Nitrogen is definitely a vital nutrient for plants. It boosts the nutrient content in the soil, thereby making your herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetable plants grow healthily. This makes it essential to learn how to add nitrogen to soil.
Fortunately, you can now find various sources that will let you add nitrogen to your soil surface. You can even try organic methods and solutions to increase nitrogen.
In This Article
Why Nitrogen is Essential for Healthy Plant Growth?
Nitrogen (N) will always be a major contributor to making your plant grow healthily. The lack of this nutrient may cause the inability of the soil to produce amino acids and proteins necessary for the survival of your garden plants.
The DNA of plants also greatly relies on the nitrogen element. The reason is that this is the key to creating new cells. It is crucial to note that if your soil has nitrogen deficiencies, your plants may not be able to access this nutrient via soil.
This is particularly true even if nitrogen is present in the air surrounding you. Combined with phosphorous (P) and potassium (K), nitrogen is indeed a major contributor to the life of your plants. It even holds the top billing among the three.
The reason could be the big role played by nitrogen when it comes to growing plants. As you may have known by now, chlorophyll that comes out through photosynthesis refers to the vital green pigment capturing sunlight while starting the entire process.
The fact that nitrogen is a component of the chlorophyll molecule makes it a crucial element in the protoplasm of plants. It serves as the component of the plant’s growing cells.
How to Tell that the Soil has Nitrogen Deficiency?
The most common sign indicating that the soil has nitrogen deficiency – that is it no longer has sufficient nitrogen – is when the plant’s growth becomes stunted. However, you may have a hard time detecting the deficiency if you are still a beginner in gardening.
This is particularly true if you still have no healthy plants where you can compare the seemingly stunted ones. Another way to detect then subsequently fix nitrogen deficiency is to check the plant’s leaf color. There is a deficiency in case the color lightens or yellows.
Moreover, nitrogen-hungry plants come with leaves that have a yellow-green tinge. Some even become completely yellow if nitrogen levels are significantly low. Other signs to watch out for that indicate nitrogen deficiency are:
- Slow growth
- Leaves that are smaller in size than average
- Flowers that are smaller than the average size – Also tend to die quicker than usual.
- Smaller and low-quality fruits
Performing the Soil Test
If you are still unsure how to detect nitrogen deficiency, you can do a soil test. It may be tricky to test the soil for specific nitrogen levels because several factors impact it, like moisture, weather, and plant type. Still, it is possible to do it on your own.
The only thing you should do is take the soil sample. You should then send the sample to the lab. After testing, there is a possibility that the availability of nitrogen has changed a lot, causing some inaccurate results.
The easiest way to perform the test at home is to invest in a soil testing kit for that particular purpose. While not one hundred percent accurate, the kit, and the soil testing process, in general, can give you a clear view of the soil’s nitrogen content.
When to Add Nitrogen to your Garden Soil?
As a gardener, you should consider building your own personalized nitrogen schedule. Note, though, that the specific schedule will also greatly depend on your chosen method of adding nitrogen.
In general, though, a lot of gardeners follow these schedules:
During spring, add well-rotted compost into the soil. It is also advisable to supply a full-season and long-lasting nitrogen. An example is a feather meal, which is slow-release and contains a lot of nitrogen.
During fall, add organic matter to the soil. Ensure that this organic matter breaks down throughout the winter. Some examples of this are green manure, straw, leaf mulch, and wood shavings.
Entire growing season
Use seaweed and liquid fish emulsion for foliar fertilization every week.
How to Add Nitrogen to Soil from Various Sources?
You can get nitrogen from various sources and add it to your garden soil. This section will finally give you ideas on where to get nitrogen and tips on properly enriching your soil with them.
As you may have already known by now, nitrogen is what your plants need to grow healthily. With that in mind, it is also highly likely that plants serve as excellent sources of nitrogen. You can actually plant nitrogen fixing plants in your garden.
As a matter of fact, tilling decomposed plant material into your garden soil serves as a renewable and valuable nitrogen source. You can take advantage of plant-based sources if you can easily access plant materials.
