The Dirt on Nitrogen Deficiency & Naturally Feeding Your Plants

Updated: Sep 6

Are your plant leaves experiencing chlorosis and turning a pale green or yellow color? Are you witnessing poor plant growth with reduced flowering and fruiting? This is often a result of nitrogen deficiency, which results in less photosynthesis occurring in the plant. Symptoms of nitrogen deficiency in plants are typically first seen in older leaves toward the bottom of a plant since the lower leaves transport available nitrogen to their younger plant leaves where new growth occurs.



In order to thrive and maintain healthy growth, plants require a copious supply of macronutrients such as nitrogen. However, if organic matter with high carbon content of soil is added to soil, plants will not receive sufficient supplies of nitrogen. Nitrogen deficiency is a common issue with herbaceous fast growing plants and vegetables.


Homemade Plant & Soil Food

Here are some natural, homemade ways to feed your plants and soil, ensuring they are receiving enough nitrogen:


1. Coffee grounds are a rich source of nitrogen. Coffee grounds are often added to compost piles, however, another way to reuse your coffee grounds is as an organic fertilizer to increase nitrogen in your plants. Besides nitrogen, coffee grounds also increase levels of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper in your soil. By adding coffee grounds directly onto your soil, this will improve draining, water retention, and soil aeration. In addition, used coffee grounds help keep some pests away while attracting earthworms, positively affecting microorganisms which enhance plant growth. Used coffee grounds will not affect the acidity of the soil since they have a neutral pH of 6.5. Although using coffee grounds as a fertilizer takes a while to break down in soil and release nitrogen, this is an environmentally friendly way to address nitrogen deficiency.


2. Animal manure is another organic option to add to soil when plants are experiencing nitrogen deficiency. Animal manure is especially beneficial as a fertilizer for green, leafy plants. When using manure for fertilizer, horse, cow, and chicken manure are the best options, whereas using cat or dog manure often carry parasites and are therefore unsuitable for gardens. It is recommended to mix horse, cow, or chicken manure with your compost bed prior to adding to soil. This ensures that the manure will not burn plants when added to soil.


3. Fish emulsion is a source of nitrogen for your plants. Fish manure also adds other nutrients like magnesium, calcium, sulfur, chlorine, and sodium. If you have a fish tank, when changing the water, save the nutrient-rich old water and pour it directly into your soil. Make sure to only use fish emulsion as a fertilizer if you do not add fish antibiotics or medicines to your fish tank since this will kill your plants.

4. Epsom Salt is nitrogen-rich, plus contains high levels of magnesium and sulfur, all of which benefit plant growth. Magnesium increases plants ability to intake other important nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in addition to creating more chlorophyll. Magnesium also helps plants to produce flowers and fruit. Sulfur is vital to helping plants absorb nutrients from soil. Overall, adding epsom salt to soil improves plant flowering, fruiting, brightens a plant’s green color, and ensures healthy foliage.


5. Plant beans or leaves act as effective fertilizers to add nitrogen to plants. This can be done by spreading beans or leaves on soil and then allow them to naturally decompose. This is an easy way to tackle nitrogen deficiency issues, however, this process may take some time.


6. Compost acts as a great fertilizer to add nitrogen to your plants. Plant-based food scraps such as stale bread, tea leaves, corn cobs, nut shells, veggie scraps, banana peels, and other fruit peels enrich soil with nutrients, especially nitrogen. This acts as both a natural way to fertilize plants and an eco-friendly way to decrease your waste by reusing food scraps. Learn more about composting in our blogs on Connecting with Plants During Covid-19 and Don’t Be Trashy, Reuse Your Scraps.


Nitrogen is an important element to add to soil for plant health and growth. There are clearly several natural ways to increase the amount of nitrogen plants receive when nitrogen deficiency is stunting your plant growth.