What Does Nitrogen Do for Lawns?


Nitrogen is one of the “big three” nutrients found in most plant fertilizers. Known by the chemical symbol, N, nitrogen plays a vital role in the health and life cycle of plants, including grass. The amount of nitrogen in the soil can determine the quality and health of grass, which is why it’s important to look for it when purchasing fertilizer. 

Nitrogen fertilizers can come in different amounts: 

  • 10-2-3: This fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen by total weight or volume
  • 10-0-0: This contains nitrogen-only
  • 0-10-10: This is fertilizer without nitrogen

Read on to see how exactly nitrogen fertilizers can be used for lawn care. With any luck, nitrogen fertilizer can be exactly what you need to have a healthy yard around your home.

Function of Nitrogen

Nitrogen serves a number of functions in the soil and lawn. Certain levels are needed for growth, including proteins, DNA, cell divisions, and for chlorophyll. For most plants, chlorophyll is what allows them to experience photosynthesis, which is essential in food production.

To add nitrogen to the lawn, first consider the season. Usually, more nitrogen is added in the spring and early summer. When plants are actively growing, you want to encourage more green growth on the top. Nitrogen is usually not applied in the fall, as it’s more important for the plant to put energy into the roots. When combined with phosphorus and potassium, nitrogen can be even more effective in providing lawns the nutrients they need. 

Another way to combine nitrogen is to create a mix of slow and quick release fertilizer. Quick release can address plants immediately, while slow release helps break it down and become available to plants over time. Using a combination of both also helps save time.  

One of the additional benefits of using nitrogen fertilizer is that it can also hide fairy rings. These are a type of fungus that forms a green ring in the lawn where a deficiency of nutrients exists. Using nitrogen fertilizer helps disguise this by “greening up” the rest of the lawn.

Forms of Nitrogen

There are a few different types of nitrogen used in fertilizer that differ depending on their use.

  • Quick release nitrogen is composed of urea, ammonium nitrate, and ammonium sulfate. It is immediately available, but it must be used with caution, as it can burn the grass.
  • Slow release nitrogen contains ureaform, sulfur-coated urea, activated sewage sludge, IBDU, and water-insoluble nitrogen. Although it takes a while to break down with bacteria in the soil, it won’t burn plants.
  • Grass clippings are another form of nitrogen fertilizer that can be used on lawns. Use a mulching mower to chop up grass clippings and leave them on the lawn. This is a great source of natural nitrogen that allows you to reuse waste.

Things to Watch For in Nitrogen

When using nitrogen fertilizer, there are some things you should watch for. Excess nitrogen can cause a number of problems. Weak growth, susceptibility to pests, as well as disease and fungus, could lead to a destruction of the lawn. Excess nitrogen could also drain and wash out of the soil, causing problems in the waterways by forming algae blooms.

At the same time, nitrogen deficiencies may cause plants to turn yellow, especially as it moves from old leaves, which are at the bottom of the plant, to new leaves at the top. Not having enough nitrogen could also inhibit plants from growing as vigorously, disrupting the growth pattern across the entire lawn and ruining soil quality. 

When Should I Call Lawn Care for Help?

If you’ve read through this and you aren’t sure where to start with fertilization, don’t be overwhelmed. Find out more about our services and how we can help.

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