9 Things That Add Nitrogen To Soil

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for the healthy growth and development of nearly every plant type. Especially in fast-growing plants like grass, nitrogen-rich soil is a must. To best support your landscape, garden, or lawn, what are some things you can add to your soil to increase nitrogen content?

Ten ways to add nitrogen to your soil are:

  1. Mix coffee grounds with the soil.
  2. Add banana peels to soil or make banana peel water.
  3. Sprinkle wood ash on the soil.
  4. Water your soil with fish tank water.
  5. Make your own organic compost.
  6. Pour blood meal onto your soil.
  7. Incorporate animal waste into the soil.
  8. Apply store-bought fertilizer.
  9. Use grass clippings or leaves as mulch.

This article will explore all of the different materials you can use to increase the nitrogen content of your soil. Read on to learn what you can use to support your nitrogen-loving plants and create a robust, flourishing outdoor space. 

1. Mix Coffee Grounds With the Soil

Coffee grounds are naturally high in nitrogen and are a readily available resource. Because you probably already have coffee grounds in your home, this is a super convenient material for increasing the amount of nitrogen in your garden or lawn. 

After you finish your morning pot of coffee, don’t throw away the used grounds! Store them in a Tupperware or paper bag, easily accessible for when you need to boost nitrogen levels in your soil. 

If you are not a coffee drinker, don’t fret! Most coffee shops will happily give you their used coffee grounds for free or for a very minimal fee. Ask around, and you might be surprised how easily you are able to obtain plenty of grounds for your soil.

When applying coffee grounds to the soil, you will want to sprinkle it on top and then use your hands or a small rake to combine the grounds and the soil. Coffee grounds do their best work when they are mixed in well, rather than sitting on the surface, so you’ll want to work them in about 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) deep

2. Add Banana Peels to Soil or Make Banana Peel Water

Banana peels are another excellent option for boosting nitrogen nutrients in the soil. The peel of bananas contains high amounts of nitrogen that can easily be absorbed by the earth when combined.

There are two different ways to combine the nutrients from banana peels and your soil:

  • Make banana peel water.
  • Add banana peels directly to your soil.

Both approaches are effective in delivering extra nitrogen to the soil. You may find that you prefer one method over the other, depending on your unique garden set-up and the plants that are being tended to. 

Making Banana Peel Water

To make banana peel water, you will need to:

  1. Wash the banana peels well to remove any undesirable contaminants.
  2. Cut the peels up into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces.
  3. Put the banana peels into a large jar.
  4. Fill the jar the rest of the way with room temperature water.
  5. Secure the jar’s lid.

Once the peels and water are combined and the lid replaced, you will need to place the jar outside for 5-7 days as it “steeps,” much like tea. Your jar should be placed in a location that will be reasonably warm and has sufficient sun exposure. As it steeps, the nutrients from the peels will be released into the water, creating a nitrogen-rich superfood for your soil!

After the steeping period has ended, remove the lid and use the liquid solution to water your plants and soil. As the mixture soaks into the soil, the nutrients absorbed from the banana peels (especially nitrogen!) will be released into the soil, supporting your plants and creating a nutrient-rich soil atmosphere. 

Adding Banana Peels Directly to Your Soil

You can choose a much simpler route if you’d rather not spend days playing the waiting game with banana peel water.

Banana peels can be chopped up into 2-3 inch (5-8 cm) pieces and mixed directly in with the soil of your garden space! These peels will begin to break down and decompose over time, releasing nitrogen and other essential nutrients directly into the soil.

It should be noted, however, that banana peels can sometimes be rather attractive for small critters like squirrels and chipmunks. If you have a pest problem or just do not want to take the risk of attracting small furry friends with whole banana peels, you might want to consider the liquid banana peel fertilizer option instead.  

3. Sprinkle Wood Ash on the Soil

Wood ash is a fantastic source of nitrogen! With its high level of acidity and nitrogen-rich make-up, wood ash makes a wonderful fertilizer for any soil in need of a nitrogen boost. 

Wood ash is another convenient option, as it can usually be found in any home that contains a wood-burning fireplace or an exterior fire pit. If you intend to reuse your wood ash, be sure that its composition does not include any potential contaminants. 

Wood ash should always be made from clean, dry, untreated wood. Additionally, you should never add things like newspaper, recycling, paper plates, etc., to a fire from which you intend to collect wood ash. These types of additives can cause harmful effects on your soil and the plants growing within it. 

To apply wood ash, you should sprinkle a thin, even layer over the top of the soil. The wood ash should cover the entire area you wish to supply nitrogen to.

Because wood ash releases lye and salts when it gets wet, you should keep an eye on the weather forecast before applying this helpful resource to your garden. Choosing a clear, wind-free day will provide you with the best results. 

4. Water Your Soil With Fish Tank Water

You might be surprised to learn that there are other uses for your used fish tank water! Next time you clean out your goldfish’s tank, instead of pouring the water down the drain, set it aside in a sealed container to apply to your garden soil! 

Fish tank water has copious amounts of fish manure, which is very high in nitrogen, as well as a number of other soil-nourishing nutrients. You can use this water to water your plants, and as it soaks into the soil, it will deliver nitrogen and other benefits to the roots of your plants.

Keep in mind that fish tank water should only be used when the fish is healthy and has not been introduced to any type of medication or antibiotics. Additionally, if the water has been treated with any kind of chemical substance, it should not be used to water your plants. 

