If you’ve been gardening a while, you may have noticed a decline in the appearance of your plants.
For example, leaves may have become lackluster and yellow.
What could the problem be?
Very often, the yellowing of leaves (chlorosis) is caused by a lack of nitrogen, which is an essential nutrient to plants that is depleted in several ways.
Plants consume nitrogen. It can dissipate into the air or be washed away by heavy rains.
In this article, we describe the importance of nitrogen to plants and explain how to add nitrogen to your garden soil.
Read on to learn more.
Why Would You Want To Add Nitrogen To The Soil?
Nitrogen is a very common nutrient.
It is all around us, every day because it makes up nearly 80% of the air, but most plants cannot use this nitrogen in the air.
They have to get their nitrogen from the soil, and it is very important they do.
What Damage or Condition Does LOW Nitrogen Soil Cause?
On a very basic level, plants require oxygen to generate growth.
Lack of nitrogen causes stunted plant growth because if plants don’t have enough nitrogen, they are unable to manufacture amino acids, protein, and DNA.
They are not able to make more cells.
How Can You Tell If There Isn’t Enough Nitrogen In Your Soil?
To get an accurate reading, you’ll need a soil test kit. Get one from your local garden center or online.
You could also get in touch with your county extension office to see if they can send an agent out to test your soil.
There is usually a small fee involved, but it’s worth it to also get good recommendations on improving your soil condition.
How Can You Add Nitrogen To The Soil?
Add nitrogen to your garden soil through both organic and inorganic means.
Using organic methods takes a bit more time, but it is also more lasting and better for the air, soil, and water.
If you want to go the organic route, here’s what to do:
Use composted manure to amend your garden soil and add nitrogen.
Manure is a natural fertilizer and soil amendment that improves the physical condition of your soil while bringing a wealth of nutrients, including nitrogen, to your garden.
All sorts of manure will work well.
The most commonly used is cow manure, but the horse, goat, chicken, sheep, and rabbit manure also work very well.
If you have any of these sorts of livestock, composting the manure and using it for the garden is just good manure management.
If you don’t have livestock, buy composted manure at your local garden center or make friends with a local farmer.
Plant a green manure crop, such as clover, soybeans, or rye.
This is a very low-maintenance way to add nitrogen back into your garden soil.
To do this, you simply leave the uprooted, unused portion of your manure crop on your field as mulch at the end of the growing season.
The plants will compost in place, till them back into the soil at the start of the next growing season to recycle their nitrogen and other nutrients.
Another natural way to boost nitrogen in the soil is through the use of nitrogen-fixing plants (e.g., beans and peas).
These plants can draw nitrogen gas from the atmosphere, thanks to a symbiotic relationship with the Rhizobium bacteria.
Once the plants have drawn nitrogen in, they store it in lumps (nitrogen nodules) on their roots.
When you till the cover crop under at the end of the growing season, the nitrogen is released into the soil.
Coffee grounds are full of nitrogen and make an excellent soil amendment.
Add your coffee grounds to your compost heap or bin, or just sprinkle used coffee grounds on the soil as a top dressing.
Learn more about composting coffee grounds
Remember to compost your used coffee filters, too.
They are beneficial to your compost mix, and keeping them out of the landfill is a good thing.
If you are not a coffee drinker, you may be able to get coffee grounds from your work or a local coffee shop for the asking.
Adding Nitrogen As A Plant Fertilizer
Simply buy nitrogen as a chemical fertilizer if you wish.
Nitrogen is the “N” in fertilizer’s NPK rating. Look for a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen rating.
When you use a chemical fertilizer, you’ll give your plants a big boost of nutrition all at once, and you may see some very quick results.
The downside is these results will be temporary.
Chemical nitrogen (and other chemical nutrients) are transient and easily washed out of the soil and into the water table.
Organic nitrogen and other nutrients are far more stable and provide nourishment to your plants in a steady, ongoing manner.
If you must use a chemical fertilizer, opt for a slow-release product.
This will be more beneficial to your plants but is still detrimental to the environment.