Nitrogen and Topsoil

Nitrogen is the most important element for plant development. It is required in large amounts and must be added to your topsoil to avoid any deficiency. Nitrogen is a key part of chlorophyll, the green pigment of the plant that is responsible for photosynthesis. While Nitrogen helps plants with rapid growth in turn increasing seed and fruit production it also improves the quality of leaf and forage. Nitrogen often comes from fertilizer application and from the air. Nitrogen is a part of all living cells and is a necessary part of all proteins, enzymes and metabolic processes involved in the synthesis and transfer of energy. Although nitrogen is the most abundant element in the earths atmosphere, plants can’t use it until it is naturally processed in the soil, or added as fertilizer.

Many people believe that lightning makes grass and other plant life green and healthier. Lightning has mystified and frightened people since the dawn of time. Over time people has developed stories, theories, and myths about lightning. In Greek Mythology – Zeus, the god of sky and thunder also known as the “king of the gods” wielded a thunderbolt. In Native American Culture the “Thunderbird” was responsible for thunder and lightning. It was said that when the Thunderbird winked its eyes, flashes of lightning would burst from them and when lightning peeled the bark from a tree, it was taken as a sign of the Thunderbird’s razor sharp talons. In Norse mythology, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, strength, and the protection of mankind.

However, lightning does produce a form of nitrogen called Nitrogen Oxide which is essential for plant growth and health. Basically the after effect of lightning is the combination of oxygen and nitrogen which forms Nitrogen Oxide. Nitrogen Oxide is a key ingredient in fertilizers. However, lightning does not produce enough Nitrogen Oxide to make a big difference. When lightning forms Nitrogen Oxide is is blown miles away, and could days even weeks for the Nitrogen Oxide to soak into the ground. If your plants seem greener after a thunderstorm, it is most likely due to the extra water and quick return of sunshine.

Organic Sources

Organic or naturally occurring nitrogen is the by-product of microorganisms breaking down organic matter. The process is a slow and extended release with no danger of leaching. Organic fertilizers have a very low burn potential so there is no risk of plant injury from over application. Using organic sources of nitrogen builds a healthy soil rather than only feeding the plant.

  • manures and guano
  • activated sewer sludge (Milorganite)
  • other natural products like compost teas, and fish meal

Inorganic Sources

Inorganic nitrogen comes from mineral sources and is bound to other chemical combinations. It is water soluble, allowing it to be immediately available to the plant upon watering in. Using inorganic nitrogen allows for quick results, but also has a very high burn potential if over applied. Nitrates also leach through the soil rapidly and unused amounts can contaminate groundwater, so there is a substantial risk in using inorganic nitrogen

  • calcium nitrate
  • ammonium sulfate
  • ammonium nitrate

Synthetic Sources

Synthetic nitrogen is primarily in the form of urea or urea solutions. Alone, urea has quick release properties but it can be processed and combined with other materials to be slow release. A coating is applied to the urea, allowing for a slow release based on the thickness of the coating, temperature, and soil moisture.

Many fertilizers will contain a blend of nitrogen sources for both quick green up, and an extended, slow release feeding. The ratio, or percentage, of each nitrogen source is located on the label.

  • Sulfur coated urea
  • Resin coated urea
  • Isobutylidene diurea (IBDU)

Nitrogen Excess and Deficiency

An excess of nitrogen, caused by over application of fertilizers, can result in rapid, lush growth. However over application can also cause a diminished root system that can poorly effect the long term health of your plants. In extreme cases too much quick release nitrogen will cause burning of leaf tissue and even plant death. Nitrogen deficiency will cause the loss of green pigment and plants will begin to turn yellow.

Environmental Impact

There is allot of controversy over inorganic and synthetic nitrogen usage. Over application leads to groundwater contamination through leaching and run off. The considerable consumption of fossil fuels in the manufacturing and processing of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers is also cause for concern. It is definitely more eco-friendly to just stick with organic sources of nitrogen. If you do use synthetic and/or inorganic sources of nitrogen, be sure to not over do it. Read the label and follow the directions exactly as indicated.

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