Evaluation of Both SPAD Reading and SPAD Index on Estimating the Plant Nitrogen Status of Winter Wheat

  • Xianlu YueEmail author
  • Yuncai Hu
  • Huaizhi Zhang
  • Urs SchmidhalterEmail author


Rapid non-destructive estimation of the plant nitrogen (N) status is needed for the precise management of N in small-scale farms. Our objectives were to describe the responses of the soil–plant analyses development (SPAD) measurements to the plant N status of winter wheat, and to evaluate whether the SPAD index is more precise than SPAD readings in estimating the plant N status. During 2009–2011, a field experiment with winter wheat was conducted in the North China Plain. There were eight N supply levels ranging from 0 to 420 kg N ha−1 to create gradients of leaf greenness. The SPAD readings were measured on the topmost fully expanded leaf; the SPAD index was expressed relative to the SPAD readings of sufficiently fertilized plants. Combing over years, significant quadratic responses of SPAD reading to the plant N concentration (PNC) occurred at each/similar Zadoks growth stage (ZGS) but differed largely from ZGS 39/43 to ZGS 58/59, the r2 varied between 0.88 and 0.97; the SPAD readings exhibited a high logarithmic correlation to plant N accumulation (PNA, r2 = 0.94) irrespective of growth stages. Compared with SPAD readings, the SPAD index showed the same precision in response to PNC and PNA at each growth stage in each year, but presented less precision for the combined datasets across years, indicating that the SPAD index is not a more preferable tool in estimating plant N status. In addition, both the SPAD readings and SPAD index demonstrated poor to moderate responses to basal stem nitrate content (BSNC) with large differences among ZGS 39–59 and between the 2 years, indicating that the SPAD measurements could not be effectively used to estimate the BSNC.


Basal stem nitrate concentration Plant nitrogen concentration Plant nitrogen accumulation Chlorophyll meter SPAD 502 Winter wheat The North China Plain 



This work was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF, Project Number: FKZ 0330800A).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest with respect to authorship or publication of this article.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Engineering Laboratory for Improving Fertility of Arable Soils, Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional PlanningChinese Academy of Agricultural SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Plant Sciences, Chair of Plant NutritionTechnische Universität MünchenFreisingGermany

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