You can’t beat saving some green while greening your plants. Free fertilizer while you sleep. I’m talking about those wonderful overnight April thunderstorms where the next day everything outside seems greener. It’s not a “fig-leaf” of your imagination. Lightning provides the kick in the “plants” to the spring landscape. Nitrogen plays a critical role in photosynthesis and plant growth. We are surrounded by nitrogen in our atmosphere, but plants must secure their nitrogen in a “fixed” form. This can be done synthetically by the homeowner picking up a bag of fertilizer at the garden center. It can be done biologically through decay or micro-organisms and bacteria in the soil in association with nitrogen fixing plants or legumes like clover.
It can also be done in an abiotic or atmospheric way via a good lightning storm. Air has nitrogen gas but it is inert and can’t be used by the plants until lightning converts unusable nitrogen into fixed nitrogen. Super charged lightning ionizes the air and the nitrogen oxides are carried by the rain as usable form of greening power. That faint ammonia like odor in the air after lightning is the atmospheric “hotline” answering nature’s call for more greening power in the form of “fixed” nitrogen. Plants can receive and use the greening power of nitrogen as nitrate ions, ammonia or urea. Even though atmospheric nitrogen generated by lightning may produce only 5 to 10 percent of a plant’s nitrogen needs, it is a dramatic way to light up the landscape in green after a spring storm!