Why do plants need nitrogen, and how important is it to give your plant a steady supply? Plants need nitrogen to serve as a building block for cellular processes (including photosynthesis) to occur. This includes building the plant from the seed, establishing roots, and putting out new leaves. Ensuring your plant has enough nitrogen will help keep it vigorous and healthy, and once you know what you’re looking for, a deficiency is easy to spot.
Is Nitrogen Good for Plants?
The use of nitrogen in plants is completely necessary for your plant’s survival and ability to develop healthily from a seed. Much like any “good” thing, too much of it can have harmful effects and give you the opposite of your intended result. This is why it’s essential to follow dosages on fertilizers closely, so you don’t accidentally overdose your plant.
What Does Nitrogen Do for Plants? Why Is It Important?
Nitrogen is the main player in many cellular functions and compounds needed to grow a plant, and without it, your plant won’t get very far in life. The function of nitrogen in plants includes chlorophyll production, which allows photosynthesis to occur, and provides a structure for the plant as well. In addition to these items, nitrogen also helps to regulate water and nutrient uptake through the proteins found in the roots, so having a nitrogen deficiency can lead your plant to be deficient in other areas too.
How to Check Nitrogen Levels in Plants?
Some symptoms can lead you to believe your plant may be lacking in nitrogen. If you’re noticing minimal or poor growth and leaf discoloration, you might find it helpful to test your soil for nitrogen.
You can test your soil for nitrogen most easily using two main methods: a nutrient probe/meter or using a soil test kit. The nutrient meter can be used similarly to a soil moisture meter. Soil test kits involve chemicals designed to indicate the amount of the nutrient in your sample. This method takes a bit more time and effort but is much more accurate and worth the time if you are interested in the nutrient profile of your soil.
How to Check If Your Plants Need More Nitrogen?
If you suspect your plant is nitrogen deficient, you may want to test your soil before adding unknown amounts of fertilizer to your plant. Here are some ways you can test your soil for nutrient content:
- Nutrient Probe/Meter: A nutrient meter can be inserted into the soil and measured much like a moisture meter would perform.
- Soil Test Kits: A soil test kit consists of the capsules needed to identify the amount of a specific nutrient present in the soil. A soil sample is mixed with water, and the capsule’s contents are added. After a set amount of time, you are to compare the color of your sample with the corresponding color guide, which will indicate whether your nutrient levels are depleted, sufficient, or in excess.
Aside from being observant and curious, there are no ways to tell for sure whether your plant is deficient in nitrogen without running one of these tests. Experience in identifying nitrogen deficiency in plants can save you some time. However, if you have the resources available, it’s never a bad idea to do a test to be sure.
Nitrogen Deficiency and its Reasons
Nitrogen deficiencies can happen for many reasons within and beyond the gardener’s control. Heavy rainfalls or over-watering can lead to nutrients in the soil being washed away. Soil amendments high in carbon, such as sawdust, can also render the nitrogen present unavailable for plant use. It’s necessary to be mindful of the components of your soil, especially if you’re noticing underperformance in your plants.
Another common reason for nitrogen deficiency, though often unrealized, is a lack of sunlight. Sunlight aids in producing chlorophyll, which is a necessary component for your plant to use the nitrogen available in the soil. These issues are common failings of beginning gardeners, but understanding how plants work can give you an insider idea of how to best care for them for the most productive experience possible.
Symptoms of Nitrogen Deficiency
Nitrogen deficiencies can harm your plant’s health if not treated promptly. Here are some common symptoms you might see in a nitrogen-deficient plant:
- Discoloration: yellowing between the veins of the leaves (chlorosis) or pale green leaves, sometimes with a pinkish tint
- Stunted and/or weak growth
Nitrogen isn’t the only common deficiency you might encounter. Magnesium deficiency can cause chlorosis similar to nitrogen deficiency but is also coupled with leaf drop. A deficiency of calcium in plants can also give way to chlorosis, though the veins in these leaves will appear darker in color than with other deficiencies. There will also be distortions in the leaves when calcium is deficient, and fruits such as tomatoes will often experience blossom-end rot. It’s important to be aware of these subtle differences between nutrient deficiencies to treat your plant adequately.
What Is the Best Way to Add Nitrogen to Soil?
With how necessary nitrogen is to plants, it’s crucial to ensure they are given a steady supply throughout the growing season. Plants such as kale, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower are nitrogen-rich plants and need to have enough throughout the growing season to perform their best.
A good way to add nitrogen to your soil is through compost or manure, though coffee grounds can also be used to add nitrogen to your soil and is a useful way to utilize your coffee waste. When mulch decays, it will give the soil a slow and steady nitrogen supply. And, of course, a regular NPK fertilizer can be used in the appropriate dosage to feed your plants.
What Does Too Much Nitrogen Do to Plants?
An excess of nitrogen can cause the burning of the roots and leaves. This will lead to the eventual death of the leaves and, over time, your whole plant. Symptoms of too much nitrogen include leaves that shrivel up, starting around the margins, and discoloration ranging from yellowing to pale green.
How Do Plants Get Nitrogen?
Nitrogen is abundant in nature since it is a by-product of decomposition. Fertilizers, mulch, and animal products such as blood meal, bone meal, and insects can also serve as nitrogen sources. Carnivorous plants evolved in nitrogen-poor soils and adapted by developing mechanisms to get their nitrogen from animal or insect sources.
Why Does Nitrogen Limit Plant Growth?
Insufficient and excessive amounts of nitrogen can limit the amount your plant can grow. Nitrogen is a primary component in root and leaf growth, so if your plant isn’t getting enough of this nutrient, you will often see poor, or even distorted, growth.
Is Nitrogen a Nutrient?
Nitrogen is a macronutrient, along with potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and sulfur. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, often seen as NPK in fertilizers, are the primary macronutrients that are needed in large amounts. Phosphorus in plants is also key to similar functions as nitrogen, so symptoms of deficiencies can be quite similar.