Harvesting your own nitrogen from plants is also a good idea if you have a specific place for composting and are willing to do this on your own. To give you an even better idea on how to add nitrogen to soil, here are the best plant-based sources of this nutrient:
The plants in the legume family are capable of capturing nitrogen that is present in the air. With that, the soil can access this nutrient easily so the other plants can start using it.
To give your garden bed a good supply of nitrogen, you can, therefore, plant legumes. Do this to prepare for a crop that requires nitrogen the next season. Another thing you can do is put your garden to sleep under a cover crop that fixes nitrogen for the winter season.
Grass clippings also work as great additions to a compost pile and garden because they are truly rich in nitrogen. Just make sure that the clippings are not exposed to pesticides.
You can decompose these clippings so you can use them for planting next year. It is also possible to use them in the form of mulch. Add them directly to the garden so they can break down gradually into your soil while suppressing weeds.
Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
You can also use unprocessed fruit and vegetable scraps from your kitchen as sources of nitrogen and other nutrients, like protein and amino acids, that are good for your garden beds. All you have to do is to learn the basics of composting and building the organic matter of your soil through it.
Used Coffee Grounds
If you have used coffee grounds, you can compost them so you can directly add them to the area surrounding your plants. These coffee grounds should give your plants slow-release nitrogen that will condition and promote soil health.
If you are worried that your rich soil will become acidic, then you don’t have to. Remember that most or every water-soluble acid in coffee tends to get eliminated once brewed.
Creating a Compost Pile
To take full advantage of these sources of plant-based nitrogen, make it a point to create a compost pile using everything mentioned earlier. Combine coffee grounds, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and any other plant material guaranteed to be disease-free.
Compost them so you can form a balanced and nitrogen-rich fertilizer capable of invigorating the soil, feeding your plants, supporting the activities of beneficial flora and fauna in your garden, and allowing it to grow healthily and thrive.
The only thing that you need to do to make the compost pile rich in nitrogen is to fill it with various materials. You no longer have to worry about it lacking such nutrients. You can find it here and your garden can benefit from it.
Another great source of easily accessible and renewable nitrogen is manure, regardless of its type. Your livestock, whether it is poultry or mammals, makes a nitrogen-rich fertilizer daily.
Like other potent high-nitrogen fertilizer types, you must handle animal manure properly. You can compost most forms of animal waste and green manure at least one year before you intend to apply it. Composting will also be easy in case you utilize natural bedding for your livestock.
You just have to look for a convenient spot where you can pile up the soiled bedding so it can naturally perform its job. You should apply it to your garden as the next growing season starts.
It is also possible for you to create rich and nutritious nitrogen to produce healthy soil in case there are herbivorous animals found in your home. Expect fresh manure to contain high nitrogen levels. Meanwhile, manure that is at least six months old is one that your garden can easily absorb.
The animals that can help you build the manure are sheep, rabbits, ducks, and horses. You can even use cow manure What’s good about manure is that it does provide not only nitrogen but also contains zinc and phosphorus that are good for your plants.
Artificial sources of nitrogen come in the form of chemical-based fertilizers. You can get a chemical fertilizer from a garden in your locality, so you can quickly boost your nitrogen levels.
It provides easy and quick treatment for gardens and soils deficient in nitrogen. However, compared to natural and organic methods and fertilizers, the effects of artificial and chemical ones tend to fade faster.
It is also necessary for you to pick the correct nitrogen fertilizer for your specific needs. Choose one with the right nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) ratio. The best one would be a chemical fertilizer having an NPK ratio of 10-10-10.
Other Possible Sources of Nitrogen
Aside from the mentioned sources, you can also take advantage of the following when planning to add nitrogen to soil:
Add them to the bottom part of your compost pile. It is also possible to add banana peels directly into your garden or flower bed before planting. All you have to do is to put them in after digging every hole. Let the peels degrade for several days before planting the flowers.
Fish Tank Water
If you are searching for organic fertilizers, you can always seek the aid of fish manure, which is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You can get this by saving the water from the tank after cleaning it.
Fish droppings and poop in the tank water are rich in nitrogen. Water your plants with it so your plants can readily use the nutrients in them.
