Fertilization Strategies to Get The Best Results: Why Do Plants Need Nitrogen

Indoor gardeners are always looking for ways to ensure their plants get the best possible fertilizer. But what is nitrogen, and why does it matter?

Nitrogen is a gas that humans exhale when they breathe, and it’s the most abundant element in Earth’s atmosphere. It makes up 78% of air by volume, but plants need access to only about 9%. Nitrogen helps create chlorophyll which provides energy for photosynthesis so that leaves can grow green!

This blog post explains why plants need nitrogen and how you can tell if your plant has a nitrogen deficiency. You can either do an exam yourself or ask someone who knows about plants, like a farmer or scientist at school:)

This article also tells you why it is important to add fertilizer to soil when planting seeds!

Why Do Plants need nitrogen?

Nitrogen is important because, without enough, a plant will have difficulty producing these vital compounds or synthesizing new ones. This can lead to various negative consequences, such as stunted growth and yellowing leaves.

Plants need nitrogen because it helps them produce proteins that are needed for healthy growth and development like chlorophyll production, protein synthesis, seed development, and fruiting/flowering.

Plants need nitrogen to make protein and amino acids like glutamine. These substances are important for the health of plants because they use them to make DNA which helps them stay healthy.

Without Nitrogen, plants would not be able to grow because plants need nitrogen for chlorophyll and amino acids.

Higher nitrogen levels promote healthier root systems, chlorophyll production, protein synthesis, seed development, and fruiting/flowering.

nitrogen deficiency

Crops with low nitrate levels will have smaller yields than those with adequate amounts, and plants with a nitrate deficiency will be stunted.

Nitrogen deficiencies cause yellowing leaves, leaf dieback, reduced growth rates, delayed maturity, poor coloration of flowers and fruit (e.g., pale or no petals), slower seedling emergence from soil/pods

Low nitrogen levels can also lead to higher disease susceptibility in plants because it decreases their natural defenses against pathogens.

Nitrogen-deficient plants will have a hard time absorbing nutrients in their roots. Soil with high levels of nitrogen fertilizer is more likely to be depleted or poisoned for years to come.

How Do Plants Get Nitrogen Naturally?

Plants have many ways to collect nutrients and build their own soil. There are three main ways that plants get nitrogen nitrates:

  1. From the air
  2. Nitrates from the ground
  3. Ammonium ions from the soil

This is called “nitrogen-fixing” because these plants are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia or nitrates that can be used by other plants or absorbed through their roots.

These three ways are proven and show how plants need nitrogen in different forms from symbiotic relationships, ammonia ion absorption, and nitrification of organic matter like manure or compost piles, which produce lots of nitrates (ammonium salts). This blog post will help you understand what plants need nitrogen fertilizer while providing multiple strategies on how to best fertilize your garden accordingly!

Nitrogen from the air

Let’s start with the first way plants get nitrogen nitrates from the air. Bacteria in the air produce nitrates when they break down nitrogen compounds. These nitrates get blown around by the wind, settling on leaves as dust and rain. The plants absorb these nutrients through their leaves when wet from either rainfall or atmospheric moisture.

The plants have a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobiales, which is an organism that converts atmospheric dinitrogen into ammonia, and then plants absorb compounds containing amino acids like glutamine found in their roots or leaves

This leads to increased plant growth rates, reduced leaf chlorosis (yellowing), less stunting of new shoots, earlier flowering, etc… Some plants have root nodules that help them take nitrogen from the air and turn into ammonia or nitrates, which other plants can use for food. The plant will use it for photosynthesis and other processes.

This is just one way that plants collect nitrogen nitrates from the air.

Nitrates from the ground

Now let’s move on to the second way plants get their nutrients-nitrates from the ground.

Nitrates provide plants with their most readily available nitrogen source; they’re created through the breakdown of organic matter, such as composted plant material (yum!) by bacteria that live on or near roots.

Some plants, like legumes, get their nutrients through symbiotic relationships with fungi in the ground around them like mushrooms and lichens. The plant provides food for the bacteria and gets nitrogen from it. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship where both organisms receive something they need to survive without one having to give up anything.

Plants get their nitrogen from the soil around them–but this doesn’t always work for plants in pots or containers because there’s not much space between the roots and the potting mix, so nutrients don’t have a chance to break down before the plant uses them up.

That’s why we provide additional fertilizers every year to make sure those needs are met – usually using synthetic fertilizer pellets called “Nitrogen”.

Ammonium ions from the soil

The third way is ammonium ions which come from decomposing organic matter such as dead leaves or animal feces

Ammonium ions are found when organic matter decomposes into amino acids by bacteria which then become ammonium salts (ammonia) as a waste product.

The plant roots absorb these ionized nutrients and break them down further into other substances like amino acids that become proteins and other important compounds for plant growth.

This is one way that plants get nitrogen without relying on fertilizers.

This is the most time-consuming process that plants use to get nitrogen, as it takes up to several days to absorb enough ammonium ions for their daily needs.

Nitrogen Fixation occurs in soil with high levels of organic matter and bacteria. Soil with low organic content will not have much opportunity for natural nitrification to take effect, meaning plants would need external fertilization if they want to get their needs met for nitrogen.

This process of nitrogen fixation is possible only under certain environmental conditions. If plants don’t get enough light or if the temperature drops below 60 degrees, they can’t convert ammonia to nitrates.

