Urea is an inexpensive form of nitrogen fertilizer with an NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of 46-0-0. Although urea is naturally produced in humans and animals, synthetic urea is manufactured with anhydrous ammonia. Although urea often offers gardeners the most nitrogen for the lowest price on the market, special steps must be taken when applying urea to the soil to prevent the loss of nitrogen through a chemical reaction.
Urea is made when carbon dioxide is reacted with anhydrous ammonia. This process happens under intense pressure, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Urea is processed to take the form of granules or solid globules known as prills. Dry urea is very soluble and must be kept away from moisture until its use.
How to Use Urea
When urea is placed on the surface of the soil, a chemical reaction takes place that changes the urea to ammonium bicarbonate. The ammonium will convert into a gas, which is then lost if not protected. This means that urea should be mixed in with the soil for maximum effectiveness. This may be done either by broadcasting the urea then plowing it into the soil immediately or by injecting the urea into the soil. This may also be done by broadcasting urea then irrigating heavily to push dissolved urea into the soil.
Advantages of Urea
In general, urea will provide the most nitrogen at the lowest cost. It is easy to store and does not pose as a fire risk for long-term storage. Urea may be mixed with other fertilizers or may be applied on its own. For plants that love acidic soils, urea is one of the top fertilizers for acidifying soils. For gardeners who grow crops like corn, strawberries, blueberries and other heavy nitrogen feeders, urea will supply immediate and powerful applications of nitrogen.
Disadvantages of Urea
As a result of the chemical reaction that takes place when urea is applied to the soil, special care must be taken to ensure that the nitrogen is not lost when the ammonium evaporates. This can make urea impractical for gardeners dealing with large plots of land. The high solubility of urea also makes dry storage conditions imperative.
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