Inorganic nitrogen dynamics in fallows and maize on an Oxisol and Alfisol in the highlands of Kenya

A.E. Hartemink, R.J. Buresh, P.M. van Bodegom, A.R. Braun, B. Jama, B.H. Janssen

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27 Citations (Scopus)


Fallows with naturally regenerated or planted vegetation are important in many subsistence agricultural systems of tropical regions, but the underlying soil processes in fallows are not properly understood. We investigated N dynamics under different fallow vegetation on a Kandiudalfic Eutrudox (2372-mm rain in 16 months) and a Kandic Paleustalf (1266-mm rain in 15 months) in the Kenyan highlands. The treatments, which extended for three cropping seasons (15¿16 months), were Zea mays (maize), natural regrowth of vegetation (natural fallow), planted Sesbania sesban (sesbania fallow) and uncultivated soil without vegetation (bare fallow). Inorganic N (nitrate+ammonium-N) to 2-m depth under bare fallow increased by 242 kg N ha¿1 year¿1 on the Oxisol and 54 kg N ha¿1 year¿1 on the Alfisol, indicating that N mineralization exceeded N losses. Subsoil inorganic N (0.5¿2.0 m) remained relatively unchanged after three crops of unfertilized maize, which produced limited total biomass because of P deficiency. Inorganic N decreased during natural and sesbania fallows, and both fallows similarly depleted subsoil inorganic N. The fallows depleted inorganic N at 0.5¿2.0 m by 75¿125 kg N ha¿1 year¿1 down to a minimum N content between 40 and 80 kg N ha¿1. After slashing sesbania and incorporating the above-ground biomass with 154¿164 kg N ha¿1, soil inorganic N increased within 2 months by 136 kg N ha¿1 on the Oxisol and 148 kg N ha¿1 on the Alfisol. Inorganic N decreased after cropping the bare fallow on the Oxisol with maize, indicating that inorganic N was prone to leaching during heavy rains when the maize was small. A considerable part of the N in biomass of the natural fallow was recycled. Much of the total N accumulated by the sesbania fallow was removed with the wood and the amount of N recycled was similar on the Oxisol and Alfisol. We conclude that sesbania fallows can retrieve considerable subsoil inorganic N on deep soils with high subsoil N and effectively cycle this N through its rapidly decomposable biomass to subsequent crops
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-33
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • nitrate
  • soils
  • yield
  • variability
  • systems
  • africa
  • trees


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