The Best Nitrogen Fixing Plants to Grow in your Permaculture Garden or Food Forest

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.

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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:

  1. Adding composted manure to the soil.
  2. Planting a green manure crop, such as borage.
  3. Planting nitrogen fixing plants
  4. Adding coffee grounds to the soil.

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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.

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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

Acacia
Alder
Autumn olive
Bayberry
Black Locust
California mountain mahogany
Cape Broom
Carob
Cherry silverberry
Chinese Yellow Wood
Chinese licorice
Evergreen laburnum
Golden chain tree
Inga tree (tropical)
Japanese Pagoda
Kakabeak
Kentucky Coffee Bean
Kowhai
Laburnum trees
Locust tree
Mesquite trees
New Jersey Tea
Persian silk tree
Purple Coral Pea Shrub
Redbud/judas tree
Russian Olive
Seaberry
Siberian Pea Shrub
Silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei)
Silverthorn/thorny olive
Silver wattle
Tagasaste
Tamarind (tropical)

Nitrogen fixing cover crops / green manures

Alfalfa (perennial)
Asparagus pea
Bean, Fava/Bell
Bean, Hyacinth
Bean, Jack
Bean, Velvet
Birds Trefoil (perennial)
Clover, Arrowleaf
Clover, Balansa
Clover, Berseem
Clover, Crimson
Clover, Mammoth Red (perennial)
Clover, New Zealand White (perennial)
Clover, Red (perennial)
Clover, Subterranean
Clover, Sweet (perennial)
Clover, White (perennial)
Cowpea
Lespedeza, Annual
Lespedeza, Serciea (perennial)
Medics
Pea, Field
Pea, Winter
Peanut, Perennial (perennial)
Soybeans
Sun Hemp
Velvet Bean
Vetch, Bigflower
Vetch, Chickling
Vetch, Common
Vetch, Hairy

Nitrogen fixing flowers

Bladder Senna
Californian lilac
Chinese wisteria
Dyers greenweed
Earthnut pea
Glandular senna
Indigo (all Indigofera genus)
Lupins
Purple Coral Pea Shrub
Spring pea
Tree lupin
Wisteria, American
Wisteria, Japanese
Wisteria, Kentucky

Nitrogen fixing edible food plants / vegetables

Ahipa
Beans, Bush
Beans, Garbanzo
Beans, All Others (black, anasazi, lima, kidney, etc.)
Beans, Snap
Beans, String
Breadroot (Prairie Turnip)
Chickpea
Jicama
Lentils
Peanut (Groundnut)
Peas, Green
Peas, Snap
Peas, Snow
Peas, Sweet

Nitrogen fixing herbs

Honeybush
Licorice, American
Licorice, European
Rooibos

Nitrogen fixing vines

Bean, Scarlet Runner
Bean, Wild Groundnut
Groundnut, Fortune’s
Groundnut, Price’s
Hog Peanut
Kudzu (Japanese arrowroot)
Pea, Beach
Pea, Butterfly
Pea, Earth-Nut
Peas, Vining Garden Peas
Vetch, American
Vetch, Bitter
Vetch, Tufted
Vetch, Wood
Wisteria, American
Wisteria, Japanese
Wisteria, Kentucky

Don’t forget to grab your pdf list of nitrogen fixing plants here.

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Do you want to grow an amazing garden? check out this big list of nitrogen fixing plants for your garden #piwakawakavalley #permaculture #foodforest #gardenplanning #growingfood #orchard #foodforest #growfoodnotlawns

3 thoughts on “The Best Nitrogen Fixing Plants to Grow in your Permaculture Garden or Food Forest”

  1. OK, you have more than piqued my interest! It would be so useful to know the zones in which each category of plants grows best.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for the list, nice work! However, a suggestion: it would be even more useful if you included scientific names, so that people in other countries and speaking other languages are able to make use of it. In general, it is better to write about plants with their scientific names included.

    Reply

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