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Nitrogen for Lawns: Ultimate Guide

Lawn care is a big concern for many people. A beautiful lawn can be the most important aspect of a house, and most homeowners spend a lot of time maintaining their yard. Not only does it provide aesthetic value to your property, but there are also health benefits that come with having a green lawn. 

Lawns can help filter pollutants from the air and reduce dust in the home by up to 75%. In addition, they sequester carbon dioxide from the air which helps mitigate climate change.

In order to have an attractive and healthy lawn, you will need to invest some time into its care on a regular basis. You may not know where or how to start with your new leafy friend so this article will guide you through all things related to nitrogen for lawns.


What is Nitrogen?

Nitrogen for Lawns Ultimate Guide

Nitrogen is a needed element for life on earth. It is in almost everything you can think of, from our water to our air and the soil we use for our lawns. With anything, making sure you have enough but not too much nitrogen is key to growing a healthy lawn. 

If you have too much nitrogen in your yard, it will impede it from growing. Too much nitrogen can also harm your plants and lawn by making it toxic for them.

You may notice bald spots, yellowing, and more weeds if you have too little nitrogen. Those signs indicate your grass is possibly in desperate need of more nitrogen. 

Nitrogen is considered one of the most essential nutrients for a lawn to grow as it creates specific proteins to help the cells of your plants and grass thrive. 

Nitrogen aids plants and lawns with their metabolic process. If there is not enough nitrogen for your lawn and plants, it will hinder their ability to grow new foliage or regrow after disease. 

Nitrogen is needed for plants to feed themselves; the good thing is that it's everywhere. Nitrogen is found in our atmosphere and throughout our soils and drinking water.

Nitrogen will be used in your lawn's regrowth, health, food, and every process it goes through.

Benefits that Nitrogen for Lawns

Benefits that Nitrogen for Lawns

Nitrogen is the key ingredient to a healthy lawn. With it being so important, it has plenty of benefits to back up its importance. Nitrogen encourages and promotes healthy leaf and plant growth through chlorophyll production. 

Chlorophyll is the green color you see in your grass and plants. It also is what helps plants create food through photosynthesis. Without nitrogen, you'd have no chlorophyll, and with no chlorophyll, you have no plants or grass.

Nitrogen also helps your lawn recover faster and easier from disease. It helps to grow the blades of grass straighter and stronger. Chlorophyll provides your grass with that lush, beautiful green look.

What is NPK?

What is NPK?

The best way to help your lawn succeed is to know precisely what you're using on it. When choosing fertilizers, there are numbers on the front of the bottle or bag you pick; those numbers are the NPK. NPK stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. 

Those three ingredients are the needed ingredients for a healthy lawn. Whether liquid-based or granular-based fertilizer, there are three bold numbers with dashes on the label. 

Those numbers are the fertilizer grade. There can be either below-grade or high-grade fertilizers based on these numbers.

The first number is the amount of nitrogen, the second number is the amount of phosphorus, and the third is the amount of potassium. This will help determine how much nitrogen you're getting out of your fertilizer. 

An example of how these numbers can look is 30-20-10. These numbers would mean there is 30% nitrogen, 20% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. You want to look for the best balance of the three that will suit your lawn's needs.

Types of Nitrogen for Lawns

With so many fertilizers on the market, picking the best one for your lawn can seem like quite the task. A lot of fertilizers are made with different source materials.

With lots of sources of nitrogen to be had, there are many organic and inorganic substances.

Types of Nitrogen for Lawns

Inorganic Nitrogen Sources

Inorganic Nitrogen fertilizers come from mineral sources that are high in nitrate levels. Some of the options of an inorganic source include:

  • Potassium Nitrate
  • Ammonium Sulfate
  • Calcium Nitrate

Generally, these fertilizers with nitrogen sources in them are water dissolving. Since the soil will absorb them much faster due to them being water-soluble, there is an excellent chance of burning your grass. There has to be a proper ratio of slow to fast release of nitrogen to prevent burning the grass. 

Generally, using an organic-based fertilizer is a much healthier option for your lawn and environment. Nitrates will be absorbed extremely quickly to show results faster.

Usually, homeowners are advised not to use these kinds of fertilizers. With the risk of burning the grass and being less healthy towards the environment, they are not the first choice.

There are two different kinds of organic fertilizers to choose from, so reading labels is good to avoid a mix-up. The first kind is a natural organic fertilizer, whereas the second is a synthetic organic fertilizer.

When trying to decide which is best for your lawn, doing your research and looking at its pros and cons will be beneficial to figure out which is best for your lawn’s needs.

Natural Organic Nitrogen Options

Organic fertilizer relies on microorganisms in the soil to break down the nutrients. It is typical for this type of fertilizer to have less nitrogen within it, generally 10% or under.

With the materials for this fertilizer being naturally and organically sourced, it is a much healthier option for your grass.

The best time to use a natural organic fertilizer is in the warmer months or when there is lots of rainfall to help break down and water the fertilizer. Some organic options to choose from include:

Organic fertilizers, as they are suitable for the environment, can be very messy and are often avoided more commonly now. It can be tiring, dirty, and in some cases inefficient to their needs.

The process of using and applying the fertilizer is the most common reason people are no longer as interested in going organic.

