Chicken manure is a low-cost, widely available organic fertilizer that I already use for my vegetable and perennial flower beds. But since this is my first spring tending to roses, I did some research to see if I could use chicken manure as a fertilizer for those, too. Here’s what I found out:
Chicken manure is an effective fertilizer for roses. It adds significant amounts of nitrogen to the soil as well as helping build soil structure, increasing water retention, attracting earthworms, and adding organic matter.
However, it does not provide adequate amounts of potassium, so it is best to fertilize separately for that nutrient. Chicken manure also needs to be fully composted before it is safe to use as a fertilizer.
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In this article I’m going to break down just how chicken manure feeds roses and builds soil, how and when to apply chicken manure to roses, and how to transform the manure from your home flock into a safe organic fertilizer.
What nutrients does chicken manure provide roses?
The NPK of chicken manure sold commercially is generally around 3-3-2. “NPK” is shorthand for Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium, the three macronutrients that plants require for good growth and general health. Any material sold as a fertilizer will be clearly labeled with an NPK number.
So chicken manure, with its NPK of 3-3-2, has about 3% Nitrogen, 3% Phosphorus, and 2% Potassium. (Keep in mind that this is just an average NPK for chicken manure, and some brands will have higher numbers for each of these values.)
This doesn’t sound like much, especially if you’re also looking at other fertilizers that might have as much as 10% nitrogen. But those fertilizers with high numbers are usually formulated for lawns in order to green them up as fast as possible. A rose needs a balanced fertilizer that will help support the growth of leaves as well as that of canes, stems, and flowers. Chicken manure fits the bill.
What chicken manure does not have enough of for roses is potassium, which is crucial for moving nutrients and fluids through the rose’s tissues and also helps them to build strong roots (source). So at the same time that I add chicken manure to my rose or vegetable beds, I also incorporate a “simple” single-ingredient, targeted application fertilizer–like langbeinite (link to Amazon).
This is a mineral deposit high in potassium, magnesium, and sulfur. A small amount of this will help boost the amount of potassium available in the soil for the rose’s roots to take up, without adding more nitrogen or phosphorus than it needs.
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What micronutrients does chicken manure contain?
In addition to balanced amounts of the three macronutrients, chicken manure contains calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and smaller amounts of other micronutrients, which are all essential to the health of the plant.
Chicken manure also contains a healthy dose of simple organic matter, like broken-down straw, feathers, and even grain hulls. This is because what ends up labeled a chicken “manure” is better described as chicken “litter.”
The manure is harvested from the bottom of chicken coops, so all the feathers that chickens shed as well as any straw from their nesting boxes also end up being composted.
According to the Noble Research Institute, organic matter directly contributes to long-term soil health because it:
- Acts as a slow-release nutrient reservoir
- Holds water like a sponge through periods of dryness
- Causes the soil to clump into aggregates, building structure that improves air and water transfer
- Prevents erosion through the formation of stable soils
It is these organic extras that make chicken manure so good for roses: in addition to being a balanced fertilizer, it also amends the soil to make it better over time.
Plus, this is the kind of stuff that earthworms love to eat: partially decayed organic matter and the microorganisms that live there. And once the earthworms move in, they will help to break down the chicken manure even faster, releasing its nutrients to the rose on a time-delayed schedule instead of all at once.
This consistent availability of small amounts of nutrients over time makes it easy for the root system of the rose bush to take up what it needs when it needs it.
Can chicken manure burn roses?
Chicken manure can cause nitrogen burn on rose bushes if it isn’t properly aged and broken down. This is because wet, fresh manure is high in ammonia nitrogen in addition to organic forms of nitrogen.
Properly composted manure releases the ammonia nitrogen but preserves the organic nitrogen, creating a more balanced nitrogen profile, and the hot composting process also burns away harmful pathogens like E. coli or salmonella.
Dried and composted manure also has more nutrients weight-for-weight than it does fresh.
In addition to using aged and not fresh manure, you should also take care not to over-apply chicken manure. A little goes a long way!
