17 Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil

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Nitrogen is super important for plants to grow healthy and strong. If you think your soil lacks nitrogen, don’t worry, there are a few things that you can do to fix it.

We are going to explore 17 cheap ways to add nitrogen to soil to make your vegetable garden and garden beds thrive.

There are different types available, so it is best to pick a solution that suits your plants and soil. Each method offers a different way to increase the nitrogen in soil and some will work best for certain types of gardens.

So be sure to read up on all of the cheap ways to add nitrogen to soil before making a choice for your garden.

17 Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil

Understanding the Importance of Nitrogen and Addressing Soil Deficiency

Nitrogen is a vital nutrient that plants require for their growth and development, alongside phosphorus and potassium, also known as NPK.

The NPK ratio is an essential part of healthy plant growth.

When there is a deficiency of nitrogen in the soil, plants often exhibit signs such as stunted growth, yellowing leaves, or even potential loss of otherwise healthy plants.

Recognizing the importance of nitrogen, it becomes necessary to address the issue of nitrogen deficiency in the soil.

By ensuring an adequate supply of nitrogen, plants can thrive and reach their full potential.

As a gardener, understanding the significance of nitrogen and its role in plant health allows you to make informed decisions about maintaining proper nitrogen levels in the soil.

Regular soil testing and observation of plant symptoms can help you identify if nitrogen supplementation is required.

Adding nitrogen to soil can lower the pH due to the acidic nature of nitrogen-based fertilizers, particularly ammonium-based ones.

Ammonium reacts with water, releasing hydrogen ions that decrease soil pH. The type and amount of nitrogen used, as well as the existing soil pH, influence the extent of pH reduction.

To mitigate excessive pH decrease, consider using nitrate-based fertilizers. Also consider applying nitrogen in small doses to avoid adding too much nitrogen, and consulting a soil expert if unsure about proper nitrogen application.

17 Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil

Acid loving Plants 

  • Azaleas
  • Rhododendrons
  • Blueberries
  • Camellias
  • Gardenias
  • Hydrangeas
  • Astilbe
  • Hosta
  • Heather
  • Juniper
  • Mountain laurel

Food bearing Acid Loving Plants

  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Heather
  • Gentian
  • Bearberry
  • Wintergreen
  • Highbush cranberry

Nitrogen Fixing Plants

You can also try planting nitrogen-fixing plants, these plants can serve double purpose in the garden. They’re fun to grow and they are really cool because they can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form for other plants.

Legumes: This awesome plant family includes common beans, soybeans, and lentils. You’ve also got peas, including garden peas and snow peas.

Don’t forget about other leguminous plants like clover and alfalfa!

Vetch: Check out common vetch often called Vicia sativa and hairy vetch also called Vicia villosa. These popular cover crops are nitrogen-fixing champs that can give your soil a boost and they have a fun name.

Lupins: Lupins (Lupinus spp.) are pretty flowering plants that work hard to fix atmospheric nitrogen and make your soil richer than ever.

Senna: Take a look at the Senna genus (Cassia spp.). You’ve got species like Senna alata and Senna occidentalis that know a thing or two about fixing nitrogen.

Alnus: Alder species (Alnus spp.) are real nitrogen-fixing superheroes. They’re often used in reforestation and ecological restoration projects.

Elaeagnus: Keep an eye out for certain species of Elaeagnus, like the Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) and the autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). They’ve got those nitrogen-fixing powers you’re looking for.

Cytisus: Let’s not forget about Cytisus scoparius or Scotch broom. It’s a shrub with bright yellow flowers and the ability to fix nitrogen.

These are just a handful of nitrogen-fixing plants out there.

Adding them to your garden or using them as cover crops can work wonders for your soil fertility and reduce the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. 

Not sure if your soil lacks nitrogen? Get it tested by a soil testing lab or pick up this rapitest kit.

Once you know the results, you can take the right steps to boost nitrogen and make your plants thrive.

For best results, test your soil before using one of these cheap ways to add nitrogen to soil.

17 Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil

Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil Using Compost

Composting: Create a compost pile using nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds.

An easy way to get started composting for the growing season is to pick up one of these composters.

This is not only one of the most effective ways to make sure your soil has enough nitrogen but it is also a great way to use organic matter that would otherwise be wasted. 

What Foods Make the Best Compost?

