What is the Best Way to Add Nitrogen to Soil? [2020]

What is the Best Way to Add Nitrogen to Soil?

The best way to add nitrogen to soil is to apply a fertilizer with high nitrogen. You can use either an organic fertilizer or non-organic fertilizer depending on what your goals are. Non-organic fertilizers will be quick acting while organic fertilizers take more time.

Additional information will help determine which fertilizer type to use.

How Much Nitrogen Do You Need?

In order to know exactly how much nitrogen the soil needs, you would need to have the soil tested. Any local nursery can do soil testing. This will give you the soil situation and then you can determine how much nitrogen you need to add.

You can also buy a soil testing kit and do it yourself. The testing kits cost from $35 to $50. You can buy them online.

Another consideration is the type of plants you will be growing or already have. Some plants need more nitrogen than others. Big leafy plants need more nitrogen like tomato plants.

If you have poor soil like sand or clay, then you will need lots of nitrogen. If your soil on the other hand is rich with lots of organic material then you might not need much or any nitrogen.

If you need a lot of nitrogen then look at Urea 46-0-0, ammonium nitrate 34-0-0, ammonium sulfate 21-0-0 or a 20-10-10 fertilizer. These contain the most nitrogen.

How Fast Does the Soil Need the Nitrogen?

Another consideration when thinking about adding nitrogen to soil is how fast do you need the nitrogen to be available. Do you need it right away or in 2-3 months? Or both?

If you need more nitrogen right now, then you will need to use a non-organic or synthetic fertilizer with high nitrogen. Synthetic fertilizers can release nitrogen in a day or 2. Organic fertilizers take a few months to make nitrogen available and release it in smaller amounts. Bat Guano probably has the highest amount of nitrogen out of the organic fertilizers. It has about 11-13% nitrogen. Synthetic fertilizers can contain up to 46% nitrogen. Urea fertilizer has the highest amount of nitrogen and has a NPK of 46-0-0.

So, if you need nitrogen fast then use a non-organic fertilizer. Urea has the highest amount of nitrogen at 46% while ammonium nitrate comes in 2nd at 34%. Or you can use something like a 20-10-10 fertilizer for a smaller amount of nitrogen. These fertilizers will release the nitrogen in a few days.

If you have existing plants that need nitrogen fast then this is the way to go. If you have a lawn that needs to green up tomorrow then use one of these fertilizers. It will green up in a few days. The transformation is pretty amazing.

If the nitrogen need is not immediate then you can condition the soil with an amendment like compost or steer manure or a commercial garden soil. Mix any of these into the soil or use it straight as the soil. It will provide nitrogen slowly over 4-6 months.

Organic Nitrogen Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers have much smaller amounts of nitrogen but it is released over a long period of time like months. The highest nitrogen organic fertilizer is bat guano which has about 11% nitrogen. Compost has about 2-5% nitrogen. However it will release nitrogen for 6 months or longer.

If you are starting a garden and the soil needs nitrogen then prepare it beforehand. My native soil is clay and does not have any nitrogen, so I have to prepare the soil before growing anything. I mix my native soil with compost in a 1:1 ratio or 1 part soil and 1 part compost. This produces a rich organic matrix that not only contains nitrogen but will also retain water, promote aeration and resist compaction or turning into hard rock when dry. Plant roots like soft soil to grow in without obstacles.

I start preparing my gardens a few months before the growing season. This gives the soil time to initialize the ecosystem. Microbes and bacteria will grow and start to break down the compost into useful nutrients. I prep gardens by tilling the soil or loosening it up and then mixing compost with it.

A 50/50 mix of native soil and a good compost will produce a rich soil that is perfect for most plants. You won’t need to fertilizer for several months if at all during the growing season. When you do need to fertilize, just add a good 3″ thick layer of compost on top of the soil. It will decompose and release nutrients into the soil and also reduce water evaporation. You’ll need to water less often and plants will have more time to absorb the water.

Here are some products you can use to organically fertilize soil with nitrogen.

  • Compost
  • Composted steer or cow manure
  • Commercial Garden Soil like Kellogg’s
  • Soil Conditioners like Kellogg’s N-Rich
  • Bat Guano
  • Blood Meal
  • Worm Castings

Non-organic Nitrogen Fertilizers

Non-organic fertilizers can release large amounts of nitrogen in a day or 2. They are pretty amazing when you see the results after a few days. There are also “slow release” synthetic fertilizers available.

