Knowledge From Olle Garden Bed: Learn How Lightning Interacts With Plants

There is no doubt that thunderstorms will disrupt our gardening plans for the day. The light show of nature may suddenly appear, making our garden too wet and humid to do many outdoor chores. While these storms do bring welcome rainfall, you may not be aware of another benefit of thunderstorms. The nitrogen produced by lightning is beneficial to plants. The following content also has some reference value for raised garden beds.

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How Lightning Helps Plants

You may be surprised to find that up to 16 million thunderstorms form around our planet every year. These storms produce about 44 lightning strokes per second. Lightning transforms nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that can be used for plant life.

Looking back on your school days, you may know that the Earth's atmosphere is made up of 78% nitrogen. This gas consists of two strongly bonded nitrogen atoms. Except for a few microorganisms, this nitrogen can hardly be used for plant life.

This is where the lightning appears. Each bolt of lightning can dissipate about 108 joules of energy. This is equivalent to the electricity used by a medium-sized house in three to six days.

However, a flash of lightning lasts only about one billionth of a second. This produces an energy burst strong enough to break the bonds that hold nitrogen (N2) molecules together. So every time a lightning strikes, nitrogen atoms are released. This process is called lightning nitrogen fixation.

Make nitrogen available to plants

When nitrogen molecules are split by lightning, they quickly combine with oxygen atoms in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide. This water-soluble compound dissolves in raindrops to form nitric acid and reaches the ground in the form of nitrate.

The nitrogen atoms split by lightning can also combine with hydrogen to form ammonia. Either way, rainwater containing these compounds will seep into the ground, and nitrogen now exists in a form that plants can use.

As gardeners, we know that nitrogen is an essential nutrient for our plants. If lightning and plants are a beneficial combination, why do we need to add this nutrient when fertilizing crops?

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The simple fact is that lightning provides only a small amount of nitrogen for plant growth. Although scientists estimate that lightning generates 250000 tons of nitrogen globally every year, this is only equivalent to 1 to 50 pounds (454 grams to 23 kilograms) of nitrogen per acre.

In addition, strong storms can produce a lot of rainfall. This pushes nutrients deep into the soil and below the roots of many plants. Runoff from heavy rain will also take away nutrients.

So, when we ask "Is lightning good for plants?" The answer is yes. Since nitrogen is a key component of chlorophyll, you may even notice that your plants become greener after a storm.