  • Vegetable scraps like lettuce, cabbage, and carrots can be added to compost piles or used as organic mulch to enrich the soil with nutrients, including nitrogen, promoting healthy plant growth.
  • Fruit peels and cores such as apple peels and citrus peels are great examples of organic methods that help the natural process along. 
  • Coffee grounds are not only a sufficient nitrogen source but they can even help to aerate the ground which is the best way to improve drainage. 
  • Legume residues such as bean plants and peas, including pea vines, can be incorporated into the soil or added to compost piles, effectively contributing nitrogen and organic matter that enhance soil fertility and support the growth of future plants.
  • Soybean meal or soybean hulls can be used as organic amendments in the soil, providing a rich source of nitrogen that aids in promoting plant growth and improving soil fertility.
  • Fish scraps (in moderation) can be utilized in composting or as a soil amendment, contributing valuable nutrients, including nitrogen, which can enhance the nutrient profile of the soil and support optimal plant development.

What Type of Food Should I Not Compost?

Not all foods are going to be an excellent source of nitrogen but it’s still a good idea to add small amounts of a variety of organic material.

For example, although banana peels aren’t nitrogen-rich on their own, they play a crucial role in keeping a good carbon-to-nitrogen ratio in the compost.

They bring important nutrients like potassium and phosphorus, which help balance the overall nutrient levels and give a boost to nitrogen.

By including banana peels in your compost, you enrich its nutrient content, resulting in nutrient-packed humus that’s great for your soil and plants.

On the other hand, it is best to focus on natural ways to address your specific needs if your end goal is to have a good nitrogen source for your garden soil.

While eggshells offer benefits such as calcium and pH adjustment, they have a minimal impact on nitrogen content.

This means that prioritizing nitrogen-rich materials in your compost pile will deliver the best results for boosting nitrogen levels but everything plays an important role.

When composting, it’s important to steer clear of certain foods. Protein-rich items like meat, fish, and bones can attract pests and cause unpleasant smells.

Dairy products such as cheese, milk, butter, and yogurt will cause foul odors and invite pests into your garden. Oily, greasy foods and processed items with artificial additives disrupt decomposition and may harm plants.

So it is best to steer clear of these types of food in your compost bin.

17 Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil

Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil Using Manure

Manure is a great nitrogen source for soil. When added to the soil, it decomposes and releases nitrogen in the form of ammonium ions. Soil bacteria convert these ions into nitrates, which plants can easily absorb.

This process, called mineralization, boosts soil nitrogen levels, supporting plant growth.

Additionally, manure improves soil structure, water retention, and overall fertility, making it a valuable amendment for enhancing nitrogen levels in the soil.

Apply well-aged animal manure, to enrich the soil with nitrogen.

What is the Best Manure to Use in a Garden?

Cow manure: Cow manure is easily accessible and packed with nitrogen. You can find it at dairy farms or purchase composted cow manure at some garden supply stores.

Horse manure: Horse manure is another nitrogen-rich option that you can often get from stables, local farms, and some garden centers.

Chicken manure: Chicken manure is highly concentrated in nitrogen and can greatly enhance soil fertility. Just make sure to compost or age it before using it to avoid burning your plants.

Sheep manure: Sheep manure provides a good dose of nitrogen and essential nutrients, making it beneficial for improving soil fertility and supporting plant growth.

Pig manure: Pig manure contains high nitrogen levels and organic matter, making it ideal for enriching the soil. Remember to compost it before applying it to healthy soil.

Rabbit manure: Rabbit manure is renowned as one of the best natural fertilizers due to its abundant nitrogen content. You can add it directly to the soil or use it as a composting ingredient.

Keep in mind that fresh manure should be composted or aged before use to prevent any harm to your plants and allow the nutrients to become more readily available.

Additionally, consider the specific nutritional requirements of your plants and adjust the application rates accordingly.

You may not be able to pick up every type of manure at your hardware store so the easiest way to get your hands on animal waste is to join local farming groups in your area.

This could potentially give you the connections you need to get your hands on organic fertilizer and have one of the best cheap ways to add nitrogen to soil at your disposal.

How to Make Soil More Alkaline

Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil With Cover Cropping

Cover cropping is an effective technique to improve nitrogen levels in the soil.

As the cover crops grow and break down, they form a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that release nitrogen into the soil, enhancing its nutrient content.

This natural process not only replenishes nitrogen but also promotes soil health, controls weeds, and prevents soil erosion.