The synthetic fertilizer with the highest amount of nitrogen is urea with 46%. Ammonium nitrate is the 2nd highest with 34% nitrogen and then ammonium sulfate with 21% nitrogen. Any of these can be spread over the top of the soil but it works best if it is mixed or tilled into the soil. This forces the nitrogen to stay in the soil and not escape into the atmosphere when it decomposes. Watering after fertilization will push the nitrogen into the soil where plant roots can absorb it easily.

Because synthetic fertilizers release nutrients quickly, you will need to fertilize every 4-6 weeks to maintain a good supply of nitrogen. Another option is to mix a slow release form of fertilizer with a fast release. You get the best of both worlds.

You can use synthetic or non-organic fertilizers before you plant or after you have already planted. It will increase the growth rate and size of plants quickly. Leaf coloration will dramatically change from light green or yellow to dark, emerald green.

Synthetic fertilizers come in granule form and are easy to apply and store. Follow the directions when applying to avoid harming plants. Too much fertilizer can burn plants and possibly kill them. Urea and ammonium nitrate go along way in gardens where you only use a cup or two for 100 square feet. A 10 or 25 lb bag will last years depending on how large your garden is. It’s pretty cheap at a few dollars per pound.

Here are some non-organic fertilizers that will provide a lot of nitrogen to soil.

  • Urea fertilizer
  • Sulfur-coated urea
  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Ammonium sulfate
  • 20-10-10 fertilizer
  • 15-10-10 fertilizer
  • Calcium nitrate
  • Potassium nitrate
  • 10-10-10 fertilizer

Fertilizer Comments

I like to use both types of nitrogen fertilizers, organic and non-organic. In my garden I like to use mostly organic fertilizers but occasionally use urea to spur some growth and produce darker green leaves.

Organic fertilizers work great in gardens as long as you have time to prep the soil before planting. The soil/compost mix or all compost soils work great for vegetable and flower gardens. Plenty of nitrogen will be available for any type plants from tomatoes to lettuce and corn too. Most compost and commercial garden soils cost about $9 per 3 cubic foot bags. 1 bag is enough to condition a 4″ x 8″ box garden.

When it comes to greening up my lawn, I stick with synthetic fertilizers like Urea or ammonium nitrate. It’s cheap, easy to apply and works like magic. Trying to use compost on the entire lawn is not feasible since the grass is already growing which makes it impossible to mix the compost with the soil. Applying compost on top of the grass is not ideal.

I like to mix urea fertilizer with water and then spray the lawn. The dissolved urea penetrates the soil and fertilizes quickly. The grass greens up overnight and grows much faster for weeks.

High Nitrogen Fertilizer [2020]

High Nitrogen Fertilizer 2020

High nitrogen fertilizers can make your lawn green and lush or spur growth in your vegetable garden overnight. Nitrogen is responsible for foliage or leaf growth and extra nitrogen will boost cellular synthesis to new heights. It’s like steroids for plants.

Let’s look at some of the higher nitrogen fertilizers.

Urea Fertilizer 46-0-0

Urea fertilizer is based on animal urine but is actually manufactured in a lab where carbon dioxide is reacted with anhydrous ammonia. It is extremely high in nitrogen, at 46%. It has recently replaced Ammonium Nitrate as a widely used and effective nitrogen fertilizer. There is significantly more nitrogen in urea than ammonium nitrate with a NPK of 46-0-0.

Urea is a very inexpensive and effective nitrogen fertilizer. Urea fertilizer comes in granules or prills for easy applications. It can be stored anywhere and is not flammable. It is widely available and sold by the pound.

Urea fertilizer is also available in liquid form.

Urea undergoes a chemical reaction when applied to the top of soil and exposed to moisture. Urea changes into ammonium bicarbonate. The ammonium will then be converted to a gas. Since the ammonium gas contains large amounts of nitrogen, we don’t want the gas to escape into the air. So the best practice is to mix or till the urea fertilizer into the soil to capture the ammonium gas. It’s also recommended to water liberally to push the urea into the soil. Urea fertilizer is highly water soluble and will make nitrogen available to plant roots immediately.

Grass and leafy plants can benefit from Urea fertilizers. It is widely used on lawns and golf courses. Vegetables like lettuce, corn, kale, cabbage, herbs, flowers, sunflowers, spinach, celery and bok choy will benefit from urea. Root plants like beets and radishes and carrots need more phosphorus than nitrogen.

