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What is an Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer?

Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is a potent source of nitrogen, essential for plant growth. It's a synthetic compound that helps crops flourish by providing them with the nutrients they need. However, its use is carefully regulated due to safety concerns. How does this balance between agricultural benefit and safety risks play out? Join the conversation to understand its impact on modern farming.
Gregory Hanson
Gregory Hanson

Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is an industrially-produced chemical fertilizer. It has the chemical formula NH4NO3 and is used primarily to increase the nitrogen content of soil. This type of fertilizer is typically sold in a granular form, although other preparations and combinations are possible. It is usually inexpensive but may be difficult to obtain because it can be used as an ingredient in the creation of improvised explosives and is thus subject to regulation in some areas.

A standard fertilizer is rated with a series of three numbers, which indicate the concentration of the three most vital plant nutrients in the fertilizer. The first number indicates the percentage of the mixture that is nitrogen, the second number, the percentage of phosphorus, and the third number, the percentage of potassium. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer contains a very high percentage of nitrogen and has a rating of 34-0-0, indicating that if a fertilizer contains only ammonium nitrate, it will consist of 34% nitrogen.

Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is commonly sold in granular form.
Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is commonly sold in granular form.

The production of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is a complicated process. Ammonia, one of the key building blocks, is a gas at room temperature, and this gas must be combined with nitric acid in order to produce fertilizer. The end product of this reaction is a solid whitish substance, ammonium nitrate, which is quite stable, safe, and easy to work with. This chemical engineering process, although difficult, can be readily and inexpensively adapted to very large-scale production, meaning that this fertilizer is actually quite inexpensive.

Proper application of ammonium nitrate fertilizer requires an assessment of the qualities of the plants and soil to which it will be applied. Ammonium nitrate can then be applied in sufficient quantities to maintain the nitrogen levels of plants, often grasses or fruit trees, to which it is applied. This fertilizer is inexpensive and safe enough that it can be used in large quantities and over large areas. Typically, plants that have been successfully fertilized with ammonium nitrate will grow more vigorously and show a healthier and greener color, as nitrogen is critical in enabling photosynthesis.

The most significant drawback to ammonium nitrate fertilizer, apart from the relatively complicated process of production, is its occasional use as an improvised explosive. It is one component of a very popular type of home-made explosive, the variety used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. This potential for abuse has led to the regulation of the fertilizer in some regions, despite its widespread use in ranching and agriculture.

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Discussion Comments


My uncle has a fruit orchard, and he used to use ammonium nitrate fertilizer. He had the greenest trees with the biggest, juiciest fruit around.

That was before the government banned the use of the fertilizer in our state. He was devastated, because that was his secret to an awesome crop.

He still grows the fruit trees, but his fruit is just like the kind you get anywhere else now. Sales have suffered since the ban. He still uses a fertilizer with nitrogen in it, but it is such a lower level than before that it doesn't do much to help the size of the fruit.


I grow hydrangeas for a local florist, and I use ammonium nitrate fertilizer. This fertilizer will make the soil more acidic, and I can control how acidic certain areas become by changing the level of fertilizer that I add.

The unique thing about hydrangeas is that you can determine their bloom color by adjusting the soil's pH. Acidic soil yields blue hydrangeas, and soil with low acidity yields pink ones. Soil that is mid-range will yield purple blooms.

Since the florist has a higher demand for blue hydrangeas than other colors, I use a lot of ammonium nitrate. I have a soil test kit that helps me manage the levels, and I re-test the dirt every two weeks so that I know whether or not to add more fertilizer.


@StarJo - Roses are more delicate than you would think. Ammonium nitrate is way too powerful to use on them.

The large amount of nitrogen can't be fully absorbed by the roses. Also, it destroys other healthy nutrients in the soil that the roses need.

While some plants benefit from this kind of fertilizer, others just can't handle its power. You know from experience that roses can be finicky, since you are having trouble getting them to flourish.

You should try a fertilizer made especially for use on roses. That way, you know it's safe and effective.


Is it safe to use ammonium nitrate fertilizer on roses? I can't ever get mine to prosper, and I know I need to add something to the soil. I'm just not sure what it is.

On a vacation to New York recently, I stopped at a rest area with the greenest, healthiest rosebushes I have ever seen. The blooms were huge and plentiful.

Since this type of fertilizer can make things grow faster and look healthier, it sounds like it would be the ideal thing to put on my roses. I just wonder if anyone knows of any reason why I shouldn't do this.

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    • Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is commonly sold in granular form.
      By: singkham
      Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is commonly sold in granular form.