Although if used correctly and with other products to work with the fertilizer, the organic way can have fantastic results. Organic can give your soil the boost it needs to produce the grass you desire.

Organics should not be dismissed but researched on how to get the most out of them as they are very useful and beneficial to the environment. 

See our review and buying guide on the best organic fertilizers you can get online

Synthetic Organic Nitrogen Options

As with natural options, there are also synthetic options for your fertilizer. However, with the synthetics, they are chemically based while only having some organic materials within.

While having the organics allows them to be classified under organics. Some options to choose from if you're thinking of synthetic options include:

  • Urea
  • Sulfur-Coated Urea
  • Urea-Triazine

Urea is the leading ingredient in synthetic organic fertilizers that contain nitrogen. Urea is most commonly found in liquid-based fertilizer sprays.

However, different variations include slow and quick-release nitrogen fertilizers. There are plenty of options to choose from in the synthetic side of fertilizers that will be both effective and safe.

The purpose of this specific type of fertilizer is to give more nitrogen to your lawn than a fully organic fertilizer could. There are plenty of variations made with synthetic fertilizers to aid in the quick or slow release of nitrogen in your yard.

How to Tell if Your Lawn is Low on Nitrogen

Sign of lawn low in nitrogen

There are many signs your lawn will show when it lacks nitrogen and how you can help it before it gets too far. Ensuring that you know the signs of low nitrogen will help your lawn immensely.

Things to look out for include:

  • If your lawn looks like it’s thinning
  • The disease keeps coming back 
  • Yellowing patches of grass
  • Complete dead spots in your lawn
  • Excessive weed growth

If your lawn lacks nitrogen, it will debilitate your grasses root system and any plants you may have as their root system will be affected. If this occurs, your grass blades will noticeably turn yellow or even white. The thinning of your lawn is also a very noticeable and significant sign that it needs more nitrogen. 

A huge sign shows that there are significantly fewer clippings to be found after you cut your lawn. Looking at your other vegetation can also help you decide the quality of your soil.

Lack of nitrogen will cause bushes and shrubs to grow improperly and leaves of plants to hang low and become yellow.

Growing new plants will also be much more complicated as, without proper amounts of nitrogen, the root system of the plants cannot support themselves or grow properly.

How to Tell if Your Lawn has Too Much Nitrogen

This is not usually a problem for lawn owners unless they have applied too much fertilizer with quick-release nitrogen. If you have overapplied fertilization, then you'll know pretty quickly the harmful effects of doing so. 

With too much nitrogen present, your grass will be burned. Excess amounts of nitrogen singes the plant tissue. You'll begin to notice large amounts of dead patches on your lawn not long after fertilization.

Too much nitrogen can have seriously damaging effects on your lawn. At this point, it is good to consider a slow-release nitrogen-based fertilizer instead of a quick-release-based nitrogen fertilizer in case of an accidental over-fertilization. 

Reading and following all instructions on your fertilizer will help prevent an overage or underage of nitrogen.

Quick-Release vs Slow-release Nitrogen-Based Fertilizers

Quick Release Nitrogen-Based Fertilizers

Choosing the correct release rate for your lawn is extremely important as you do not want to burn your grass, but you also don't want to see a lack of results. 

Fast releasing fertilizers are designed explicitly for lawns in desperate need of quick results. One benefit of a fast release is that it gives you much quicker results than a slow release. It offers immediate nutrition to severe damage but also risks burning the grass root.

If your grass is struck with a disease, fast-releasing nitrogen soil will help the root grow through the illness and make the blades stronger. As stated before, the rapid growth will also provide a greener look to your lawn and consistent growth.

However, even with the pros of speeding up the process and trying to help your lawn faster, there are cons to using a fast-releasing nitrogen-based fertilizer.

You can end up burning your grass-root from the nitrogen being released too quickly into the soil, which will leave your grass more damaged. 

More fertilization treatments will need to be done as the results will generally only last 2-4 weeks; this will also require your grass to be cut more often.

Slow Release Nitrogen-Based Fertilizers

A slow-release can be a better option as it won’t burn your grass by giving its release time a more steady response. With the slow release, you will be feeding your grass for much longer, which means less fertilization and no need to cut your grass quite as often.

This option also offers your grass a better chance at denser growth, leaving your lawn looking thicker and greener. The slow-release provides results for 6-8 weeks longer than a quick release.

Even with all the good of slow-releasing, there are cons to it, such as that the nutrients aren’t as readily available. This type of fertilizer can be more expensive than the quicker option and can take longer for the green and results to show.

Now You Know the Importance of Nitrogen in Your Lawn

Keep in mind that all lawns are different and need different things is a big part of choosing the right fertilizer. Figuring out what your lawn needs, whether it be a slow-release, fast release, organic or synthetic. Doing your research and asking for help when choosing fertilizer can save you a lot of hassle. 

After reading this article, it should be easier to find out what your lawn needs and how to decide how much nitrogen to be given in the future to achieve your healthy lawn goals.

About the Author Ann Katelyn

I'm Ann Katelyn, Creator and Chief Author of Sumo Gardener. Since I was a child I've always been fascinated with plants and gardens, and as an adult this has developed into my most loved hobby. I have dedicated most of my life to gardening and started Sumo Gardener as a way to express my knowledge about gardening with the hope of helping other people's gardens thrive.

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