Additives like chemicals, medicines, and antibiotics can cause serious problems or even death when it comes to your plants, so unless Mr. Fish has a clean bill of health, go ahead and dump that fish tank water and be done with it. 

5. Make Your Own Organic Compost

Organic compost is one of the best ways to provide consistent, regular nutrients to your garden or lawn soil. You can make your own organic compost at home by building a compost heap in a warm, moist area.

Your heap should be somewhat contained and can include animal, food, and yard waste. These organic materials break down over time, creating a warm, nutrient-rich plant food

Compost can be a great way to supply extra nitrogen to your soil. In fact, if you know you have an area of your outdoor space that needs a nitrogen boost, you can manipulate your compost heap to lean into nitrogen-heavy development.

To make sure your compost heap has high levels of nitrogen, be sure to toss in your old banana peels, coffee grounds, and leftover wood ash. All of these materials are high in nitrogen and will support the compost heap in creating a nitrogen-heavy compost for spreading in your garden. 

Compost can be worked into the soil, similar to coffee grounds, or it can be layered on top of the soil and act as mulch. While working it deeper into the soil will increase the rate at which the nitrogen and other nutrients are delivered to your soil, using compost as mulch will achieve the same results but at a much slower pace.

To dig even deeper into the world of organic composting and the benefits of using organic compost in your vegetable garden, head over to my other article on organically fertilizing a vegetable garden: How to Organically Fertilize a Vegetable Garden

6. Pour Blood Meal Onto Your Soil

Made up of the powdered, leftover blood of butchered animals, blood meal is a fantastic source of nitrogen for your soil. This material gives a near-instant nitrogen boost and can help lower your soil’s pH level. Acidic plants, in particular, will love the effects of blood meal. 

A blood meal is applied to the surface of the soil and around the base of the plants. Once applied, a blood meal needs to be watered to begin the process of transferring nutrients into the soil.

Because it is made of animal blood, this material does sometimes attract animals. If you want to avoid this potential issue or are simply uncomfortable with using animal blood, you can use alfalfa meal; a vegan alternative to a blood meal.

Blood meal and alfalfa meal are known to typically produce the same fantastic results. However, you will need about twice the amount of alfalfa meal when compared to a blood meal. 

7. Incorporate Animal Waste Into the Soil

Animal waste can be a great way to deliver nitrogen to your soil. Taking care not to use domesticated animal waste (like dogs or cats), waste from farm animals such as rabbits, sheep, cows, ducks, and horses can be very effective. 

To incorporate animal waste into the soil, you’ll need to combine the animal waste with water in a large bucket. Similar to banana peel tea, the nitrogen-rich nutrients from the waste will pour out into the water, creating a fantastic fertilizer solution for your soil.

The solution, which now contains high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and zinc, can be poured onto your soil and plants during the watering time. 

Animal waste can be found by gathering it yourself from your own farm or purchasing it in the home and garden improvement store.

Regardless of which gathering method you choose, you should always wear gloves when handling animal waste and thoroughly wash them with warm water and plenty of soap when you are done. This will help to protect you from any potential illness associated with animal waste. 

8. Apply Store-Bought Fertilizer

Store-bought fertilizer is a pretty easy, straightforward way to increase the amount of nitrogen in your soil. Store-bought fertilizer comes in both organic and synthetic options, both with their own individual pros and cons.

Let’s take a closer look at each nitrogen-boosting option:

Using Organic Fertilizers for Increasing Nitrogen in Soil

Organic, nitrogen-based fertilizers are a great way to improve the quality of your soil without risking the health of your plants with harsh, synthetically produced chemicals. There are so many options out there, but the best ones will be dependent on the particular needs of your garden. 

Using Synthetic Fertilizers for Increasing Nitrogen in Soil

Synthetic fertilizers are extremely popular, especially in agriculture, for their quick results and easy application. These fertilizers are great for quick fixes, working fast and almost immediately remedying any nitrogen deficiencies, but their effects do not usually last nearly as long as organic options do. 

Liquid fertilizer is the fastest-acting fertilizer option available, making it a great choice for fast and easy nitrogen deficiency recovery.

If you choose to use synthetic chemical fertilizer, you should know that you’ll need to either keep up on regularly repeating this fertilizer method or apply a more long-term solution. Long-term solutions can include some of the things mentioned earlier, like organic compost, coffee grounds, or banana peels that take longer to break down, slowly releasing more and more nitrogen into the soil as time passes. 

9. Use Grass Clippings or Leaves as Mulch

Grass clippings and crunchy, fallen leaves have healthy levels of nitrogen. These materials can be used to mulch almost any plant, providing a boost in nutrients and protection from the elements, especially during the cold months.

When raking leaves in the fall season, rather than bagging them up and leaving them for the yard waste pickup, hang on to those leaves, crush them up, and use them as mulch. You can use them on their own or combine them with leftover grass clippings to create a thick, effective mulch for your garden.

Grass clippings and leaves should be applied to your garden in light layers, concentrated around the base of each plant. The high amounts of nitrogen in these materials will slowly release into the soil over time, providing a consistent, healthy dose of nutrient support to your soil. 

Grass clippings and leaves are even more resources that can also be added to your compost heap to create a high-nitrogen compost for fertilizing your garden.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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