The Position of Nitrogen within the Backyard

Similar to people want a variety of nutritional vitamins and minerals to thrive, crops require various vitamins to stay wholesome. One of the vital important plant vitamins is nitrogen. With out sufficient nitrogen, crops can’t type proteins, full photosynthesis, or use carbohydrates.

Your aim as a gardener is to use simply sufficient nitrogen on your crops. Too little nitrogen results in weak crops, whereas an excessive amount of may cause different plant issues and environmental hurt. So, how do you discover the candy spot when making use of nitrogen fertilizer? By analyzing elements like the quantity of nitrogen within the soil and your crops’ nitrogen wants!

On this article, I’ll clarify how crops use nitrogen so you already know why it’s important. Then, I’ll cowl forms of nitrogen-rich fertilizers, how nitrogen strikes by means of the surroundings, and the best way to decide your crops’ nitrogen wants. By the tip of the article, you’ll have a complete new understanding of this essential plant nutrient.

Nitrogen Fundamentals

Close-up of blue granular fertilizer and seedlings in the soil. The seedlings are small, consisting of short stems and a pair of oval, smooth, bright green cotyledons. Granular fertilizers are small, round, blue balls.
The important plant macronutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Nitrogen, symbolized by the letter N, is considered one of three plant macronutrients. The opposite two macronutrients are phosphorus (P) and potassium (Okay). Crops require giant quantities of those three vitamins to thrive, which is why fertilizers record the quantity of N, P, and Okay on their labels.

Whereas nitrogen is a single factor, it typically combines with different parts to type bigger compounds. Some widespread forms of nitrogen particles within the air, water, and soil embrace nitrogen fuel (N₂), nitrate (NO₃-), ammonium (NH₄+), and bigger, carbon-containing natural compounds. Nitrogen often cycles between these totally different kinds and strikes all through the surroundings.

It’s essential to notice that crops primarily take up nitrogen within the type of nitrate and ammonium. Subsequently, the nitrogen in atmospheric nitrogen fuel and complicated natural compounds (i.e., these present in compost) is not out there to crops.

Nevertheless, microbes can convert these unavailable nitrogen kinds into plant-available compounds by means of nitrogen fixation and mineralization. That is why a wholesome soil microbiome is so essential!

Nitrogen Fixation

Close-up of Bean plant plantation. Bean plants feature lush foliage characterized by large, broad leaves arranged alternately along sturdy stems. The leaves are a vibrant shade of green and are pinnately compound, meaning they are divided into several leaflets arranged along a central vein.
Legumes host nitrogen-fixing micro organism of their roots for nitrogen fixation.

Maybe you’ve heard that legumes like peas, beans, and clover can “repair” nitrogen, however what does that actually imply? It’s time to clear up any confusion.

Throughout nitrogen fixation, sure micro organism convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. A few of these nitrogen-fixing micro organism, resembling Rhizobacteria, type symbiotic relationships with leguminous crops.

The micro organism stay in nodules within the plant’s roots, the place they obtain energy-rich carbohydrates from the crops. In flip, the micro organism use these carbohydrates to finish the energy-intensive nitrogen fixation course of and provide the crops with nitrogen they will use.

Nitrogen Mineralization

Close-up of female hands in gloves mixing compost in the garden. The gloves have a watermelon print. Compost is a decomposition of organic matter such as kitchen scraps, yard waste, and plant material.
Soil micro organism can convert natural nitrogen into plant-available ammonium.

Mineralization is the method by which micro organism convert giant, nitrogen-containing compounds—like these present in compost and decaying plant materials— into smaller compounds. Finally, this breakdown course of releases plant-available ammonium into the soil. As a result of mineralization depends on soil micro organism, intention to take care of a wholesome soil group by making use of natural fertilizers and avoiding fumigants or artificial fertilizers.

Since mineralization depends on residing creatures, elements like temperature and moisture considerably affect the method. That’s why crops can’t entry nitrogen from natural sources within the winter however they will within the spring.

The Position of Nitrogen in Plant Progress and Well being

Understanding how crops use nitrogen may help you diagnose and perceive deficiencies. Whenever you understand simply how important nitrogen is to crops, you’ll be motivated to provide your crops with the suitable dose of this macronutrient.

Protein Formation

Close-up of a farmer examining corn plant in a sunny garden. The corn plant is characterized by its tall, upright stalks with alternating, elongated leaves that grow in a distinctive pattern called a phyllotaxy. The leaves are broad and blade-like, with parallel veins running from the base to the tip.
This nutrient is important for protein formation in crops.

Nitrogen is an important part of all amino acids, which mix to type proteins. Some proteins are structural elements, whereas others are enzymes that set off or velocity up vital plant processes.


Close-up of flowering Kale plants in a sunny garden. The plant forms tender, immature flower buds that emerge from the center of kale plants as they begin to bolt. These buds resemble miniature broccoli florets, with small, compact clusters of tightly packed buds arranged along slender stems. They have a vibrant green color. The leaves are large, wide, oval, with slightly serrated edges, and have a bluish-green color.
N is essential for chlorophyll manufacturing and photosynthesis in crops.

