Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 102, Issue 3, pp 299–318 | Cite as

Nitrogen cycling and management in intensive horticultural systems

  • K. A. CongrevesEmail author
  • L. L. Van Eerd
Review Article


Vegetables are important horticultural commodities with high farm gate values and nutritional quality. For many vegetables, growers apply large amounts of N fertilizer (>200 kg N ha−1) to increase yield and profits, but such high N fertilizer applications can pose a significant threat for N loss and environmental contamination via denitrification, volatilization, leaching, runoff, and erosion. Nitrogen losses can reduce air and water quality by contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, ground-level ozone and particulate matter production, ground and surface water contamination, and eutrophication. The processes governing N loss include a complex of biological, physical, and chemical factors, which are impacted by management practices, climatic conditions and soil properties. Therefore, we reviewed and evaluated various management practices for minimizing N loss in N-intensive vegetable production within a temperate climate. Most soil nutrient management practices have focused on reducing N loss throughout the growing season, but the risk for N loss is very high after harvesting vegetables with low N harvest indices, low C:N ratios, and high quantities of N in crop residues, such as most Brassica oleracea L. crops. Amending soil with organic C material may present a novel strategy for reducing N losses after harvest by 37 %, compared to the typical practice of incorporating N-rich vegetable crop residues. Research must focus on testing new and innovative methods of minimizing post-harvest N loss in intensive horticulture.


Nitrogen Vegetable production Temperate horticulture Crop residue management Carbon amendment 



Best management practices


N use efficiency


Organic C amendments


Soil mineral N


Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of Guelph Ridgetown CampusRidgetownCanada

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