Plant and Soil

, Volume 395, Issue 1–2, pp 141–157 | Cite as

Biochar but not humic acid product amendment affected maize yields via improving plant-soil moisture relations

  • Ghulam HaiderEmail author
  • Hans-Werner Koyro
  • Farooqe Azam
  • Diedrich Steffens
  • Christoph Müller
  • Claudia Kammann
Regular Article



Biochar (BC) and humic acid product (HAP) soil amendments may improve plant performance under water-limited conditions. Our aim was to investigate if BC and HAP amendments, alone or in combination, will have positive and synergistic effects.


A three-factorial fully randomized study was carried out in the greenhouse for 66 days, including the factors ‘BC’, ‘HAP’ and ‘water regime’. Maize (Zea mays var. ‘Amadeo’ DKC-3399) was grown in pots (6 kg sandy soil pot−1) amended with/without BC (0, 1.5 and 3 %; w/w) and with/without HAP (0 or an equivalent of 8 kg ha−1). Two water regimes, limited and frequent (H2O limit , H2O frequ ), were applied after day 28 following seedling establishment at 60 % water holding capacity (WHC). In the H2O limit treatment, the soil water content was allowed to drop until wilting symptoms became visible (25–30 % WHC) while in H2O frequ the WHC was brought to 60 % of the maximum on a daily basis


BC but not HAP, added alone or in combination with BC, significantly increased the biomass yield and the water and N use efficiency of plants at both water regimes. The BC-mediated relative increase in the yield was equal with both watering regimes, refuting initial hypotheses. BC had generally a stimulating effect on water relations and photosynthesis, it increased the relative water content and the leaf osmotic potential, decreased the stomatal resistance and stimulated the leaf gas exchange (transpiration). Both, BC and pure HAP addition, stimulated photosynthesis by increasing the electron transport rate (ETR) of photosystem II (PSII) and of the ratio between effective photochemical quantum yield to non-photochemical quenching (Y(II)/Y(NPQ), revealing reduced heat dissipation.


Biochar use in poor sandy soils can improve plant growth by improving soil-plant water relations and photosynthesis under both H2O frequ and H2O limit conditions. HAP loading, however, did not improve the effect of biochar or vice versa.


Biochar Eco-physiology Photosynthesis Humic acid products Maize Sandy soil Water holding capacity Water stress Osmotic potential 



We thank the technical staff at the Department of Plant Ecology for assistance during the experimental analysis. This work was supported by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan with an administrative collaboration with DAAD (The German Academic Exchange Service). C. Kammann gratefully acknowledges the financial support of DFG grant KA- 3442/1-1.

Supplementary material

11104_2014_2294_MOESM1_ESM.docx (26.8 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 27460 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ghulam Haider
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hans-Werner Koyro
    • 1
  • Farooqe Azam
    • 2
  • Diedrich Steffens
    • 3
  • Christoph Müller
    • 1
  • Claudia Kammann
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant EcologyJustus-Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany
  2. 2.AMKA BiosolutionsSunderland RidgeSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of Plant NutritionJustus-Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany

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