Influence of biochar and compost on soil properties and tree growth in a tropical urban environment

  • S. Ghosh
  • L. Fern Ow
  • B. Wilson
Original Paper


Research relating to the use of organic amendments on soils has focused largely on agricultural soils, and there is a lack of information worldwide on their efficacy as amendments for urban soil management, especially in tropical urban environments. A pot experiment was conducted to assess the influence of biochar and organic compost on urban soil properties and on tree growth performance in Singapore. Biochar and compost were mixed with topsoil in different proportions, and two urban tree species commonly grown in Singapore (Samanea saman and Suregada multiflora) were used. There were significant additional height increments for both the tree species following application of biochar. S. saman exhibited greater stem elongation compared with S. multiflora in response to organic amendments. A significantly higher foliar N content was found in both tree species in biochar-amended treatments along with significant increases in P and K. Increases in soil nutrient concentrations were also observed in combined biochar–compost treatments for both species. Combined compost and biochar had the strongest effects on soils and growth of the two urban tree species examined and applications containing biochar resulted in the most significant soil improvements.


Biochar Compost Urban soil Tropics Samanea saman Suregada multiflora 



The research was supported by Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE), National Parks Board, Singapore. We gratefully acknowledge IBI for their assistance to get biochar from Australia. We would also like to thank Ms. Siti Nazurah Ahmad, Mr. Mathana Vinod, Mr. Joshua Anand Mariadass, Mr. Lokman and Ms. Sara Wong for their technical assistance.


