct of agriculture, rich in organic matter and essential nutrients.

Manure is commonly used as an organic soil amendment to improve water- and nutrient-holding capacity in sandy soils and drainage in soils with low permeability. It adds nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium to the soil and is a food source for bacteria that break down organic materials so they can be utilized by plants. 

Gardeners have a variety of manures at their disposal:

  • Cow Manure: Known for its balanced nutrient content.
  • Chicken Manure: Rich in nitrogen but should be composted to avoid burning plants.
  • Horse Manure: Contains a mix of nutrients and organic matter.
  • Sheep and Goat Manure: Typically well-balanced for gardens.
  • Pig Manure: Requires composting due to its high nitrogen content.

Does Topsoil Have Manure in It?

Topsoil may contain manure, but it is not a guaranteed component. Topsoil is formed over time through the accumulation of organic matter, such as decaying organic matter, sandy soil, and clay. Topsoil from different regions can have varying compositions based on the area’s climate and existing soil conditions. However, topsoil from some sources may contain composted manure, which is called enriched topsoil.

Manure’s journey into topsoil often starts with animal waste deposited on the ground. Over time, rain, wind, and the activity of soil-dwelling organisms incorporate this organic material into the upper layers.

Healthy topsoil is characterized by its rich organic matter content, which can indeed include remnants of manure. This organic matter enhances soil fertility and encourages plant growth.

The type and frequency of animal activity in the area, the weather, and regional agricultural practices can all have a significant impact on the amount of manure in topsoil.

Top Soil vs Compost for Gardens

Benefits of Incorporating Manure into Soil

Manure, derived from animal waste, is a valuable resource in gardening. It’s rich in organic matter and nutrients, making it an excellent soil conditioner and fertilizer. Here’s why manure is beneficial in gardening:

  1. Nutrient Enrichment: Manure provides essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that plants require for growth. These nutrients are released slowly, providing a steady supply to your plants.
  2. Improved Soil Structure: Manure improves soil structure by enhancing its water retention and aeration properties. This creates a healthier environment for plant roots to thrive.
  3. Beneficial Microbes: Manure introduces beneficial microorganisms to the soil, which aid in breaking down organic matter and releasing nutrients for plant uptake.
  4. pH Adjustment: Some manures can help balance soil pH, making it more suitable for specific types of plants.
  5. Enhanced Water Retention: Soil amended with manure can better retain moisture.

How to Use Manure on Top of Existing Soil

Using manure on top of existing soil is an excellent way to enhance soil fertility and promote healthy plant growth. However, it’s crucial to apply it correctly to reap the benefits without causing any harm.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to effectively use manure on top of existing soil:

  1. Choose the Right Manure: Start by selecting the type of manure you want to use. Common options include cow, horse, chicken, and composted manure. Ensure it’s well-aged or composted to prevent burning your plants with excessive ammonia or pathogens.
  2. Prepare the Area: Clear the area of any weeds or debris. You can also lightly loosen the top layer of soil to help with manure incorporation.
  3. Spread Evenly: Distribute the manure evenly over the soil’s surface. Use a shovel or rake to spread it in a layer about 1 to 2 inches thick. Avoid piling it up around the base of plants, leaving a few inches of space.
  4. Incorporate Gently: To prevent nutrient runoff and odors, lightly incorporate the manure into the topsoil with a rake or hoe. You don’t need to bury it deeply; a few inches of mixing should suffice.
  5. Water Thoroughly: After applying and incorporating the manure, water the area thoroughly to help nutrients penetrate the soil and prevent nitrogen loss due to evaporation.

By following these steps, you can harness the benefits of manure as a natural soil conditioner and fertilizer while minimizing the risk of overapplication or nutrient imbalances in your garden or landscape.

Best Practices for Incorporating Manure into Various Gardening Scenarios

  • Vegetable Gardens: Incorporating well-composed manure into vegetable gardens is a common practice among gardeners. They put the manure to the soil before planting your favorite vegetables. It can improve soil fertility and nutrient availability, leading to healthier and more bountiful crops.
  • Flower Beds: When preparing compost for flower beds or borders, mixing composted manure into the existing soil can create a fertile ground for vibrant blooms and strong root systems.
  • Fruit Orchards: Fruit trees benefit from manure applications, particularly in the early stages of growth. Spread composted manure around the base of young fruit trees to provide essential nutrients and encourage healthy root development.
  • Lawn Care: If you’re striving for a lush, green lawn, consider incorporating composted manure into your soil when seeding or overseeding. It can improve grass growth and help maintain a vibrant lawn with the help of compost manure.
  • Container Gardening: For potted plants, add composted manure to your potting mix to enhance soil structure and nutrient retention. Remember to monitor moisture levels, as container gardens may dry out more quickly.

Now that we’ve explored the diverse applications of manure in gardening and agriculture, let’s turn our attention to some common questions and concerns regarding the use of manure in topsoil.

Avoiding Common Mistakes with Manure Application

Over-applying Manure and Its Consequences

While manure can work wonders for your soil, too much of a good thing can lead to problems. Over-applying manure can have several adverse effects:

  • Nutrient Imbalance: Excessive nutrients, especially nitrogen, can harm plants, leading to a phenomenon known as “burning” or nutrient toxicity.
  • Water Pollution: Surplus nutrients can leach into groundwater or runoff into nearby bodies of water, causing water pollution and algal blooms.
  • Weed Infestations: Uncomposted manure may contain weed seeds, leading to a garden overrun with unwanted plants.

