This post was most recently updated on April 26th, 2020
Nitrogen is one of the most important elements in growing a productive, successful garden. Without enough nitrogen, plant will struggle and die.
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Below I have compiled the best nitrogen fixing plants list just for you! These are the best nitrogen fixing plants for you to grow in your vegetable garden rotations, permaculture garden or food forest settings.
What are Nitrogen Fixing Plants?
Nitrogen fixing plants are plants that work with bacteria in the soil to capture the atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to bioavailable nitrates that the plants can use to grow.
Nitrogen fixing plants are great to use as a cover crop or green manure in the vegetable garden, or as a chop-and-drop addition to food forest areas.
Benefits of increasing nitrogen in the soil
The benefits of having more nitrogen rich organic matter in the soil include:
- higher general productivity
- richer and more diverse soil life
- more available phosphorus
- higher availability of various other nutrients
- higher capacity to hold nutrients
How can I add nitrogen to my soil naturally?
Some organic methods of adding nitrogen to the soil include:
- Adding composted manure to the soil.
- Planting a green manure crop, such as borage.
- Planting nitrogen fixing plants
- Adding coffee grounds to the soil.
What type of plants fix nitrogen?
Generally speaking, legumes are what you are after if you want to fix nitrogen in to the soil. There are other nitrogen fixing plants, but not all of other families of other plants are nitrogen fixers. So if in doubt, plant a legume! Otherwise there is quite a substantial list of nitrogen fixing plants below.
How do plants fix nitrogen?
Nitrogen fixing plants don’t actually pull nitrogen from the air on their own. They need help from a common bacteria called Rhizobium. The bacteria infects legume plants such as peas and beans and uses the plant to help it draw nitrogen from the air. You can see the little rhizomes on the plants roots, they look like little nodules.
There are two other bacteria that work with non-legume plants to help fix bacteria as well, these are the Frankia (works with the Actinorhizal plants) and the cyanobacteria.
What are the best nitrogen fixing plants?
The most commonly used nitrogen fixers are clover, beans, peas and lupins. This is because they are easy to obtain, the grow fast and tolerate most climates.
There are however, many many other plants that fix nitrogen in the soil. These range from cover crops, to herbs, to flowers to whole trees!
The best Nitrogen Fixing Plants to grow in your Permaculture Garden or Food Forest
Here are the best nitrogen fixing plants for your garden or food forest, they are split in to plant types, then listed alphabetically. Click here for a downloadable PDF version.
Nitrogen fixing trees
California mountain mahogany
Chinese Yellow Wood
Golden chain tree
Inga tree (tropical)
Kentucky Coffee Bean
New Jersey Tea
Persian silk tree
Purple Coral Pea Shrub
Siberian Pea Shrub
Silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei)
Nitrogen fixing cover crops / green manures
Birds Trefoil (perennial)
Clover, Mammoth Red (perennial)
Clover, New Zealand White (perennial)
Clover, Red (perennial)
Clover, Sweet (perennial)
Clover, White (perennial)
Lespedeza, Serciea (perennial)
Peanut, Perennial (perennial)
Nitrogen fixing flowers
Indigo (all Indigofera genus)
Purple Coral Pea Shrub
Nitrogen fixing edible food plants / vegetables
Beans, All Others (black, anasazi, lima, kidney, etc.)
Breadroot (Prairie Turnip)
Nitrogen fixing herbs
Nitrogen fixing vines
Bean, Scarlet Runner
Bean, Wild Groundnut
Kudzu (Japanese arrowroot)
Peas, Vining Garden Peas
Don’t forget to grab your pdf list of nitrogen fixing plants here.
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