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Do you want to promote healthy plant growth and bountiful harvests in your garden without breaking the bank? If so, you already know that nitrogen is a crucial nutrient for your soil. However, commercial fertilizers can quickly add up in cost.

Nitrogen is a vital nutrient that plants need for healthy growth, and it’s often the most deficient nutrient in soil. While you could go out and buy expensive nitrogen-rich fertilizers, there are plenty of cheap and easy ways to add nitrogen to your soil.

In this article, we’ll share 10 budget-friendly methods that will help you give your plants the nitrogen boost they need to thrive.

Why Nitrogen is Important for Plant Growth

Nitrogen is a key component of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins in plants. Without adequate nitrogen, plants can become stunted and weak.

Nitrogen also plays a crucial role in photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy. Chlorophyll, the molecule that gives plants their green color, contains nitrogen.

Signs of Nitrogen Deficiency in Plants

If your plants are not getting enough nitrogen, you may notice some telltale signs. Yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and poor fruit or flower production are all signs of nitrogen deficiency. In some cases, plants may also develop a reddish or purple tint.

Plants Need Nitrogen: The Role of Nitrogen in Soil Health

Nitrogen is a primary nutrient that plants need to grow, but it is not always readily available in soil. That’s where fertilizers come in.

Fertilizers are products that contain nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential for plant growth.

The three numbers on a bag of fertilizer represent the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the product, respectively.

Maintaining the right pH level in your soil is also important for ensuring that plants can access the nutrients they need. Nitrogen is most readily available to plants when soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.5. Other nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium are also important for plant growth and should be present in the soil in the right amounts.

In addition to fertilizers, cover crops and organic matter can help improve soil health and promote nitrogen availability. Earthworms and bacteria also play a role in breaking down organic matter and releasing nitrogen into the soil.

Some plants, like those in the legume family, are nitrogen-fixing plants, which means they have the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use.

By understanding the role of nitrogen in soil health and taking steps to maintain healthy soil, you can ensure that your plants have the nutrients they need to thrive.

10 Cheap Ways To Add Nitrogen To Soil

If you’re looking for cheap and organic ways to add nitrogen to your soil, there are plenty of natural sources you can use. Here are some of the most effective and accessible options:


Composting is a great way to recycle organic waste and create a nutrient-rich soil amendment. When you compost, you’re essentially creating a microbial ecosystem that breaks down organic matter into a rich, dark, and crumbly compost that’s perfect for your garden.

Composting can take a few months to a year, depending on the method you use and the materials you add, but it’s well worth the effort.

Using Animal Waste

Animal waste, such as manure, feather meal, and guano, is a fantastic source of nitrogen for your soil. However, it’s important to use it properly, as it can be quite potent and may burn your plants if applied in excess.

Mix it with other organic matter, such as leaves or straw, and let it age for a few months before using it in your garden.

Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen and other nutrients, and they’re easy to come by if you’re a coffee drinker.

You can sprinkle them directly on your soil, add them to your compost pile, or use them to make a liquid fertilizer. Some plants like strawberries love coffee grounds.

Coffee grounds are acidic and can lower the pH of soil if too much is added or if not mixed properly with other materials like compost or mulch. Therefore, it is best to add small amounts and monitor the pH of the soil regularly.


Eggshells are another great source of calcium and nitrogen for your soil. Crush them up and add them to your compost pile, or sprinkle them directly on your soil.

They’ll break down slowly over time, releasing their nutrients as they decompose.

It’s important to note that eggshells are not a complete fertilizer and should be used in conjunction with other sources of nutrients. In addition, while they do contain small amounts of nitrogen, they are not a primary source of this nutrient and should not be relied on solely for nitrogen fertilization.

When using eggshells, you should know about their potential to attract pests like rodents or raccoons. To prevent this, it’s best to bury the crushed eggshells in the soil or add them to a compost pile rather than leaving them on top of the soil.

Banana Peels

Banana peels are a surprising source of potassium and other nutrients, and they’re a great addition to your compost pile.

When using banana peels as a fertilizer, it’s important to keep a few considerations in mind. First, it’s best to chop or grind the banana peels before adding them to your soil. This will help to speed up the decomposition process and make the nutrients more accessible to your plants.

Also, it’s important to use banana peels in moderation and as part of a balanced fertilization program. While they do contain nitrogen, they are not a complete fertilizer and should be used in conjunction with other sources of nutrients like phosphorus and potassium.

Be aware that banana peels may attract pests like fruit flies, so it’s important to bury them deeply or cover them with soil or mulch to prevent this from happening.

Fish Emulsion

Fish emulsion is a liquid fertilizer made from fish waste and is an excellent source of nitrogen. It’s easy to use and can be applied directly to your soil or added to your compost pile.

One of the advantages of using fish emulsion as a fertilizer is that it is a fast-acting source of nitrogen, allowing your plants to quickly absorb the nutrients they need for healthy growth. Additionally, fish emulsion is easy to apply and can be used on a variety of plants, including vegetables, fruits, herbs, and ornamentals.

Use the right amount and follow the application instructions carefully. Fish emulsion is highly concentrated, so it’s important to dilute it with water before using it on your plants. A general rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon of fish emulsion per gallon of water.

Be aware that fish emulsion has a strong odor that may not appeal to everyone. While this odor will dissipate over time, it’s important to avoid using fish emulsion near outdoor living spaces or areas where the smell may be bothersome.

Use fish emulsion in moderation. While it is a great source of nitrogen, too much nitrogen can actually harm your plants and cause leaf burn or other negative effects. For best results, use fish emulsion as part of a balanced fertilization program that includes other nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium.