Use such water in feeding your plants with nutrients present in them. One crucial advice, though. Avoid using it along with fish antibiotics and other medications designed to heal sick fish. The reason is that those may only kill or damage your plants.
If there are old eggshells around, let them dry before crushing them. You can boost the nitrogen content of your compost pile and the soil a bit. While it can only add nitrogen in small amounts, the level is still helpful plus it also supplies your soil with sufficient amounts of calcium.
You also have the option to create a mulch composed of leaves before the winter season comes. All you have to do is to scatter around two to four inches of leaves over the soil or garden.
Once you have taken out every plant from the garden patch, add the leaves. Put them in place securely by watering them. Expect them to break down once the winter season comes. When that happens, your soil will be fed with nitrogen, making it fully prepared for planting this summer season.
Another thing that you can do is to put leaves in a compost pile. You have to make sure of one thing, though, is to make the leaves dry before adding them. That way, you will not have to deal with unpleasant and unwanted odors from decomposition.
Ash from the Fireplace
Since you will have to clean your fireplace, you may want to use the wood ash to increase the nitrogen content in your soil. Avoid scattering ashes when it is windy, though.
One more tip when using ash is to ensure that its layer does not go over one inch thick. The reason is that putting more than that will only form a paste in case it becomes wet.
Food wastes and scraps based on plants that typically end up in your trash are also great additions to your compost pile. They are capable of enriching your soil with significant amounts of nitrogen.
Note, though, that you need a few months to complete the entire process. This makes it necessary to start it during the early summer. That way, the compost will be ready once the next spring comes.
As for the food wastes that you can safely add to the compost, a few examples are stale bread, tea leaves, fruit rinds, nutshells, corn cobs, and veggie scraps.
You can also use fish emulsion as a nitrogen fertilizer. The NPK ratio of this plant fertilizer is 5:1:1, which indicates that while it can supply your plants with nitrogen, the dose is still not that high that it can already burn plants.
The fish emulsion also contains plenty of other micronutrients guaranteed to nourish your plants, including calcium, sulfur, chlorine, sodium, and magnesium.
You can also find garden centers selling concentrated variations of fish emulsion that you have to mix with water. On average, you have to use two to three tablespoons of this concentrated fish emulsion for each gallon of water.
Pour this mixture into the soil. You may also spray it on your plants, specifically on their leaves.
Diluted Human Urine
If you are looking for a solution that you can use to boost the nitrogen level of your vegetable garden, diluted human urine can also help. You don’t have to worry as it will be a sterile solution provided it comes from a healthy person.
Note, though, that you have to dilute it first since the urine, on its own, will end up burning your veggies because of its high salt content. Dilute urine with water using the ratio of 10:1. In some cases, you may need to follow the 20:1 ratio if you intend to use it for young plants.
After diluting, you can add it to the area surrounding the base of those plants that require a boost of nitrogen.
What to Exclude from the Compost Pile?
To ensure that your compost bin will only supply your soil with nitrogen and other nutrients that your plants need, it should be free from the following:
Meat and animal-based products, such as broth, gristle, bones, and lard, should not be included in your compost pit or bin. Bone meal and blood meal are actually good fertilizers but they are not ideal inclusions for the compost bin in your household.
The reason is that they produce an unpleasant smell once decomposed, making them attract unnecessary and unwanted animals. It also takes longer for various animal products to compost compared to the others. This is why they are also carriers of diseases that may spread to your garden in case they get under-composted.
Inorganic Materials and Junk
Inorganic materials, like glass, aluminum, and plastic may only end up cluttering up your bin. These kinds of junk even have the tendency of turning an organic system that is supposed to be thriving into a landfill.
With that in mind, ensure that you do not put any unnecessary clutter in your compost bin. These inorganic materials are not also good for your garden because they are potential hazards.
For instance, sharp plastic stubs or broken glass may end up mixing with the soil and harming anyone who comes in contact with them. Look for a compost container that you should consistently use for the kitchen counter. Use this container in carrying scraps to your compost bin.