You could know that chlorophyll is the molecule that drives photosynthesis. However do you know that nitrogen is an important part of chlorophyll? Subsequently, if crops don’t have sufficient chlorophyll, they will’t use power from the solar to supply carbohydrates. An absence of carbohydrates results in issues with every part from progress to flowering to illness resistance.

Genetic Code

Close-up of dill seed head on blurred background. The dill seed head, also known as dill umbel or dill flower head, is a delicate and intricate cluster of tiny oval-shaped seeds that are brown. The dill seed head presents a charming and airy appearance.
This macronutrient is crucial for nucleic acids, impacting DNA and seed manufacturing.

Nitrogen can be a key a part of the nucleic acids that type DNA. An absence of protein can result in points with copy and seed manufacturing.

Power Switch

Close-up of a gardener's hands picking a ripe eggplant in a sunny garden. The eggplant plant is characterized by its tall, upright stems with large, lobed leaves that have a slightly fuzzy texture. The leaves are a dark shade of green. It produces distinctive purple or black oblong-shaped fruits with a shiny, glossy skin.
Crops make the most of ATP and ADP for power switch.

Like all residing creatures, crops comprise two power switch molecules often known as ATP and ADP. Crops can seize and launch power by transferring electrons between these two molecules. Since nitrogen is an important a part of these molecules, it’s important to power switch.

Kinds of Nitrogen Fertilizer

Now that you already know the significance of nitrogen in crops, let’s cowl the way you apply it to soil. Normally, there are two forms of nitrogen fertilizer: natural and inorganic. 

Naturally occurring substances like manure, blood, and feathers make up natural fertilizers. Many of the nitrogen in these fertilizers exists in complicated molecules. Micro organism should first break down these giant molecules earlier than crops can entry the nitrogen they comprise. This implies a wealthy microbial life is crucial for creating plant-available nitrogen, and vitamins are much less inclined to leaching.

People create inorganic nitrogen fertilizers by combining nitrogen fuel with hydrogen to type ammonia. Whereas ammonia is extra available to crops than natural sources of nitrogen, it’s essential to notice artificial nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing emits sizable quantities of carbon dioxide and makes use of plenty of power. Artificial inorganic nitrogen can be extra vulnerable to leaching into waterways and harming the ecosystem.

Now that you simply perceive the variations between natural and inorganic nitrogen fertilizers, take a look at these widespread natural nitrogen sources.

Blood Meal

Close-up of a gardener's hand in a white glove with a bunch of Blood meal on a blurred garden background. Blood meal is a dark, granular fertilizer made from dried and powdered blood, typically derived from animal slaughterhouses or meat processing plants. It has a rich, reddish-brown color and a fine texture similar to that of coarse sand.
This nitrogen-rich fertilizer is produced from dried animal blood.

Blood meal is a stable natural fertilizer loaded with nitrogen and never a lot else. As you might need guessed, it consists of dried blood, a meat business byproduct. Blood meal usually has an NPK ratio of 13-0-0 or 12-0-0. Since blood meal incorporates such a excessive quantity of nitrogen, it’s costlier than many different natural fertilizers.

Feather Meal

Close-up of a gardener's hand pouring Feather meal into the soil in a sunny garden. Feather meal is a dry, finely ground organic fertilizer made from the hydrolyzed feathers of poultry. It has a rich brown-orange color and powdery texture.
This fertilizer affords N with out phosphorus or potassium.

One other byproduct of the meat business, feather meal consists of floor rooster feathers and has an NPK ratio of 13-0-0 or 12-0-0. Because it’s an excellent nitrogen supply however doesn’t add a lot phosphorus or potassium, it’s helpful if you solely want so as to add nitrogen.

Cottonseed Meal

Close-up of Cottonseed meal. Cottonseed meal is a dry, granular organic fertilizer made from the crushed and ground seeds of the cotton plant after the oil has been extracted. It has a light tan to brown color and a coarse, grainy texture resembling small crumbs.
This fertilizer lowers soil pH naturally.

As its title suggests, cottonseed meal consists of floor cotton seeds. It has an NPK ratio of 6-2-1. Since cottonseed meal naturally lowers soil pH, think about using it for crops that develop properly in acidic soils, like rhododendrons, blueberry bushes, and azaleas.

Alfalfa Meal

Close-up of a man's hand with a pile of Alfalfa meal pellets against the background of the pile. Alfalfa meal pellets are small, compacted cylinders made from finely ground alfalfa plant material. They have a uniform, green color and a dense, firm texture that resembles compressed sawdust or wood pellets.
This fertilizer affords balanced vitamins.

Alfalfa meal consists of floor alfalfa crops. You need to use it in a number of methods on the homestead, from feeding animals to boosting soil well being.

The precise nutrient composition is dependent upon the product you select, however most forms of alfalfa meal have an NPK ratio near 3-0.5-3. Not solely does alfalfa meal provide main vitamins, but it surely additionally gives micronutrients and pure progress hormones.

