How to Add Nitrogen to Soil


Like many home gardeners, I had a vague idea that nitrogen was important to grow healthy green leafy plants. After learning that my sandy soil is somewhat nitrogen-deficient, I decided to learn how to add nitrogen to soil.

How to Add Nitrogen to Soil - Wheelbarrow, Rake, and Garden Soil

It seems as if nitrogen deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in residential gardens. There are lots of ways to fix nitrogen deficiency in soil. You can make high nitrogen fertilizer with a generic organic product or buy specialized nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

Ideas for How to Add Nitrogen to Soil

Before you start to add nitrogen to soil, make sure your soil actually needs it! To know if your soil needs nitrogen or not, get a soil test done. Call your local State Extension office or use a soil collection kit which can be sent away for laboratory testing.

Fertilizer Products to Add Nitrogen to Soil

OK – so the lab soil analysis shows that your soil could do with some added nitrogen. These retail products are made for adding nitrogen to your lawn or garden soil:

And remember, less is more. Don’t use more fertilizer than is absolutely necessary. It’s not good for your soil and it’s certainly not good for the surrounding ecosystem.

Worm Castings - Soil Ammendment

Natural Sources of Nitrogen for Plants

The following materials from around the house can be a good source of nitrogen for plants. I like to let them compost with my yard waste first for a buffering effect rather than adding them straight into my garden.

Here are some natural sources of nitrogen to add to your compost:

  • Grass Clippings
  • Yard Waste (especially green leaves and green material)
  • Food Waste
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Seaweed
  • Cornmeal
  • Earthworm Castings (from a home worm farm)
  • Fruit Vinegars (like apple cider vinegar)
  • Manure from Herbivore Animals (rabbits, goats, et cetera)

From the natural sources of nitrogen listed above, it’s clear that plants seem to be the source of much of the naturally-derived nitrogen available. If it used to be a green and happy live plant, it’ll probably add some nitrogen to your homemade compost.

Your mix of nitrogen-rich materials will depend a lot on your surroundings. You may be able to get lots of freely-available seaweed, but have no access to herbivore manure. Whatever you have available in your region, collect it sustainably. Improving your garden soil shouldn’t come at the expense of the surrounding environment.

What is Nitrogen?

So what actually is nitrogen? Nitrogen is a chemical element. You’ll remember it from high-school hits such as The Periodic Table.

Nitrogen is a common element in the Universe. It’s actually the most common element in the air that makes up Earth’s atmosphere. Unfortunately for our plants, it’s not super common in the Earth’s crust (AKA our garden soil).

Sources of Nitrogen for Garden Soil

How Nitrogen is Added to Soil

Nitrogen particles move through our environment in a cyclical manner. It’s converted into different forms as it moves through different structures in eco-systems. Bacteria can help bring atmospheric nitrogen down into soil (especially on legume plants like clover, peas, or alfalfa). Nitrogen particles in soil can also be transported through soil by groundwater.

Why Do Plants Need Nitrogen

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth. Nitrogen particles make up a part of a plant’s many cells. Without nitrogen, a plant cannot build the cells it needs to grow and thrive. Without enough nitrogen, the plant will not be able to produce enough molecules to photosynthesize food from the sun.

Nutrient Deficiency in Plants

What are the Signs of Nitrogen Deficiency

The main sign of nitrogen deficiency is that plant leaves start to look yellow instead of green. Not all instances of yellowing leaves, however, indicate a nitrogen deficiency. The plant may simply be stressed in some other way (heat, pests, disease, et cetera). Get a soil test!

Read more about trusted natural fertilizers in this article.

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