A small amount of ammonium ions are also found in water sources such as rainwater and groundwater because ammonia evaporates into the air quickly, where it can be absorbed by precipitation.

What plants need nitrogen fertilizer?

All plants and wise vegetable and fruit trees need regular dose of nitrogen fertilizers to grow and thrive. However, some plants are more sensitive than others, so it’s important for gardeners and farmers alike to pay close attention to the needs of their individual crops or plant type.

The best plants for this type of fertilizer require high nitrogen levels to grow quickly. These include peas, beans, corn, or wheat crops, which use up large amounts per season while growing rapidly, making these types particularly profitable when used in your indoor garden.

Three different types of plants have nitrogen deficiency in the soil or need more fertilizers.

  1. One type is plants that need to grow quickly. These plants, such as corn or wheat crops, require high nitrogen levels but will not get enough in the soil without adding fertilizers. In contrast, perennials like rhododendrons have an easier time with less because their roots can be deep into the soil where it’s cooler and wetter, which is a better condition for bacteria that convert organic material into ammonium nitrate (NH+NO-).
  2. Plants that prefer wet soil also use a lot of nitrates, such as corn, cucumbers, or squash.
  3. The other types of plants have a low tolerance for heat and drought conditions and, therefore, would benefit from a fertilizer with higher levels of nitrogen added into the soil mix when planting them out.

Plants need nitrogen for growth and development. If plants do not get enough, they will grow slowly or stop altogether. They also may show leaf scorch from lack of chlorophyll production if there isn’t enough carbon dioxide in the air.

Many types of plants can benefit from nitrogen fertilizer, including tomatoes and peas. I recommend talking to your local nursery about the best type for you or continuing reading online if they don’t have this information in person.

As you can see, every plant has certain needs for fertilizer! That is why this article was so important! Without proper fertilizing, your plants cannot produce food for themselves.

How Can You Tell if a Plant Has Nitrogen Deficiency?

The first sign you might see is older leaves turning yellow. This is because a lack of nitrogen prevents the plant from producing enough chlorophyll to make them green.

The second sign you might see is lighter shades in leaves, which signify that they are not getting as much photosynthesis happening due to being deprived of oxygen and nitrogen.

If your plants have these symptoms, it’s time for some nitrogen fertilizer!

You can buy one or mix up your own at home with compost tea and a cottonseed meal. The best place for this mixture would be on top of the soil, so microbes break down the concoction into nitrates that plants will absorb over time.

Remember to read the ingredients before buying if you prefer the store-bought route. On average, gardeners have about a 50% success rate with fertilizers that don’t contain nitrogen. Ensure your fertilizer is high in phosphorous and potassium for the best coverage!

Always ensure there is an adequate amount of nitrates available, so if levels dip below 20%, then supplement them accordingly.

The key to determining how much nitrogen your soil needs is by checking for signs of deficiencies and issues with leaf size, coloration, or shape. The best way to do this is by taking samples from different parts of your yard at different times throughout the season.

Excessive nitrogen in the soil will stun plants, preventing them from taking up nutrients and producing flowers and fruit.

If you’re unsure whether to add more fertilizer or water your plant, it’s best to do both until you see some improvement! If there are specific problems with

How to add nitrogen to soil?

To increase the nitrogen content in soil, one would need to use an appropriate fertilizer with a high percentage of Nitrogen or purchase a pre-made plant blend that already contains added Nitrogen, like Osmocot Smart Release Plant Food.

To tell if your plant is deficient in Nitonium, locate the leaves near the base of the stem for dark brownish-purple blotches. Plants need nitrogen to produce protein and amino acids. It is an important building block of DNA.

Many different types of fertilizers are available with varying nitrogen content levels. The type you choose will depend on your own needs and preferences as well as how much experience you have in gardening.

Nitrogen fertilizers come in various forms: urea, ammonium nitrate, calcium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and sodium nitrite are all nitrogen-containing compounds that can be applied to plants for healthy growth.

A general rule of thumb for fertilizing with nitrogen (especially when applying fertilizer just before planting) is 30 lbs per 1000 square feet; however, if your soil has low levels, this number might need to increase.

The most common form of nitrogen fertilizer for plants is ammonium nitrate. Like all other fertilizers, it’s mixed with water to make a solution that can be applied directly to the leaves or roots.

Dry fertilizer

Dry fertilizer is often a good way to add nitrogen because it’s easier for plants to get the nutrients and break them down. Dry fertilizers contain ammonium (NH₄⁺) ions that are converted into nitrates by soil bacteria before plants use them up.

Liquid fertilizers

Liquid fertilizers can work too, though you’ll have to be careful about how much water your plant needs–too much could lead to overwatering or root rot.

Fertilizers that contain urea

the best nitrogen fertilizer contains urea which releases fertilizer over time instead of all at once so they don’t leach out quickly. These slow-release formulas provide more even coverage.


We have covered why plants need nitrogen, what benefits they get from it, and how they get vital nutrient. We have also gone over different types of fertilizers that contain nitrogen, so you can pick one depending on your needs.

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Daniel Buckner is an indoor gardening enthusiast and hydroponic expert with years of experience cultivating a variety of plants. Passionate about sustainable living and urban gardening, Daniel shares his knowledge through engaging content to inspire and educate fellow gardeners. Discover the joys of indoor gardening with Daniel's practical tips and valuable insights.

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