Properly Composting Manure Before Use

To sidestep the potential issues of raw manure, composting is the key. Composting transforms manure into a stable, nutrient-rich material that’s less likely to harm your plants. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Gather Your Materials: You’ll need manure, straw, or other carbon-rich materials, and a composting area or bin.
  2. Layer and Mix: Create alternating layers of manure and carbon materials. Keep the pile moist but not waterlogged.
  3. Aerate: Turn the compost regularly to ensure proper aeration and decomposition.
  4. Monitor Temperature: Compost should heat up as it decomposes, reaching around 140°F (60°C). This kills weed seeds and pathogens.
  5. Wait Patiently: Composting can take a few months to a year, depending on conditions.

Ensuring Manure Is Free from Contaminants

Contaminated manure can introduce pathogens, antibiotics, and unwanted chemicals into your soil. To ensure your manure is clean:

  • Source Carefully: Choose manure from reputable sources with healthy animals and good hygiene practices.
  • Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to ask the supplier about their manure handling procedures.
  • Test if Necessary: Consider having the manure tested for contaminants, especially if you’re uncertain about its source.

The Potential for Nutrient Runoff and Environmental Impact

Manure, when not managed properly, can contribute to nutrient runoff, affecting water quality. To prevent this:

  • Proper Timing: Apply manure when plants can actively take up nutrients, not before a heavy rain.
  • Follow Regulations: Comply with local regulations regarding manure application to protect water bodies.
  • Use Vegetative Buffers: Plant buffer zones of grass or other vegetation to filter runoff.

Sustainable Manure Management Practices

Sustainability in manure management is crucial. Consider:

  • Manure Storage: Properly store manure to prevent runoff and leaching.
  • Composting: Promote composting to reduce environmental risks.
  • Efficient Application: Use precise application methods to avoid overapplication.

Alternative Organic Amendments to Manure

While manure is a valuable soil amendment, it’s not the only option. Let’s explore some alternatives that can complement or replace manure in your gardening endeavors.

  • Compost: Rich in organic matter and nutrients, compost enhances soil structure and fertility.
  • Mulch: Mulch conserves soil moisture, moderates temperatures, and mulch also reduces weed growth.
  • Organic Fertilizers: Organic fertilizers like bone meal or fish emulsion provide specific nutrient boosts.

Related: Compost or Topsoil for Overseeding: Which One Is Better?

Comparing Manure with Compost, Mulch, and Organic Fertilizers

AmendmentNutrient ContentOrganic Matter ContentSoil Structure ImprovementWeed Control
ManureModerate to HighHighYesRisk of weed seeds
CompostModerate to HighHighYesNo
Organic FertilizersVariableLow to ModerateMinimalNo

Selecting the Right Amendment for Your Gardening Needs

The choice of amendment depends on your specific goals.

  • If you need a nutrient boost: Manure or compost can provide essential nutrients.
  • For improving soil structure: Compost and mulch work well.
  • Weed control: Mulch is an excellent choice.


In summary, topsoil typically does not contain manure as part of its natural composition. However, manure can be a valuable addition to your garden, providing essential nutrients, improving soil structure, and fostering beneficial microorganisms. 

When using manure, opt for well-aged compost varieties and apply them thoughtfully to ensure a healthy and thriving garden. By understanding the role of manure and its proper application, you can make the most of this natural resource in your gardening endeavors. Happy gardening!

Yes, you can apply manure on top of your soil as a mulch layer. Over time, rainfall and natural processes will wash the nutrients into the soil for plant uptake. However, mixing manure into the soil provides more immediate benefits.

Using fresh manure can introduce harmful pathogens and may be too “hot” in terms of nutrient concentration. It’s safer to use composted manure, which has been aged and is less likely to harm your plants.

Different types of manure have varying nutrient levels and pH values. Horse and chicken manure are commonly used in gardens, but it’s essential to research the specific requirements of your plants and adjust the type of manure accordingly.

FAQs on Can I Put Manure on Top of Soil

Is manure commonly found in natural topsoil?

Manure is not typically found in natural topsoil; topsoil primarily consists of organic matter, minerals, and nutrients, but it doesn’t naturally contain manure.

Can manure be harmful to plants if applied incorrectly?

Yes, applying manure incorrectly can harm plants. Excessive or fresh manure can lead to nutrient imbalances, the burning of plant roots, and the introduction of harmful pathogens.

How long should I wait after applying manure on top of soil before planting?

It’s advisable to wait 2-4 weeks after applying manure on top of soil before planting to allow for nutrient breakdown and minimize the risk of burning young plants.

Can I use fresh manure directly in my garden?

Fresh raw manure should be avoided in gardens due to the risk of nutrient imbalances and harmful pathogens. Composting manure first is recommended.

Is it safe to use manure from different animals (e.g., cow, chicken, or horse) interchangeably?

Different animal manures have varying nutrient levels and pH, so it’s best to match the type of manure to your specific plant needs.

How often should I incorporate manure into my garden soil?

Incorporating manure annually in the spring or fall is a good practice. However, adjust based on your soil’s needs and the types of plants you’re growing.

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