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Different fall/winter cover crop root patterns induce contrasting red soil (Ultisols) mechanical resistance through aggregate properties



Red soil (Ultisol) with high clay content and low aggregation results in high soil mechanical resistance and often suppresses crop root growth and productivity. Bio-tillage can be an effective tillage method to reduce the high soil mechanical resistance. This study aims to investigate different bio-tillage plants' root effects on soil mechanical resistance through soil aggregates properties.


The experiment designed 5 fall/winter cover crops (2 raps cultivars, lucerne, one-year vetiver (Vet_1Y) and six-year vetiver (Vet_6Y) as bio-tillage before summer maize and one control treatment. Plant root morphological and chemical traits, soil organic carbon (SOC), soil aggregate properties and soil mechanical resistance (measured and fitted values using model) were determined.


The fibrous-rooted vetiver showed the largest root length density (RLD) (ranging from 2.71 to 4.82 cm cm−3), highest root diameter (RD) in deep soil depth, highest percentage of fine roots (0.2–0.5 mm), while lowest root lignin/cellulose ratio than tap-rooted lucerne and rapes. These root properties resulted in the highest improvement in the macroaggregate (> 5 mm and 5–2 mm) percentage for vetiver and especially for perennial Vet_6Y compared to other crops and control. Finally, fibrous-rooted vetiver contributed to the least soil mechanical resistance values followed by lucerne and two rapes compared to fallow. This was attributed to their positive root effect on improvement in macroaggregate and decrease in soil bulk density.


Our finding suggested that fibrous-rooted vetiver can be selected as a bio-tillage plant to improve soil physical properties, especially to reduce high mechanical resistance in clayey red soil.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41877013, 2019) and Hubei Provincial Natural Science Foundation (2019CFB517, 2019).

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Authors and Affiliations



Waqar Ali: Data curation; Writing original draft; Formal analysis. Mingxuan Yang: Data curation; Investigation. Qi Long: Data curation; Investigation. Sadeed Hussain: Data curation; Analysis. Jiazhou Chen: Funding acquisition; Project administration. David Clay: Review and revise; English language editing. Yangbo He: Conceptualization; review and editing; Funding acquisition.

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Correspondence to Yangbo He.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interest or personal relationship that could have appeared to influence the work reported in the article.

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• Cover crops root performance were compared in clayey red soil (Ultisols)

• Fibrous-root vetiver shows the largest RLD and deeper root distribution in Ultisols

• RLD, fine and medium root portion, lignin/cellulose ratio, and SOC were beneficial for aggregation

• High macroaggregate % and low bulk density decrease soil mechanical resistance

• Fibrous-rooted vetiver reduces the most in soil mechanical resistance

Responsible Editor: W Richard Whalley.

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Ali, W., Yang, M., Long, Q. et al. Different fall/winter cover crop root patterns induce contrasting red soil (Ultisols) mechanical resistance through aggregate properties. Plant Soil (2022).

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  • Bio-tillage
  • Soil health
  • Mechanical resistance
  • Vetiver