Integrating cover crops into your gardening or farming practices is a sustainable and successful approach to enhancing nitrogen and lending itself to the creation of fertile soil.  

Crimson clover: This legume cover crop is a nitrogen-fixing powerhouse that also adds organic matter to the soil, promoting soil fertility.

Hairy vetch: Hairy vetch is another nitrogen-fixing cover crop that does double duty by suppressing weeds and improving soil structure.

Fava beans: Fava beans, or broad beans, are excellent nitrogen-fixing cover crops that can improve soil nitrogen content and overall soil health.

Red clover: Red clover is a nitrogen-fixing cover crop that also attracts beneficial insects, which is a win-win for both the soil and plant ecosystem.

Winter peas: Winter peas are a leguminous cover crop that are adept at nitrogen fixation and can withstand cold temperatures, making them a good choice for fall or winter cover cropping.

Cowpeas: Cowpeas (black-eyed peas) are a versatile nitrogen-fixing cover crop that can thrive in warm climates. They add nitrogen to the soil and can be grown in a variety of conditions.

Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil Using Feather Meal

Feather meal, made from poultry feathers, is an affordable nitrogen fertilizer option.

Feather Meal 13-0-0: This feather meal product is a great source of nitrogen for a wide range of plants and crops. It contains around 13% nitrogen, which is a good amount for most plants.

Organic Feather Meal: This feather meal is made from organic poultry feathers, so it’s a certified organic option for nitrogen fertilizer. It’s a great choice for gardeners who want to use organic products.

Slow-Release Feather Meal: This feather meal is formulated specifically for slow-release nitrogen release. This means that it will release nitrogen slowly over time, which is better for the plants and the environment.

Feather Meal Pellets: These compacted pellets made from feather meal are convenient to use and they also serve as a slow-release nitrogen source. They’re a great option for gardeners who want a hands-off way to fertilize their plants.

High-Nitrogen Feather Meal: This feather meal product is designed for plants with specific nitrogen requirements. It contains a higher percentage of nitrogen than other types of feather meal, so it’s a good choice for plants that need a lot of nitrogen.

Feather meal can be easily found in garden centers, agricultural stores, and online retailers. When you’re choosing a feather meal, be sure to check the product label or description for detailed information on nitrogen content and application instructions.

watering garden plants

Improve Low Nitrogen Levels with Fish Emulsion 

This concentrated fertilizer is a fantastic way to give your plants a nitrogen boost naturally.

It’s derived from fish waste, making it an organic and eco-friendly choice. You can easily find fish emulsion at most garden centers.

How to Use: To use fish emulsion, simply mix 2-3 tablespoons of the fertilizer with 1 gallon of water. Once mixed, you can pour the solution onto the soil or spray it directly onto the leaves of your plants.

Fish Water: If you have a fish tank, you are well on your way to improving the health of your plants. You can use the fish tank water! The water contains nitrogen-rich fish waste that can provide your plants with essential nutrients.

Here are some additional tips for using fish emulsion and fish water:

  • Apply fish emulsion or fish water once a week throughout the growing season.
  • Follow the dilution instructions on the label to ensure proper application.
  • It’s best to avoid using fish emulsion or fish water on young or stressed plants.
  • Using fish emulsion or fish water can help nourish your plants with nitrogen, promoting healthy growth and vibrant foliage.

More Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil

Grass clippings are a great way to use something that would otherwise just be discarded with your garden waste. But during the early Summer, this is plentiful so why not put it to good use?

As with other plant material and plant matter leftover from green plants, grass clippings can be added to your compost pile or used as a mulch around your plants to provide valuable nutrients, retain moisture, and suppress weeds. 

Spread freshly cut grass clippings as a mulch around plants to add nitrogen gradually as they decompose. 

17 Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil

Cheap Ways to Add Nitrogen to Soil Using Urine

Adding urine to soil can be a beneficial and cost-effective way to increase oxygen levels and provide essential nutrients for your plants. This may come as a surprise to some and not even considered an option for others but don’t knock it until you try it.

Urine contains various components such as amino acids and nitrogen, making it a natural and nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

Plus, it can be easily sourced and it doesn’t get any more organic or locally grown than that, amirite?

Unlike chemical fertilizers, urine is a highly sustainable and eco-friendly option that helps support the nitrogen cycle and reduce dependence on synthetic fertilizers, which is a great thing in my opinion.

Don’t go peeing on your plants just yet, there is a method to this madness that you need to know about.