Blood Meal

Blood meal is a natural product that’s a popular source of nitrogen for garden soil. It is made from the dried, powdered blood of animals such as cattle, pigs, and poultry.

It’s important to use blood meal with care. Excessive use may harm your plants, as too much nitrogen can cause leaf burn or even kill them. When using blood meal on your soil, it’s important to spread it carefully and evenly near each transplant or seedling, working it into the soil without disturbing its structure.

This will help ensure that the nitrogen is slowly released over a period of 2 to 6 weeks, giving your plants the nutrients they need without overwhelming them.

Feather Meal

Feather meal is considered a slow-release fertilizer, meaning that it will slowly release nitrogen into the soil over time. This makes it a great option for long-term plant growth and helps to prevent the risk of burning your plants with too much nitrogen all at once.

When applying feather meal to your soil, you’ll want to work it into the top few inches of soil around each plant, being sure to avoid getting it on the leaves or stems.

Feather meal may take a bit longer to break down and become available to your plants than other types of fertilizers, so it’s important to be patient and wait for the full effect to take place before adding more.

One thing to keep in mind when using feather meal is that it is relatively low in phosphorus and potassium compared to other fertilizers. This means that you may need to supplement with additional nutrients if your soil is lacking in these areas.

Green Manure

Green manure is a crop that is grown specifically to be tilled back into the soil as organic matter to improve soil fertility and health. The practice of green manuring involves planting crops like clover, alfalfa, or winter wheat, which are then allowed to grow and mature before being tilled under and left to decompose in the soil.

There are several benefits to using green manure in your garden. One of the most significant benefits is that it helps to increase the organic matter content of your soil, which can lead to better soil structure, improved water retention, and increased microbial activity.

Additionally, green manure can help to suppress weeds, reduce erosion, and cycle nutrients back into the soil, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

It’s important to choose the right crop for your soil conditions and climate. Different green manure crops will do better in different types of soil, so do your research and choose a crop that will thrive in your conditions.

Second, it’s important to plant your green manure crop during the appropriate season and allow it to mature fully before tilling it back into the soil.

Green manure is not a quick fix; it takes time for the crop to decompose and for the nutrients to become available to your plants.

Human Urine

Believe it or not, human urine is a great source of nitrogen! It’s completely safe to use as a fertilizer as long as it’s diluted with water (one part urine to ten parts water).

Dilute the urine with water before applying it to your soil. Generally, a 10:1 water to urine ratio is recommended to prevent the risk of burning your plants or introducing excessive salts into the soil. This will also help to reduce the strong odor that can come along with using pure urine.

Use fresh urine rather than stored urine, as urine breaks down quickly and loses its nitrogen content over time. That being said, it’s important to avoid using urine from individuals who are taking medications or who have medical conditions, as this can affect the nutrient content and may introduce unwanted chemicals into the soil.

Be sure to wash your hands before and after using the restroom and avoid getting urine on yourself or your clothing. Additionally, avoid using urine near outdoor living spaces or areas where children or pets may play to prevent the risk of contamination.

How to Choose the Right Fertilizer

When choosing a fertilizer for nitrogen, it’s important to consider the needs of your plants and the current state of your soil. If your soil is already high in nitrogen, you may not need a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content.

On the other hand, if your plants are showing signs of nitrogen deficiency, you may need a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content.

You should also consider the release rate of the fertilizer. Water-soluble fertilizers release nitrogen quickly, while dry fertilizers release nitrogen more slowly.

If you want a quick boost of nitrogen, a water-soluble fertilizer may be the best option. If you want a longer-lasting source of nitrogen, a dry fertilizer may be a better choice.

How to Apply Fertilizer

When applying fertilizer, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Over-fertilizing can damage your plants and harm the environment. Generally, you should apply fertilizer evenly over the soil and water it well.

You should also avoid fertilizing during hot, dry weather, as this can burn your plants.

Remember, before you add any of these natural fertilizers to your soil, it’s important to test your soil first. A soil test will tell you what nutrients your soil is lacking and help you determine which fertilizer is best for your needs.

Additionally, be sure to follow the instructions on the package carefully and avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to diseases, yellow leaves, and other problems in your plants.

By incorporating these natural fertilizers into your gardening routine, you can help ensure that your plants have the nutrients they need to thrive and produce healthy fruits and vegetables.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much nitrogen do plants need?

Plants need varying amounts of nitrogen depending on their growth stage and the type of plant. Generally, nitrogen is required in larger quantities during the vegetative growth phase, and less during the flowering and fruiting stages. For example, leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach require more nitrogen than fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.

Can too much nitrogen harm plants?

Yes, too much nitrogen can harm plants. Excessive nitrogen can lead to a buildup of nitrates, which can be toxic to plants and reduce their ability to absorb other essential nutrients. Additionally, an excess of nitrogen can cause plants to grow too quickly, leading to weak stems and an increased susceptibility to pests and diseases.

How often should I add nitrogen to my soil?

The frequency of nitrogen applications depends on the type of fertilizer you are using and the needs of your plants. Synthetic fertilizers typically require more frequent applications than organic fertilizers. As a general rule, aim to fertilize your plants with nitrogen every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. However, it is important to monitor your plants for signs of nutrient deficiencies or excesses and adjust your fertilization schedule accordingly.

When adding nitrogen to your soil, it is important to consider the pH level of your soil. Nitrogen is most readily available to plants when the soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is too acidic or alkaline, it can affect the availability of nitrogen and other nutrients. You can adjust the pH of your soil by adding lime to increase alkalinity or sulfur to increase acidity.

In addition to fertilizers, there are several other ways to add nitrogen to your soil, including cover crops, organic matter, earthworms, and nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes. By incorporating these methods into your gardening practices, you can ensure your plants have access to the nutrients they need to thrive.

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