Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 85, Issue 2, pp 109–121 | Cite as

Effects of mulch, N fertilizer, and plant density on wheat yield, wheat nitrogen uptake, and residual soil nitrate in a dryland area of China

  • Yajun GaoEmail author
  • Yun Li
  • Jianchang Zhang
  • Wenguo Liu
  • Zhanping Dang
  • Weixian Cao
  • Qin Qiang
Original article


Understanding mulching influences on nitrogen (N) activities in soil is important for developing N management strategies in dryland. A 3 year field experiment was conducted in the Loess Plateau of China to investigate the effects of mulching, N fertilizer application rate and plant density on winter wheat yield, N uptake by wheat and residual soil nitrate in a winter wheat-fallow system. The split plot design included four mulching methods (CK, no mulch; SM, straw mulch; FM, plastic film mulch; CM, combined mulch with plastic film and straw) as main plot treatments. Three N fertilizer rates (N0, 0 kg N ha−1; N120, 120 kg N ha−1; N240, 240 kg N ha−1) were sub-plot treatments and two wheat sowing densities (LD, low density, seeding rate = 180 kg ha−1; HD, high density, seeding rate = 225 kg ha−1) were sub-subplot treatments. The results showed that wheat yield, N uptake, and N use efficiency (NUE) were higher for FM and CM compared to CK. However, soil nitrate-N contents in the 0–200 cm soil profile were also higher for FM and CM compared to CK after the 3 year experiment. Wheat grain yields were higher for SM compared to CK only when high levels of nitrogen or high planting density were applied. Mulching did not have a significant effect on wheat yield, nitrogen uptake and NUE when soil water content at planting was much high. Wheat yield, N uptake, and residual nitrate in 0–200 cm were significantly higher for N240 compared to N120 and N0. Wheat yield and N uptake were also significantly higher for HD compared to LD. When 0 or 120 kg N ha−1 was applied, HD had more residual nitrate than LD while the reverse was true when 240 kg N ha−1 was applied. After 3 years, residual nitrate-N in 0–200 cm soil averaged 170 kg ha−1, which was equivalent to ~40% of the total N uptake by wheat in the three growing seasons.


Plastic film mulch Straw mulch Combined mulch with plastic film and straw Nitrogen Soil residual nitrate Winter wheat Dryland 



The research was supported by grants from The National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 40471069, 30230230, 40201028) and National Key Technology R&D Program (2008BADA4b09). We thank Dr. Marco Roelcke from Braunschweig Technical University, Germany, and Dr. William J. Gale, Northwest A&F University, for their linguistic revisions and suggestions to the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yajun Gao
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yun Li
    • 1
  • Jianchang Zhang
    • 2
  • Wenguo Liu
    • 2
  • Zhanping Dang
    • 2
  • Weixian Cao
    • 2
  • Qin Qiang
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Resources and EnvironmentNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina
  2. 2.Yangling Vocational and Technical CollegeYanglingChina

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