Some examples of these cleaning products are half-empty bottles of shampoo and dishwater. These cleaning products are not good for your garden soil as they may only turn into a soapy and sticky mess. There is a high chance that these products will leave a sudsy soil and soapy-tasting veggies, like tomatoes.
This is because most cleaning products, especially detergents, do not biodegrade that efficiently. Cleaning products also contain additives that are unsafe additions to your compost bin.
While your compost bin can process printer paper, notebooks, sketchbooks, and newspapers well, glossy ones are not that good for it. Glossy paper comes with a shiny coating that serves as an effective compost killer.
Aside from that, this material is not also capable of decomposing well. This makes it necessary to avoid using glossy and coated paper for your compost bin.
Of course, you also need to avoid including contaminated plants in your compost bin. Yes, garden extras, such as carrot tops and pea vines, work well for your compost heap but you have to make sure that they are completely healthy first. If they have a disease, do not use them.
One reason behind this is that blighted plants are at risk of introducing some ailments into the heap. This is why you have to burn them rather than let them spread the disease. You also have to avoid using plants that you treated using herbicides and pesticides as they may only end up poisoning the compost bin.
Other Methods of Adding Nitrogen to the Soil
Apart from composting and the other ways mentioned, you can also increase the soil’s nitrogen level through the following:
Infrequent Soil Tilling
Make sure to do the tilling only occasionally as too frequent tilling may only cause the soil to get overworked. This can result in the structure of the soil degrading its depleting nitrogen.
Tilling only occasionally or infrequently can preserve the structure of the soil, making it more resistant to erosion. It also increases the water holding capacity of the soil, preventing it from getting compacted, and promoting biological activity.
In addition, it can help increase the content of organic matter capable of boosting the health of the soil.
Aside from making your garden look more aesthetic, mulch also increases the soil’s nitrogen content once it eventually decomposes. Mulch is also beneficial as it can suppress weeds while retaining moisture for your plants.
Moreover, it can keep your plants protected from possible injuries brought on by the winter season. One more thing that it can do is improve structure and drainage while giving beneficial insects capable of supporting the healthy life of plants a suitable habitat.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the fastest way to add nitrogen to soil?
The answer is by using a fertilizer rich in nitrogen quickly. Among them are specific all-purpose plant foods that are truly rich in nitrogen and organic and chemical fertilizers designed for green plants. An example of this is lawn fertilizer.
What is a natural way to add nitrogen to the soil?
There is also a natural means of adding nitrogen to the soil. Some of the things you can do that produce organic nitrogen are use homemade compost, make nitrogen-fixing plants serve as the cover crop, and take advantage of composted manure produced locally. You can even use chicken manure and rabbit manure from rabbit droppings.
What is best to put nitrogen in soil?
The best way to put nitrogen into the soil is through natural means – one that does not involve the use of harsh chemicals. If you are into gardening, you should know the basics of converting nitrogen into the soil to support healthy plant growth. As much as possible, use natural means.
In this case, you can use two main solutions, composting and nitrogen fixation. You may already be familiar with composting, which requires the use of compost. Meanwhile, nitrogen fixation is necessary for photosynthesis to take place.
Note that some bacteria use nitrogen in the area to convert them into a solid form that your plants can quickly and easily use. Plant crops, such as peas, beans, or legumes in the soil to increase the bacteria.
What is a natural source of nitrogen for plants?
Among the best natural sources of nitrogen for plants come from manure of animals and plant-based solutions. You can also use appropriate food and kitchen scraps, specifically those safe for plants, to supply your garden with more than enough nitrogen.
Is too much nitrogen bad for plants?
Yes, too much nitrogen may also be bad for plants. This is why when planning to boost nitrogen in garden beds and soil, you must ensure that it is just enough. Remember that too much nitrogen may also lead to weak plant structure, too leafy plants, lack of flowers or fruits, bitter-tasting crops, and leaf burn, so be careful not to overdose on this nutrient.
Nitrogen is indeed one of the most crucial nutrients needed by your plants to survive. This is the reason why you need to learn how to add nitrogen to the soil if you cultivate your own garden. By doing that, all the plants in your garden will be well-nourished, allowing them to grow healthily, nicely, and bountifully.