The Royal Horticultural Society recommends a dosage of 4½ oz of manure per square yard, or down to 3 oz per square yard (source).
Remember that you can start with the low number and add a little more manure later if your roses seem to need it.
How to compost chicken manure at home
If you buy chicken manure from a garden center, nitrogen burn won’t be a concern, since commercial facilities age their manure as a matter of course and test it for nutrient content as well as for pathogens.
But if you want to use manure and bed litter from your own flock to fertilize your roses, you will need to hot compost it in order to break down the nitrogen and eliminate pathogens.
Read our complete guide to Active Composting.
Chicken coops do need to be cleaned frequently in order to prevent the presence of flies and the formation of ammonia gases, so composting the manure and bed litter from a home flock is actually a great way to recycle that waste into an effective low-cost fertilizer (source).
You can compost chicken manure by itself, or add it to your main compost pile.
Raw chicken manure is “green,” meaning it is high in nitrogen, and it needs to be balanced out by plenty of high-carbon “browns” in the compost pile. The straw or sawdust bed litter can count as brown material, but adding some extra straw, dried leaves, or wood shavings balances out the nitrogen-carbon factor plus absorbs excess moisture from the manure.
This mixture will naturally start to heat up in the center. Your target temperature is 130’ F to 150’ F for a duration of at least three days. Use a compost thermometer like this one (link to Amazon) to accurately gauge the temperature at the core of your compost pile. This prolonged hot temperature will begin to kill off any parasites or pathogens in the manure, plus it sterilizes any weed seeds that are in the mix.
For a better understanding, read How Compost Is Made: The Definitive Guide.
After the pile has held that temperature for three days, it will start to cool down. You should turn the pile every ten days. This turning brings fresh raw material into the core of the pile, starting the heating process all over again and making sure that everything in the pile gets composted.
After turning the compost every ten days, three to five times, allow it to cure for three to six months, depending on your climate. You’ll know that your manure is fully composted when a handful of it is dark, crumbly, and virtually odorless. If it still smells like ammonia or manure, let it cure longer before you spread it on your roses.
Pro tip: Manure of all kinds often attracts dogs, so consider enclosing your compost pile once you start adding manure.
For a super-extensive breakdown of poultry litter composting and how to optimize the process, check out this publication from the University of Idaho Extension.
When to put manure on roses
Chicken manure is slow to release its nutrients compared to chemical fertilizers. The best times to apply it is early in spring as soon as the ground is workable. This makes its nutrients available to the rose bush by summer.
You can also apply late in the fall which allows the manure to break down even more over the winter and be ready for the plant to take up in spring.
To apply manure, simply measure out a square yard around it–three feet by three feet–and scatter 3 to 4½ oz of manure around it (along with 1 to 2 tablespoons of langbeinite, if desired). Use a hoe to scratch the manure in, or use a small shovel to turn the soil over, 3 to 4 inches deep.
Follow this application with a deep watering. This will help incorporate the manure into the native soil, begin its further decomposition, create a welcoming environment for earthworms and soil microbes, and start distributing its nutrients to the roots of the rose bushes.
Other types of fertilizing manures
Chicken manure is not the only kind of manure that works as a fertilizer for roses. Other animal waste fertilizers include:
- Bat guano
- Rabbit droppings
- Sheep manure
- Horse manure
- Cow manure
All of these–with the notable exception of rabbit droppings–need to go through a hot composting process like the one detailed above in order to remove pathogens and weed seeds and balance the nitrogen content. Cow manure, while readily available, tends to have less nutrient content than the other manures on this list.
Manure that you do NOT want to use on your rose bushes nor anywhere else in your garden is that of humans, cats, dogs, or other carnivores. Meat-eater manure harbors many very persistent and harmful pathogens that are harder to compost out than those found in herbivore manure.
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Chicken manure isn’t glamorous, but it works!
It is easy to source, easy to apply, and rich in nutrients and organic matter.
As long as it is well-aged and applied in carefully measured amounts, it can bring glorious growth to your rose bush as well as health to your soil.
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