Adding organic matter to Houston soils is the best thing you can do to improve your soil texture, drainage and fertility. There are many options from a variety of animal wastes to garden and landscape wastes to worm castings and green manures. How do you know what to use? Let’s take a look at nature and the options.
Nature’s Recycling System
In undeveloped, natural woodland settings, for example, a variety of plants flourish, absorbing nutrients and trace minerals from the soil. When the plants die, plant material, rich in those nutrients and trace minerals, is returned to the woodland floor. There it mixes with animal waste products (decaying animal bodies as well as their excrement), is further eaten and decomposed by earthworms and a host of soil microorganisms to feed the next generation of plant life.
If the plant is eaten by an animal, the resulting dung is distributed across the woodland floor and integrates itself into the recycling process. I have understated a complex, natural recycling system, but I think you get the idea.
If you would mimic nature’s recycling system in your own garden, you need to consider the benefits of adding organic matter from a variety of sources to provide balanced nutrition for your plants.
Animal manures contain a wide range of nutrients and minerals that plants need for growth and development. But the diet of every animal differs, especially between grazers and carnivores. Therefore, the nutrients that animal manures return to the soil will vary.
If you live near horse stables, you may be able to get your hands on a free, limitless supply of horse manure. But beware! Unless fully composted at sufficiently high temperatures, horse manures often contain weed and grass seeds that will germinate in your garden beds.
Cows have a more efficient digestive system that kills off the seeds resulting in fewer weed problems for the home gardener. You will find well rotted, bagged cow manures available in most home and garden centers. But beware! Make sure what you get is certified as disease free to prevent the transfer of disease causing bacteria, such as E. coli, into your home garden.
Chicken and Turkey manures have a very high nitrogen content owing to the fact that poultry eliminate their urine with their feces. Mixed with straw or hay and composted for a year or so, it makes an excellent manure.
If you raise Rabbits, you can collect and add their manure to your garden beds. But collecting it in sufficient quantities may be a challenge if you have a large garden.
If you live near a zoo, it is worth asking about their ‘waste problem’. Elephant manure is highly prized by gardeners, both for its quality and quantity. And zookeepers may even be willing to deliver it by the trailer-load, free of charge.
Seabird and Bat guano manures are touted as excellent choices for the home garden but you may pay a premium price for them compared to the more readily available animal manures.
Never place fresh manures directly around plants. Its high nitrogen content will burn your plants. It is better to compost fresh manures for a few months to allow the nitrogen to dissipate. Well-rotted manures do not smell of anything more pungent than sweet earthiness and it tends to be dark brown, even black. Many call it “black gold.”