Is Nitrogen Organic Or Inorganic – A Deeper Look

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Last Updated on October 26, 2022

Is nitrogen organic or inorganic, and in what form is it available? Does compost or commercial inorganic fertilizers matter?

Nitrogen is one of the most difficult nutrients to manage in crop production. Compost is known to contribute substantial nitrogen for crops.  However, it is challenging to synchronize its release from these materials as the plant demands.

Careful management of organic nitrogen fertilizer is required to meet most crop requirements and avoid undesirable losses to the environment. We will therefore look at these two types of compounds and their uses.

Is Nitrogen Organic Cause Inorganic – What Is Organic Nitrogen?

Organic nitrogen can be described as nitrogen atoms that occur in organic compounds. Organic nitrogen is common in soils in the form of organic matter. This includes residues of decomposing anemometer plants and humus.

These organic compounds contain nitrogen that incorporates into the organic matter during soil development. The organic matter in the soil depends on the temperature trends and long-term moisture contents.

For example, cultivation decreases organic matter content in the soil due to the oxidation of these organic compounds. This leads to reducing the organic nitrogen for crop intake.

Organic nitrogen plays an integral part in crop production and soil nitrogen cycling.

What Is Inorganic Nitrogen?

Inorganic nitrogen is the nitrogen atoms that occur in the inorganic compounds. Inorganic compounds do not contain hydrogen and carbon as essential components like organic compounds. Many other chemical elements make up the inorganic compounds.

For example, nitrates and ammonium dominate the inorganic fraction of the soil.  These are the primary form that plants can take for their needs. The other forms of inorganic nitrogen in the soil are nitrites and nitrogen gas.

The Differences Between Organic And Inorganic Nitrogen

The significant difference between organic and inorganic nitrogen is that the inorganic forms of nitrogen occur in inorganic compounds, and organic nitrogen occurs in organic compounds.

Organic nitrogen includes proteins, amino acids, nucleotides, and nitrogen bonds to residues animal matter and decomposing plant material.

Inorganic nitrogen contains inorganic compounds nitrates, nitrites, ammonium, and nitrogen gas.

Organic Sources

Animal manure

Waste from grass-eating animals is an excellent nitrogen source once it is well composted. Raw manure can burn your plants because the nitrogen is more volatile. Composting at a high temperature for an extended period could generate enough heat that kills weeds seeds available in the manure.


Compost manure contains all of the nutrients food for healthy plants. Although the exact required dosage depends on the material composted, this includes nitrogen. Compost manure is one of the best to improve and enrich the soil.

Green manure

Cover crops like peas, clovers, alfalfa, and other legumes are best in absorbing nitrogen from the air and releasing it into the soil. When you grow these cover crops in your garden, they improve your soil by the fact they are growing in it. Green cover crops at the end of the growing season provide you with a double dose of nutrients and natural compost. When the plant is in crop rotation in your vegetable garden, be sure to include the green manure over to the crop rotation.

Soybean meal

This is similar to cottonseed meal and is a slow-release source of nitrogen that comes from ground soybeans.

Blood meal

Blood meal comes from the waste of slaughterhouses. It is an essential source of nitrogen that burns your plant if over-applied. Do not apply blood meal to young seedlings, burning them to death.  However, as it is water-soluble you can mix it with water or apply it through the irrigation system.

Cottonseed meal

The best organic nitrogen source is slightly acidic but provides nitrogen in a slow-release form.

Feather meal

Chicken feather meal is specifically dried and formed into pellets that make it easy to use as granular fertilizer. Feather meal has an average release rate that helps the small break down proteins to make nitrogen available for the plant’s roots.

Inorganic Sources

Ammonium sulfate

Ammonium sulfate is a soluble, readily available source of nitrogen and sulfur. It contains 21% nitrogen and 24% sulfur in its dry form. This fertilizer is suitable as a top dresser because it has a lower nitrogen volatilization risk than the surface-applied urea.

Ammonium nitrate

Ammonium nitrate is an odorless compound with 33 to 34% of nitrogen. This fertilizer can be applied on the surface or mixed into the soil. It contains ammonium that lowers the pH of the soil in case it’s too acidic. The ammonium and nitrate result in a reduced risk of volatilization compared to urea. The nitrate provides a direct source of nitrogen since it contains ammonium.


Urea is a highly soluble dry matter that you can use as a starter top-dress or broadcast. You can also use fertilizer mixes, either dry or liquid. This fertilizer has high levels of nitrogen to at least 45 to 46%. If you apply urea on the surface, you must mix it into the soil by tillage, watering, or rainfall.