  1. Amlinger F, Peyr S, Geszit J, Dreher P, Weinfurtner K, Nortcliff S (2007) Beneficial effects of compost application on fertility and productivity of soils: literature study. Report produced for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Austria 235.
  2. Anderson DL, Henderson LJ (1986) Sealed chamber digestion for plant nutrient analysis. Agron J 78:937–938CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ayari F, Hamdi H, Jedidi N, Ghabri N, Kossai R (2010) Heavy metal distribution in soil and plant in municipal solid waste compost amended plots. Int J Environ Sci Technol 7:465–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blackwell P, Krull E, Butler G, Herbert A, Solaiman Z (2010) Effect of banded biochar on dryland wheat production and fertiliser use in South-Western Australia: an agronomic and economic perspective. Aust J Soil Res 48:531–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Busscher WJ, Novak JM, Evans DE, Don W (2010) Influence of pecan biochar on physical properties of a Norfolk loamy sand. Soil Sci 175:10–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chan KY, Zwieten LV, Meszaros I, Downie A, Joseph S (2008) Using poultry litter biochars as soil amendments. Aust J Soil Res 46:437–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Craul PJ (1999) Urban soils: applications and practices. Wiley, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. CUGE Standards (2009) Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology, National Parks Board, Singapore. Specifications for soil mixture for general landscaping use CS A01: 2009. Specifications on properties of planting mediaGoogle Scholar
  9. Elad Y, Cytryn E, Meller Harel Y, Lew B, Graber RE (2011) The biochar effect: plant resistance to biotic stresses. Phytopathol Mediterr 50:335–349Google Scholar
  10. Fischer D, Glaser B (2012) Synergisms between compost and biochar for sustainable soil amelioration. In: Sunil K, Bharti A (eds) Management of Organic Waste 10:167–198Google Scholar
  11. French CJ, Dickinson NM, Putwain PD (2006) Woody biomass phytoremediation of contaminated brownfield land. Environ Pollut 141:387–395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gaskin JW, Steiner C, Harris K, Das KC, Bibens B (2008) Effect of low-temperature pyrolysis conditions on biochar for agricultural use. Trans Asabe 51:2061–2069CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gaskin JW, Speir RA, Harris K, Das KC, Lee RD, Morris LA, Fisher DS (2010) Effect of peanut hull and pine chip biochar on soil nutrients, corn nutrient status, and yield. Agron J 102:623–633CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gaunt J, Cowie A (2009) Biochar, greenhouse gas accounting and emissions trading. In: Lehmann J, Joseph S (eds) Biochar for environmental management: science and technology. Earthscan, London, pp 317–340Google Scholar
  15. Ghosh S (2012) An introduction to biochar and its potential as soil amendment. CUGE Research Technical Note, Urban Greenery Series RTN 01-2012Google Scholar
  16. Ghosh S, Yeo D, Wilson B, Ow LF (2012) Application of char products improves urban soil quality. Soil Use Manag 28:329–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Glaser B, Balashov E, Haumaier L, Guggenberger G, Zech W (2000) Black carbon in density fractions of anthropogenic soils of the Brazilian Amazon region. Org Geochem 31:669–678CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Glaser B, Haumaier L, Guggenberger G, Zech W (2001) The ‘Terra Preta’ phenomenon: a model for sustainable agriculture in the humid tropics. Naturwissenschaften 88:37–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Glaser B, Lehmann J, Zech W (2002) Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal—a review. Biol Fertil Soil 35:219–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Graber ER, Harel YM, Kolton M, Cytryn E, Silber A, David DR, Tsechansky L, Borenshtein M, Elad Y (2010) Biochar impact on development and productivity of pepper and tomato grown in fertigated soilless media. Plant Soil 337:481–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hamer U, Marschner B, Borodowski S, Amelung W (2004) Interactive priming of black carbon and glucose mineralization. Org Geochem 35:823–830CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hartley W, Uffindell L, Plumb A, Rawlinson HA, Putwain PD, Dickinson NM (2008) Assessing biological indicators for remediated anthropogenic urban soils. Sci Total Environ 405:358–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Husk B, Major J (2011) Biochar commercial agriculture field trial in Québec, Canada—year three: effects of biochar on forage plant biomass quantity, quality and milk production.
  24. Jones DL, Rousk J, Edwards-Jones G, DeLuca TH, Murphy DV (2012) Biochar-mediated changes in soil quality and plant growth in a three year field trial. Soil Biol Biochem 45:113–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Karlen DL, Andrews SS, Doran JW (2001) Soil quality: current concepts and applications. Adv Agron 74:1–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lasaridi KE, Stentiford EI (1998) A simple respirometric technique for assessing compost stability. Water Res Oxf 32:3717–3723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lehmann J (2007) A handful of carbon. Nature 447:143–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lehmann J, Da Silva JP Jr, Steiner C, Nehls T, Zech W, Glaser B (2003) Nutrient availability and leaching in an archaeological Anthrosol and a Ferrosol of the Central Amazon basin: fertilizer, manure and charcoal amendments. Plant Soil 249:343–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lehmann J, Gaunt J, Rondon M (2006) Biochar sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems—a review. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 11:403–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lehmann J, Rillig MC, Thies J, Masiello CA, Hockaday WC, Crowley D (2011) Biochar effects on soil biota—a review. Soil Biol Biochem 43:1812–1836CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Liang B, Lehmann J, Solomon D, Kinyangi J, Grossman J, O’Niell B, Skjemstad JO, Thies J, Luizao FJ, Petersen J, Neves EG (2006) Black carbon increases cation exchange capacity in soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 70:1719–1730CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lillenberg M, Yurchenko S, Kipper K, Herodes K, Pihl V, Lõhmus R, Ivask M, Kuu A, Kutti S, Litvin SV, Nei L (2010) Presence of fluoroquinolones and sulfonamides in urban sewage sludge and their degradation as a result of composting. Int J Environ Sci Technol 7:307–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Matsubara YI, Hasegawa N, Fukui H (2002) Incidence of Fusarium root rot in asparagus seedlings infected with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus as affected by several soil amendments. J Jpn Soc Hortic Sci 71:370–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moore JC, McCann K, de Ruiter PC (2005) Modeling trophic pathways, nutrient cycling, and dynamic stability in soils. Pedobiologia 49:499–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nigussie A, Kissi E, Misganaw M, Ambaw G (2012) Effect on biochar application on soil properties and nutrient uptake of lettuces (Lactuca sativa) grown in chromium polluted soils. Am-Eurasian J Agric Environ Sci 12:369–376Google Scholar
  36. Novak JM, Busscher WJ, Watts DW, Laird DL, Ahmedna M, Niandou MAS (2009) Impact of biochar amendment on fertility of a southeastern coastal plain soil. Soil Sci 174:105–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ping TS, Kwong YW, Chi JNS, Ming GOZ (2009) Trees of our garden city: a guide to the common trees of Singapore, 2nd edn. NParks’ Publication, National Parks Board, pp 160–177Google Scholar
  38. R Development Core Team (2006) A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  39. Rhodes AH, Carlin A, Semple KT (2008) Impact of black carbon in the extraction and mineralization of phenanthrene in soil. Environ Sci Technol 42:740–745CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Roberts KG, Gloy BA, Joseph S, Scott NR, Lehmann J (2010) Life cycle assessment of biochar systems: estimating the energetic, economic, and climate change potential. Environ Sci Technol 44:827–833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rondon MA, Lehmann J, Ramírez J, Hurtado M (2006) Biological nitrogen fixation by common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) increases with bio-char additions. Biol Fertil Soil 43:699–708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schneider E (2012) The effects of biochar age concentration on soil retention of phosphorus and infiltration rate. Bachelor of Science dissertation, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis ObispoGoogle Scholar
  43. Schulz HS, Glaser BG (2012) Compared biochar and compost effects on plant growth and soil factors as reported for the three consequent greenhouse trial setups. Geophysical Research Abstracts 14Google Scholar
  44. Soumare M, Tack FMG, Verloo MG (2003) Effects of a municipal solid waste compost and mineral fertilization on plant growth in two tropical agricultural soils of Mali. Bioresour Technol 86:15–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Steiner C, Teixeira WG, Lehmann J, Nehls T, de Macedo JLV, Blum WEH, Zech W (2007) Long term effects of manure, charcoal and mineral fertilization on crop production and fertility on a highly weathered Central Amazonian upland soil. Plant Soil 291:275–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tandy S, Healey JR, Nason MA, Williamson JC, Jones DL (2009) Remediation of metal polluted mine soil with compost: co-composting versus incorporation. Environ Pollut 157:690–697CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tiessen H, Cuevas E, Chacon P (1994) The role of soil organic matter in sustaining soil fertility. Nature 371:783–785CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tsai WT, Lee MK, Chang YM (2007) Fast pyrolysis of rice husk: product yields and compositions. Bioresour Technol 98:22–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. van Bevel CHM (1949) Mean weight diameter of soil aggregates as a statistical index of aggregation. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 14:20–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Walkley A, Black IA (1934) An examination of the Degtjareff method for determining soil organic matter, and a proposed modification of the chromic acid titration method. Soil Sci 37:29–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Zaman AU (2010) Comparative study of municipal solid waste treatment technologies using life cycle assessment method. Int J Environ Sci Technol 7:225–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zech W, Senesi N, Guggenberger G, Kaiser K, Lehmann J, Miano TM, Miltner A, Schroth G (1997) Factors controlling humification and mineralization of soil organic matter in the tropics. Geoderma 79:117–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Zhang H, Selim HM (2008) Competitive sorption–desorption kinetics of arsenate and phosphate in soils. Soil Sci 173:3–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Islamic Azad University (IAU) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Urban Greenery and EcologyNational Parks BoardSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.School of Environmental and Rural SciencesUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  3. 3.Office of Environment and HeritageUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia

Personalised recommendations