Slow release urea is often made for lawns, golf courses and parks as a long term fertilizer.

Phosagro offers urea fertilizer and ammonium nitrate.

So, people want to know if you can use human pee to fertilize with?

Yes, you can, but you have to dilute it with water. It’s too concentrated and will burn plants. You can dilute it with water in a 20:1 ratio and then water plants with it. It’s free and it bio sustainable.

Human pee has a NPK value of about 11-1-2. It’s pretty high in nitrogen.

Sulfur-Coated Urea 38-0-0

Sulfur-coated urea is a urea fertilizer with a coating to slow down the release of nitrogen into the soil. The sulfur repels water. This allows you to apply more and not harm plants plus provide nitrogen over several months. It’s very effective.

Sulfur coated urea is a very popular fertilizer for grass and lawns. It will feed a lawn for several months.

Here are some other slow release forms of urea.

  • Polymer Coated Urea
  • Polymer Coated Sulfur Coated Urea
  • Reacted Slow Release Nitrogen – methylene urea and urea-formaldehyde
  • Stabilized Nitrogen Technology – Urease inhibitors

Ammonium Nitrate 34-0-0

Ammonium nitrate is a superb nitrogen fertilizer and was the number 1 fertilizer used by farmers. It is 34% nitrogen and highly water soluble. It will increase the growth rate and size of leafy plants. It is a very popular corn fertilizer.

Ammonium nitrate has a NPK value of 34-0-0. It’s all nitrogen. Ammonium nitrate has one advantage over urea. It is more stable and does not loose nitrogen to the atmosphere like urea. But it is flammable.

Ammonium nitrate has 2 sources of nitrogen, ammonia and nitrate. Each provides nitrogen that is readily available to plants via their root system. It’s a very effective fertilizer and is commonly used in hay fields and pastures.

Even though ammonium nitrate is explosive, it can be made stable with additives like sulfur and calcium.

I wrote this in-depth post on ammonium nitrate.

Ammonium Sulfate 21-0-0

Ammonium sulfate contains 21% nitrogen and has a NPK value of 21-0-0. It is very rich in nitrogen. Since is contains ammonium, it is an excellent fertilizer for alkaline soils. The ammonium ion that is released in the soil turns into an acid and thus reduces the alkalinity of the soil. The sulfur additive makes the compound slow releasing over many weeks or even months.

Ammonium sulfate is white to brown crystals with excellent storage properties. It is highly water soluble and has nitrogen from 2 molecules, ammonium and nitrate, similar to ammonium nitrate. This provides rich nutrition to plants but not as much nitrogen as urea or ammonium nitrate. It is a good choice for lawns and gardens.

Ammonium sulfate provides much needed nitrogen and conditions the soil by reducing alkalinity. It kills 2 birds with one stone. Sulfur is also used by plants to remain healthy.

Ammonium sulfate costs about $3/lb. It’s very cheap. American Plant Food Corporation makes ammonium sulfate fertilizers. 

20-10-10 Fertilizer

20-10-10 fertilizers are classified as complete fertilizers because they contain all 3 vital nutrients that plants need to exist. It contains 20% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium. This is a high nitrogen fertilizer and will promote foliage growth and increase plant size. Because it also contains phosphorus and potassium, it will promote root development and plant health. It is well balanced.

20-10-10 is a great fertilizer for vegetable and flower gardens as well as for lawns too.

It is recommended to fertilize during the growth phase of plants and then again during production of flowers or fruit. You can till in 20-10-10 into the soil before planting to provide nutrients for the upcoming seedlings and young plants. Then fertilize again every 4-6 weeks to support growth and fruit. Remember larger plants require more nitrogen.

You can apply 20-10-10 as a granule on the soil and then till or dissolve in a bucket of water and then water the plants.

Always following directions on the fertilizer bag or use very sparingly. Too much can harm plants.

20-10-10 fertilizer is available at most nurseries and home improvement stores. It costs about $2/lb.

Calcium Nitrate 15-0-0

Calcium nitrate is a high nitrogen fertilizer for increased foliage growth and overall plant size plus calcium to promote a strong immune system in plants.

Calcium nitrate is produced by introducing nitric acid to limestone and then adding ammonia. It is a double salt compound and looks just like salt.