Urea ammonium nitrate

Urea ammonium nitrate is a soluble readily available nitrogen source with about 20 to 32% of nitrogen. It can be applied as a starter or broadcasted into already growing plants. When used, the UNA should be incorporated into the soil to avoid the volatilization of the area available in this fertilizer.

Anhydrous ammonia

This compound has the highest percentage of nitrogen of all the fertilizers. It contains 82% nitrogen and tends to be the cheapest nitrogen source ever. The best fertilizer is a high-pressure liquid that you can apply before or after seeding as long as you will not allow direct seed contact. Store Anhydrous ammonia under high pressure in specifically well-maintained equipment or facility well protected for safety reasons.

Potassium nitrate

It is also known as nitric acid and is considered a specialty fertilizer. It is either a white powder or colorless transparent crystal containing 40% nitrogen and 46% potassium. This fertilizer does not lower the pH of your soil.

Diammonium phosphate

DAP is a dry fertilizer that contains at least 18% nitrogen and 46% phosphates. After mixing into the soil, it releases free ammonia that may cause seed injury. To prevent such damage to your seed, limit band applications.

Monoammonium phosphate

This fertilizer contains readily available nitrogen sources at 11%,  phosphate at 52%, and sulfur at 1.5%. It is a dry, granular material applied alone or blended with other compounds such as potash. You can either broadcast, band use, or place it in the seed furrow. MAP is an excellent starter fertilizer that lowers the soil pH.

Chilean nitrate

Chilean nitrate is useful in organic and conventional farming estimated by the USDA/NOP in 2003. It has 16% nitrate and sodium.


What is the difference between organic and inorganic nitrogen?

There is a big difference between organic and inorganic nitrogen. Inorganic nitrogen is found in soil. Organic nitrogen is found in living organisms and their waste products. Plants take inorganic nitrogen from soil, then use it to produce amino acids that make up proteins and nucleic acids. Organic nitrogen also comes from dead plant and animal matter that decomposes in the soil.

In some areas of the country, you will find a great deal of organic matter. The organic matter makes a great environment for the microorganisms that decompose the organic material into nitrates and other nutrients that can be taken up by plants. In other areas of the country, there is not much organic matter. This is why fertilizer companies add synthetic nitrogen fertilizers to the soil. They are inexpensive and easy to apply. A good rule of thumb is that if you want your plants to grow fast, you should use more synthetic nitrogen fertilizers than organic nitrogen fertilizers. However, if you want your plants to have more leaves, then you should use more organic nitrogen fertilizers.

Can you use either on a lawn?

If you have a lawn, you can fertilize it with both organic and inorganic fertilizer. You can fertilize your lawn with inorganic nitrogen by adding manure or commercial fertilizer to the soil. You can fertilize your lawn with organic nitrogen by adding composted manure, food scraps, or other organic material to the soil. How do you know if your lawn needs more nitrogen? There are several ways to check the health of your lawn. The first thing to look for is healthy green grass. If your lawn has a lot of brown grass, your lawn may be low on nitrogen. To test the pH of your lawn, use a pH meter.

What is nitrogen good for in plants?

Nitrogen is an essential component of proteins, DNA, and chlorophyll, and is therefore necessary for plant growth. Most soils contain varying amounts of nitrogen, but many areas of the country lack sufficient levels of nitrogen to support plant growth. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa, as well as turf grasses, trees, and shrubs. Plants take up nitrogen from the air and from the soil in which they grow. Inorganic nitrogen is the chemical form of nitrogen that plants can use. Nitrogen applied to soil can be in the form of nitrate (NO3-) or ammonium (NH4+).

How is nitrogen prepared?

Nitrogen can be found in the atmosphere as nitrogen gas (N2. and nitrogen in aqueous solution as nitrate ions (NO3−) or nitrite ions (NO2−). Nitrogen that is present in the atmosphere is present in its elemental form. It is converted to an aqueous solution of nitrate or nitrite ions by bacteria, algae, fungi, and plants.


inorganic forms of nitrogen

So is nitrogen organic or inorganic? Nitrogen is available in both organic and inorganic matter. Depending on your kind of gardening – organic or conventional,  it is your choice to go for the nitrogen you want. It is also essential to know the amount of nitrogen your plants are getting from a particular fertilizer.

Read more about Adding Nitrogen Supplements For Plants.

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