Definition - What does Nitrate mean?

Nitrate is a form of nitrogen (N) that is vital to the healthy growth and development of plants. It is found naturally in soil, but can be applied with a commercial fertilizer if the soil does not contain sufficient quantities. However, over application of nitrate can lead to runoff into groundwater sources.

MaximumYield explains Nitrate

Plants require 16 different nutrients in order to survive, grow, and thrive. Calcium, magnesium, boron, and several others are key, but nitrogen is one of the most important. It is used by plants to create amino acids, without which they are unable to make proteins needed for growth. Nitrate is only absorbed through a plant’s roots, and must be dissolved in water for this to occur.

Nitrate deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies for plants, particularly vegetable plants grown in gardens. The main symptom of deficiency is stunted, poor growth. Note that a lack of nitrate does not necessarily lead to yellowing in the leaves. This symptom is more often associated with a lack of magnesium.

There are multiple sources of nitrogen in the environment. Most of it is locked in sedimentary rocks, but there is a great deal in the atmosphere around us. However, living creatures, including both plants and humans, are incapable of turning nitrogen into nitrate for the creation of proteins. For that, we need to rely on bacteria and fungi.

In order for nitrate to be present, the soil must have sufficient biodiversity to support the microflora necessary to convert nitrogen into nitrite (from ammonia). Nitrite is then broken down further by nitrobacteria and transformed into nitrate. The resulting nitrate can then be used by plants.

If there is not enough nitrogen available naturally within the soil of a growing area, it can be added with either organic or commercial fertilizer. For commercial varieties, look at the numbers on the package to determine the ratio (N-P-K) of nitrogen to other nutrients. For instance, 10-10-10 contains an even amount of three nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

It’s also important that nitrogen/nitrate is not be over-applied to the growing area. It must be applied to the surface and allowed to seep into the soil with water; too heavy of an application can cause leaching into ground water, where it can cause problems.

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