To use urine as a homemade nitrogen fertilizer, it’s important to dilute it with water to avoid burning your plants. A recommended ratio is 10 parts water to 1 part urine.

You can collect urine in a separate container and use it to water your vegetable plants or apply it directly to the soil around the plants.

Remember to apply urine in a thin layer to prevent over-application.

Diluted urine can be applied to the soil across your garden, covering several square feet.

If you’re concerned about potential odors or have acidic soils, consider adding amendments such as compost tea, bone meal, or alfalfa meal to balance the pH levels and provide additional nutrients.

Sandy soils may benefit from the use of slow-release fertilizers or incorporating green manure cover crops, such as legume seeds, to improve soil structure and nitrogen content.

Before adding urine or any fertilizers, it’s recommended to perform a soil test using a soil testing kit to determine the nutrient levels and pH of your soil.

This will help you make informed decisions about the type and amount of fertilizer needed for your specific soil conditions.

While urine can be a quick fix for adequate nitrogen, it’s important to note that it should be used in conjunction with other fertilizers and organic matter to create a well-balanced soil environment.

Utilizing homemade fertilizers and incorporating organic materials like compost, egg shells, and manure tea can further enhance soil fertility and promote healthy plant growth.

If you prefer using commercial fertilizers, look for those with a high first number on the label, indicating a nitrogen-rich composition. Additionally, consider using slow-release fertilizers to provide a steady supply of nutrients over time, reducing the risk of nutrient leaching.

Remember, when using any type of fertilizer, including urine, it’s essential to follow proper application rates and guidelines to prevent nutrient imbalances or potential harm to plants.

Boost Soil Nitrogen Levels with Blood Meal: A Natural Fertilizer Solution

Use blood meal, a dry powder made from animal blood, as a nitrogen-rich soil amendment.

Here’s how you can apply blood meal to the soil:

  1. Check the instructions: Take a look at the package instructions or consult a gardening resource to find out the recommended amount of blood meal for your specific plants and soil conditions.
  2. Prepare the soil: Get the soil ready by removing any weeds or debris from the area where you want to apply the blood meal.
  3. Wear gloves: To keep your hands protected and minimize direct contact, it’s a good idea to wear gloves when handling dry, granular blood meal for your garden.
  4. Spread the blood meal: Sprinkle the blood meal evenly over the soil surface, around the base of your plants, or in the area you want to treat. You can use your hands, a small scoop, or a gardening tool to spread it around.
  5. Incorporate into the soil: Once you’ve applied the blood meal, gently work it into the top layer of soil using a rake or a garden fork. This will help make sure that the nutrients are spread out and absorbed properly.
  6. Water the area: After working the blood meal into the soil, give the area a thorough watering. This will help the nutrients from the blood meal break down and become available to the plants.
  7. Reapply as needed: Depending on what your plants need, you may have to reapply blood meal at different times throughout the growing season. Check the instructions for guidance on how often to apply it.

Please also keep these safety tips in mind whenever working with blood meal in your garden.

  • Always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer and be careful when using blood meal.
  • Avoid using too much, as excessive nitrogen can be harmful to plants.
  • Keep in mind that blood meal might attract pests and animals due to its nitrogen content, so take precautions to protect yourself as well as your plants and garden.

Boost Soil Nitrogen with Worm Castings

Did you know that worm castings, also known as vermicompost, can work wonders for your soil?

These incredible natural soil amendments are like gold for your plants, providing a hefty boost of nitrogen.

Here’s why you should totally give worm castings a shot:

High Nitrogen Content: Worm castings are bursting with nitrogen, which happens to be one of those must-have nutrients for your plants. By adding these castings to your soil, you’re giving your plants a sustainable and organic source of nitrogen to feast on.

Nutrient-Rich Goodness: Nitrogen isn’t the only superstar in worm castings. They also come packed with other essential nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients. It’s like a complete buffet for your plants, ensuring they get a well-rounded diet for robust growth.

Soil Structure Superheroes: Prepare to have some seriously happy soil! Worm castings do wonders for soil structure, improving its ability to hold onto moisture and nutrients. The result? A crumbly, well-aerated soil texture that helps your plant’s roots reach oxygen and water with ease.

Microbial Magic: Guess what? There’s a whole party of beneficial microbes in worm castings, and they’re all about creating a thriving soil ecosystem. These little guys break down organic matter even further, releasing extra nutrients and creating a healthy environment that your plants will adore.

