Does Nitrogen Speed Up Composting? Science Explained

While the composting process is not a perfect science, there are certainly ways that we can improve it. There are a few ways we can speed up composting, like turning the pile regularly and ensuring that we add the right materials, but some wonder if nitrogen would help as well. 

Nitrogen helps to speed up the composting process. This is because nitrogen provides proteins to the microorganisms feeding on the materials, allowing them to work faster and more efficiently. 

Let’s discuss how adding nitrogen to your compost pile works to speed up the composting process and how it benefits you. 

Nitrogen Speeds Up the Composting Process

Ensuring that your compost pile has enough nitrogen is vital in creating a healthy environment for composting. There are a couple of different ways that nitrogen can help speed up the composting process. Let’s check them out below:

Nitrogen Feeds the Microorganisms

First, nitrogen adds protein to your composting pile. This protein helps the microorganisms in your compost pile grow and reproduce. With more, stronger microorganisms, your pile will compost a lot faster. 

It is important to remember that microorganisms make the composting process successful. So, the environment you create for them greatly affects how fast and effective they work. 

Nitrogen Adds Heat to the Compost Pile

Another way that nitrogen can help speed up the composting process is by adding heat. Adding materials with nitrogen can help your pile heat properly throughout. 

Any composter knows the importance of taking care of the microorganisms in your pile. Ensure that the microorganisms in the compost pile have enough heat and water to thrive because, without them, your compost would not break down at all. 

Heating up is a natural process that occurs in an active compost pile. Sometimes, it can even go over 160 °F (71 °C), which can be too hot for the microorganisms. In that case, you need to turn your pile to release some heat

When you notice that the pile does not heat up anymore even if there are still visible chunks of composting material, you may need to consider if you have enough nitrogen-rich materials. 

The change in temperature after turning your compost pile can help you determine whether or not your compost is ready.

Having plenty of heat is essential for a healthy compost pile. Not only does it ensure the well-being of the microorganisms as they work, but it also ensures that the unwanted materials die during the process. For example, high temperatures in compost are vital for killing weeds and the seeds that can help spread them. 

Where To Find Nitrogen To Add to Your Compost

There are quite a few materials that are nitrogen enriched that you can add to your compost pile. Without going into detail about every single material that can make a difference, let’s talk about different categories of materials that are rich in nitrogen. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Your kitchen is one of the easiest places to find nitrogen-rich materials to add to your compost. Adding the scraps of fruits and vegetables to your compost pile can ensure that the pile has enough nitrogen to keep the microorganisms healthy and speed up the composting proccess.

The best part about this category is that you don’t have to be picky. You can add any fruit or vegetable scraps to your compost pile without worrying that they may harm your setup. 

Raw, cooked, and whole fruits and vegetables are welcome in your compost pile. Even the peels and the scraps like an apple core can make a valuable addition to your pile. Not only are you ensuring that these vital materials don’t go to waste, but you are also adding nitrogen to your compost. 

Grass Clippings

If you have to mow your own lawn, it can be exhausting, especially in the heat. But there are more benefits to mowing the lawn than just having a polished yard. The resulting grass clippings are a great addition to your compost pile. Now, you have something you can do with that large pile of cut grass. 

Yard clippings tend to be a vast and common material for anyone with a yard. So, why not put it to good use? Freshly cut grass clippings are a great nitrogen source for your compost pile. 

However, there are some things to watch out for when using grass clippings for your compost. So, let’s go over some. 

First, you want to ensure that any grass clippings you add to your compost are fresh. While older grass clippings won’t hurt your pile by any means, they are no longer a good source of nitrogen. 

As you know, the key to composting is to add both green and brown materials. Cut grass becomes a brown material when left too long to dry. So, you will get the most out of fresh cut grass if you are looking for a nitrogen-heavy material to add to the compost. 

Another factor to watch out for is that grass clippings can be very heavy. Because of this, you should be careful how much you add to the top of your pile, as it may prevent the materials under it from getting heat and proper nutrients. So, mix in grass clippings throughout the pile and avoid just tossing them on top. 


Coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen for your compost pile. Additionally, they are very common in almost every household. Coffee grounds may be the answer you need when searching for something simple to add nitrogen to your pile. 

Some people may be hesitant to add coffee to their compost pile because they believe it is highly acidic, but this isn’t true. Coffee grounds become acidic when introduced to water. So, most of the acid in coffee is in what you drink rather than in the grounds. This means that not only is coffee safe for your compost, but it is good for it. 

The most important part about using coffee grounds to add nitrogen to your pile is balance. While the grounds will provide nitrogen, it is also important to ensure that this doesn’t take over your compost pile. To avoid this, make sure you are adding plenty of other items as well. For example, paper coffee filters are a good source of carbon. 


Animal manure is another great source of nitrogen for your compost pile, and people who care for animals can find it pretty easily. Choosing to compost manure rather than dispose of it has many benefits, but there are also downsides. 

Not only does manure provide a good source of nitrogen, but it is easy to come by and allows the nutrients in manure to spread more slowly. This means that when you compost manure, it will slowly leak nutrients into the soil rather than doing it all at once. This makes it last a lot longer and continues to benefit the soil long after you place it. 

Now, we understand that composting manure may not be your first choice. It can smell awful while composting if you use a lot of it. Also, some composters prefer to use different materials in their pile. Using manure isn’t for everyone. However, if you have plenty available and need a good source of nitrogen, then it is a free material that can have plenty of benefits. 

Also, avoid using pet waste, especially if you feed them with processed pet food, as they may contain parasites that can thrive in the compost pile.


Another great source of nitrogen is weeds. Now, you may cringe at just the mention of adding them to your compost pile, but it may be worth considering. Weeds are high in nitrogen and unlikely to spread if you compost them correctly. This means that they must reach a high enough temperature for the seeds to die. 

If you want more detail about handling weeds in your compost, check out my other article, which can help you avoid weeds altogether or handle them properly to avoid spreading: How to Know If Your Compost Is Weed Free

Final Thoughts

Nitrogen speeds up the composting process by providing protein and heat to the microorganisms allowing them to work more efficiently. The composting process is all about balance, and having an adequate nitrogen-carbon balance is essential for a successful compost.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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