Figuring out How A lot Nitrogen to Apply

Close-up of a gardener's hand pouring organic fertilizer onto a bed of growing tomatoes. The fertilizers have a fine, sandy texture with a delicate golden beige hue.
Recurrently apply fertilizer primarily based on soil checks and plant wants.

Since crops use giant quantities of nitrogen all year long, chances are you’ll plan on common nitrogen fertilizer purposes. The quantity of nitrogen you must apply is dependent upon the soil natural matter, forms of crops, and time of 12 months.

Though nitrogen frequently strikes by means of the soil and adjustments kinds, I like to recommend conducting a soil check earlier than making use of fertilizer. Not solely will this let you already know the nutrient composition of your soil, however it’s going to additionally offer you suggestions for the way a lot fertilizer to use. I like to recommend conducting a soil check within the late fall or early spring and submitting the pattern to your native agricultural extension workplace.

Instance Calculation

After you have your outcomes, you need to use these as a information. Let’s say your outcomes suggest making use of 4 kilos of nitrogen for each 1,000 sq. ft.

First, measure the world you propose to fertilize to find out the sq. footage. In case your backyard is 15×20 ft, it’s 300 sq. ft.

Subsequent, observe these calculations to find out how a lot nitrogen to use.

300 sq. ft / 1000 sq. ft = x / 4 lb → 1200  = 1000x → x = 1.2 lb

Now that you already know it’s important to apply 1.2 kilos of nitrogen, it’s time to find out how a lot fertilizer to use. Let’s say you wish to apply blood meal with an NPK ratio of 13-0-0. This product incorporates 13% nitrogen, so you need to use this to calculate how a lot you have to apply.

1.2 lb x 0.13= 9.2 lb

Apply 9.2 kilos of blood meal to produce your backyard with the nitrogen it wants!

When you apply the preliminary dose of nitrogen fertilizer within the spring, control your crops. Whereas many crops will develop properly on this preliminary fertilization software, heavy-feeding and long-season crops like broccoli, corn, and tomatoes profit from a midsummer nitrogen software.

Issues with Deficiency and Extra

Overapplying and underapplying nitrogen can each result in issues in crops and the encircling surroundings. Look out for the next to find out in the event you ought to modify your fertilizer purposes.

Indicators of Too Little Nitrogen

Close-up of pumpkin plant with nitrogen deficiency. The pumpkin plant displays large, broad leaves that are deeply lobed and palmately veined. The leaves are pale green and yellowish in color due to lack of nitrogen.
Shortly handle deficiency signs with applicable fertilizer software.

In case your crops can’t entry sufficient nitrogen, chances are you’ll discover yellowing leaves, stunted progress, and decreased illness resistance. Since it is a cellular nutrient, yellowing will seem in older leaves earlier than new progress.

By the point your crops begin exhibiting indicators of deficiency, they’re severely missing on this important nutrient. Subsequently, apply a fast-acting supply of nitrogen ASAP, resembling liquid fish emulsion fertilizer. Nevertheless, keep away from over-applying fertilizer since this could result in simply as many issues.

Indicators of Too A lot Nitrogen

Close-up of growing Carrot plants in rows in a garden. Carrot leaves are characterized by their feathery, fern-like appearance, with slender, elongated leaflets arranged in a pinnate manner along a central stem. The leaves grow in a basal rosette close to the ground, with each leaflet displaying a deep green color and a delicate, lacy texture.
Extreme nitrogen causes lush progress and weak roots.

Whereas crops want nitrogen to thrive, an excessive amount of may cause severe issues. In case your crops have entry to plenty of nitrogen however not sufficient phosphorus and potassium, they’ll typically develop luscious inexperienced progress however few flowers or roots. That’s why you see spindly carrot roots topped with giant greens and flowering crops with out blooms.

An excessive amount of nitrogen may result in grain crops like corn and wheat falling over, a phenomenon often known as lodging. Crops might also develop darkish inexperienced, succulent leaves that succumb to pests like aphids and thrips.

Not solely does an excessive amount of fertilizer negatively affect crops, but it surely additionally results in pointless prices and environmental hurt. Extra nitrogen readily leaches out of the soil and into surrounding waterways, inflicting algae progress, an absence of oxygen, and lifeless fish. Whereas making use of an excessive amount of nitrogen to your backyard is unlikely to trigger severe environmental hurt, don’t assume extra nitrogen is best.

Lastly, in case your soil will not be wealthy in micronutrients and microorganisms, nitrogen won’t be able to bond with different molecules. This makes it inaccessible to plant roots. Wholesome soil ought to comprise every part you want for correct collaboration between soil organisms, crops, and supplemental vitamins.

Closing Ideas

Should you hope to develop lush greens and wholesome fruits, provide your crops with the correct quantity of nitrogen. Since wholesome soils are higher at changing natural nitrogen sources into plant-available kinds, take into account making use of high quality compost, mulching the floor, and rising cowl crops to enhance your soil and improve plant-available nitrogen.

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