Versatile Vibes: Worm castings can be used in so many cool ways. You can mix them right into the soil when you’re planting, sprinkle them as a top dressing around existing plants, or get creative and whip up a nutrient-rich tea by steeping them in water. It’s like giving your plants a spa day!

Planet-Friendly Feeding: Here’s a bonus perk: worm castings are totally safe for everyone. Yep, kids, pets, and wildlife can hang out without any worries. These castings are free from harmful chemicals or synthetic additives, making them an eco-friendly choice for your sustainable gardening adventures.

Just a few things to keep in mind when using worm castings:

Follow the instructions: Use the recommended amount of worm castings and mix them into the soil as directed. Those instructions are there to help you get the best results.

Keep the goodness flowing: For a steady supply of nutrients, make sure to apply worm castings regularly throughout the growing season. Your plants will appreciate the consistent TLC.

Store with care: Treat your worm castings right by storing them in a cool and dry place. You want to maintain their quality and avoid any unwanted moisture or mold situations.

By harnessing the magic of worm castings, you’ll give your plants the nourishment they need, amp up your soil fertility, and create a garden ecosystem that’s bursting with life.

So go ahead, give it a go, and watch your plants thrive!

This article by the USDA shares how to set up a worm composting system in your yard.

using tea for garden soil

Boost Soil Nitrogen Naturally with Tea

Tea is not just a soothing beverage; it can also be an effective organic solution to increase nitrogen levels in your soil.

By creating compost tea, you can harness the power of organic matter and beneficial microorganisms to enrich your sandy soil with this essential nutrient.

Here’s how tea can be a game-changer for your garden:

Nutrient-Rich Brew: Compost tea, can be purchased online or at your local garden store. I usually buy this Compost Tea after a friend recommended it. Honestly, I wasn’t a believer until I watched this stuff work its magic.

My plants were in shock from a recent transplant and a poor soil combo, so I added this exact compost tea to every pot and garden bed in my yard and within days my garden was thriving!

You could also make your own by steeping compost or vermicompost in water, creating a nutrient-rich brew for your plants. This homemade fertilizer is a natural source of nitrogen, promoting healthy plant growth and development.

Nitrogen-Boosting Ingredients: To supercharge the nitrogen content in your compost tea, consider adding nitrogen-rich components such as grass clippings or a small amount of ammonium nitrate.

These additions will provide an extra kick of nitrogen to your tea, ensuring your plants receive the nourishment they need.

Beneficial Microorganisms: Compost tea is teeming with beneficial microorganisms that work wonders in your soil. These microbes break down organic matter, releasing nitrogen and other essential nutrients that can be easily absorbed by plants. They also enhance soil fertility and improve nutrient availability over time.

Soil Sampling: Before using tea or any fertilizer, it’s crucial to conduct a soil sample to assess its nutrient content accurately. This will guide you in determining the appropriate application rate and frequency of tea or other commercial fertilizers.

Application Methods: Apply your homemade compost tea to your garden using various methods depending on your square footage. For sandy soil, it’s advisable to water the area thoroughly to ensure proper distribution and absorption of nutrients. You can use a watering can or a hose-end sprayer for larger areas.

Commercial Fertilizers: If making your own compost tea feels overwhelming, you can explore a commercial slow-release fertilizer designed specifically to boost nitrogen levels. These commercial fertilizers offer convenience and a controlled release of nutrients, ensuring your plants receive a steady supply of nitrogen over time.

NPK Ratio

When it comes to choosing a plant fertilizer, keep an eye out for those with a hefty first number in the NPK ratio.

This important ratio is usually shown on the fertilizer package, resembling numbers such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20.

Remember, when using tea or any other fertilizer, it’s essential to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer and use chemical fertilizers responsibly.

Additionally, consider incorporating organic matter into your sandy soil to improve its structure and water-holding capacity.

So, why rely on chemical fertilizer or a commercial fertilizer when you can naturally enhance nitrogen levels in your sandy soil with homemade compost tea?

Give it a try and witness the remarkable difference it can make for your plants. Say goodbye to nutrient deficiencies and hello to thriving, nitrogen-rich gardens after you use these cheap ways to add nitrogen to soil.

What to Do for Acidic Soil

Is your soil too acidic? Learn How to Make Soil More Alkaline with these 8 Easy Ways to Raise pH.

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