The calcium helps neutralize acid and detoxify plants. Heat and stress can cause calcium deficiencies in plants like tomatoes, peppers and apples. So calcium nitrate is a must have for these types of crops.

It is best to mix calcium nitrate into the soil and then water. Try to keep it off of the leaves and stems of plants. It can also be used as a foliar spray. Mix 1 cup with 25 gallons of water and spray foliage after a good watering.

Potassium Nitrate 13-0-44

Potassium nitrate is another high nitrogen fertilizer with added potassium for crops that have high potassium requirements like orchards. Citrus and apple trees can use more potassium than nitrogen. The nitrate provides an easy to absorb nitrogen nutrient that does not require any microbial or soil action. This can boost quality and yield. So you get big beautiful fruit and lots of it.

Potassium nitrate is often applied before the growing season or during the growing season. It can also be diluted in water and used as a foliage spray during fruit development

Blood Meal 13-1-1

Blood meal is dried animal blood, usually cow from meat packing companies. Blood meal is a high nitrogen fertilizer and contains 13% nitrogen plus 1% phosphorus and 1% potassium. It is a complete fertilizer and provides the 3 vital nutrients that plants require to survive.

Adding blood meal to your garden will make vegetables and flower boxes transform into a lush, tropical garden. Growth rate and plant size will both increase dramatically. The color of leaves will change from light yellowish-green to dark emerald green. The transformation is striking.

Blood meal can also help lower the pH of your soil. It will become more acid, which most plants prefer. I recommend mixing the blood meal into the soil.

Blood meal can be found at most nurseries and home improvement stores and of course online. Espoma Organic Blood Meal at Home Depot costs $11.00 for a 3 lb bag.

Bat Guano 10-3-1

Bat guano is basically bat manure. But it’s only from fruit and insect eating bats. It is used as a soil conditioner and fertilizer. It is high in nitrogen at 10%. It also contains 3% phosphorus and 1% potassium. You use it the same way you use steer manure or horse manure. It can be used as a top dressing or mixed into the soil as an amendment.

Bat guano will encourage rapid plant growth and increased foliage that is super dark green. It will also aid with root and flower development and overall plant health.

Bat guano is a little hard to find in brick and mortar stores like Lowes and Home Depot but is easy to buy online. Espoma Bat Guano costs about $17.00 for a 1.25 lb bag. It is expensive but it’s also organic.

10-10-10 Fertilizers [2020]

10-10-10 Fertilizers for Yard and Gardens 2020

10-10-10 fertilizer is a non-organic or synthetic fertilizer with 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium. It has a NPK value or grade of 10-10-10. It is considered a complete fertilizer because it contains all 3 nutrients that plants need to survive. 10-10-10 is considered a “balanced” fertilizer because it contains equal amounts of each nutrient.

10-10-10 Fertilizer Ingredients

The ingredients can vary depending on the manufacturer but it could contain ammonium nitrate, ammonium hydroxide, urea, phosphoric acid and potassium hydroxide. All of these chemicals can provide 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium in a water soluble form.

How Does 10-10-10 Work

Nitrogen – is used by plants to create proteins which makeup the physical structure of plants or cellulose. The more nitrogen that is available for plants, the more growth in leaves, stems and stalks or trunks. Think of everything above the ground will grow more with nitrogen supplements. Roots are another story.

Too much nitrogen can cause some issues with plant growth, so don’t overdue it. Always follow the directions on the bag of fertilizer. Don’t over fertilize.

Phosphorus – is used by plants for root growth and fruit production and flowering. Carrots, beets, turnips and radishes like more phosphorus than nitrogen. A flower garden will do better with more phosphorus.

Potassium – is a nutrient that helps overall functions, health, immune system, photosynthesis, etc. A deficiency in potassium will result in the entire plant doing poorly.

Advantages of 10-10-10

The advantages of using a synthetic fertilizer like 10-10-10 is it’s easy to provide vital nutrients to plants in a fast acting form. You can see results in a few days. If your garden or shrubs needs a quick boost in spring, you can apply the fertilizer then. It works extremely well for grass lawns. You can green them up quickly with higher nitrogen fertilizers like 10-10-10 or 20-10-10.

You can also tailor the fertilizer for any specific plant. If your tomato plants need more phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen then you can buy 5-10-10. Or if you have root vegetables like radishes, turnips or beets then you might want more phosphorus than nitrogen.

10-10-10 is easy to apply. Just spread the granules and rake in or till for best results. Then water as normal. Reapply every 4-6 weeks.

