Sufficient fertility is important for crop growth and yield but supplying a balanced amount of N, P, and K with compost and manure is a challenge and nutrient imbalances can benefit weeds more than crops. The goal of this study was to compare the aboveground growth responses of common northeastern U.S. crops and weeds to addition of composted poultry manure (CPM). A secondary goal was to test whether the observed growth responses to CPM could be attributed to the three macronutrients—N, P, and K—supplied in the CPM. Two field experiments were conducted over 2 yr. Species grown were corn, lettuce, kale, Powell amaranth, common lambsquarters, giant foxtail, and velvetleaf. Plants were grown in soil amended with CPM or single-nutrient organic N, P, and K fertility amendments. Single-nutrient P treatments with bone char did not adequately mimic P supply from CPM. In both years, biomass of all weeds studied increased with CPM amendment rate. Powell amaranth was the most responsive to CPM addition, increasing 1,775 and 159% from the control to the highest CPM rate in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Corn biomass increased by 22% with CPM rate in 2010 but did not increase with CPM rate in 2011. Lettuce biomass increased with CPM amendment rate (175% in 2010 and 109% in 2011), but due to the increased weed biomass at high CPM amendment rates, good weed control will be necessary to maintain this yield benefit. The increase in growth of Powell amaranth, common lambsquarters, and giant foxtail with CPM amendment was not due to N or K, and may have been influenced by P or another factor in the CPM. Velvetleaf was the only species that exhibited increased biomass with N addition (as blood meal), similarly to the increase with added CPM, suggesting the velvetleaf growth response to CPM was due to N in the CPM. The results show that nutrient ratios should be considered when applying organic amendments, because application rates of organic amendments that meet the crop’s needs for one nutrient may oversupply other nutrients. Overfertilization will not benefit crop yield, but the results of this study show that high organic fertility application rates are likely to increase weed growth.
Nomenclature: Common lambsquarters, Chenopodium album L. CHEAL, giant foxtail, Setaria faberi Herrm. SETFA, Powell amaranth, Amaranthus powellii S. Wats AMAPO, velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti Medik. ABUTH, corn, Zea mays L. ‘VK7610’, lettuce, Lactuca sativa L. ‘New Red Fire’, kale, Brassica oleracea L. ‘Lacinato’.