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Lawn Clippings (Bill's blog)

Is household ammonia toxic to the soil?

Hi Bill,
The one question I had was the safety of putting ammonia in the soil  and on the plants?  I have stayed away from all chemicals in my small garden so putting on the ammonia solution (from a recipe that Bill uses in a handout) didn't seem right since I always considered it toxic.  Can you explain why ammonia is OK to use for our gardens?
Thanks again.

Thank you for writing!

Short answer;
The microbes in the soil prefer their nitrogen as ammonia (NH4).
Nitrate nitrogen (NO3) is difficult for microbes to use but plants
will use it directly.

Long answer (with biology);
There are microbes in the soil that pull nitrogen from the air
and put it into the soil.  They do this in the form of ammonia.

So, ammonia is naturally occuring.  It's the *amount* that
is important.  Using one or two ounces per gallon of water
mixed with molasses is within the range that soil microbes
are comfortable with.  If we do more than that, it becomes
uncomfortable/toxic to the good guys.

Microbes use nitrogen to make amino acids and proteins
which is their body.

If you are uncomfortable with man-made ammonia then you
can use your urine which contains both ammonia and nitrate
nitrogens.  Too much urine will make plants sick so knowing the
correct amount to use is just as important here as it is with
ammonia from a bottle.  Urine is mixed 4-6 ounces per gallon
of water.  No more than 8 ounces.

For plants, ammonia tells plants to flower and make fruit (seed actually). 
Nitrates tell plants to make leaves.  We need both.

I hope that helps!

Bill Scheffler

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