10-10-10 fertilizer is available from many suppliers and is easily purchased in home improvement stores, nurseries and hardware stores plus online.

Disadvantages of 10-10-10

The main disadvantage of 10-10-10 is that you have to be careful handling it. It can be a dangerous chemical. It can burn the skin and irritate the nose and lungs. Only use as directed and keep away from pets and children.

Applying too much can harm plants. Since it is dissolved quickly and taken up by roots immediately, over fertilization is a concern. Chemical fertilizers release the nutrients all at once or in a very short time. It’s like a “burst” of food. Always apply on the conservative side than liberal.

Chemical fertilizers like 10-10-10 can get washed away into nearby waterways or land and cause harm if a heavy rainstorm hits the area.

Chemical fertilizers can also harm the natural ecosystem in the soil.

10-10-10 Fertilizer Formulations Liquid or Pellet

10-10-10 is available in pellet and liquid form. The solid or pellet form is the most common and is easy to handle and apply. It can be spread on top of the soil or mixed in with the soil. It dissolves very easily in water and will be taken up by plant roots quickly.

The liquid form of 10-10-10 is a concentrate and is mixed with water and then applied via a garden hose or a watering can. The liquid form works faster since it is already dissolved in water. You don’t have to worry about handling the fertilizer either like pellets. Just water your lawn or garden with the 10-10-10 liquid and you’re done. No pellets or residue left behind.

10-10-10 Fertilizer Uses

Lawns – grass benefits tremendously from nitrogen. It makes grass produce more foliage which makes a lawn plush and green. You can use 10-10-10 fertilizer on your lawn to green it up and make it grow faster. This is a well balanced fertilizer which will help the grass root and stay healthy. You could use a fertilizer with more nitrogen like 34-0-0 or 42-0-0. These are typical grass or lawn fertilizers. 34-0-0 is typically ammonium nitrate while 42-0-0 is urea fertilizer. These 2 fertilizers have the highest amount of nitrogen.

You can apply 10-10-10 every 4-6 weeks to maintain a healthy, green lawn.

Gardens – 10-10-10 is also a great balanced fertilizer for vegetable and flower gardens too. It will help plants grow healthy leaves, roots, flowers and fruit. It’s a great “all around” fertilizer. You can apply it every 4-6 weeks. Spread 10-10-10 pellets/granules on top of the soil or mix it in with the soil and then water as usual. Do not over fertilize in hopes of making everything grow faster.

Shrubs and Trees – 10-10-10 is also a great fertilizer for shrubs and trees. It will provide vital nutrients for growth and overall health. Just add about 2 – 2 1/2 cups per 4 feet of shrub and 2-4 cups per fruit tree monthly during the growing season.

When to Apply 10-10-10 Fertilizer

It is recommended to apply fertilizer when plants need it the most like sprouting and growing and fruit or flower production. You can apply it before you plant or after planting seeds. It will provide vital nutrients for young and growing plants. Vegetables will need extra nutrients when producing fruit also. Fertilize when flowers appear and after about every 4 weeks.

Do not fertilize during dry spells or droughts. Water is needed in order to make fertilizer available to roots.

How Often to Apply 10-10-10

Synthetic fertilizers rapidly release its nutrients in a short period of time unlike organic fertilizers such as compost or worm castings. Usually all of the nutrients are used up after 3-4 weeks. It’s a good idea to fertilize every 4 weeks. Always apply strictly as directed. Too much can harm plants. I like to under-fertilizer most of the time. I prefer to play it safe with non-organic fertilizers.

In a flower bed, you can apply 1 cup per 25 square feet every 3 months. In a vegetable garden, you can apply 1/2 cup per 25 feet every month.

Where to Buy 10-10-10

10-10-10 is very popular and you should be able to find it at your local nursery or home improvement stores. You can also buy it online at Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot and Amazon.

10-10-10 is sold in the solid/pellet form by the pound. It typically sells for about $5-$6/lb. A 5 lb bag will go a long way for vegetable and flower gardens since you will only use a 1/2 to 1 cup per 25 square feet monthly.

Common 10-10-10 Fertilizers Brands

  • Arizona’s Best 10-10-10
  • Vigoro
  • Southern Ag
  • Green View
  • Bonide
  • Lilly Miller
  • Espoma
  • Jobe’s Organics
  • Dr. Earth