Plant and Soil

, Volume 188, Issue 2, pp 319–327 | Cite as

Root and inorganic nitrogen distributions in sesbania fallow, natural fallow and maize fields

  • Kindu Mekonnen
  • Roland J. Buresh
  • Bashir Jama


One hypothesis for a benefit of integrating trees with crops is that trees with deep root systems can capture and “pump up” nutrients from below the rooting zone of annual crops. Few studies have compared both root and nutrient distribution for planted trees, crops and grassland vegetation. A field study was conducted on a Kandiudalfic Eutrudox in the highlands of western Kenya to measure rooting characteristics and distribution of inorganic N and water in three land-use systems (LUS): (i) Sesbania sesban (L.) Merr. fallow, (ii) uncultivated natural weed fallow and (iii) unfertilized maize (Zea mays L.) monoculture. The maximum rooting depth was 1.2 m in the maize LUS, 2.25 m in a 13-month-old natural fallow, and > 4 m in a 15-month-old sesbania fallow. Total root length was 1.26 km m-2 for the maize LUS, 5.98 km m-2 for the natural fallow, and 4.56 km m-2 to 4 m for the sesbania fallow. Root length to 1.2 m was greater (p < 0.01) for natural fallow than for maize and sesbania fallow. A considerable portion of the sesbania root length to 4 m was in the subsoil; 47% was at 1.2 to 4 m and 31% was at 2.25 to 4 m. Deep rooting of sesbania coincided with lower soil water below 2 m in the sesbania fallow than the natural fallow. Nitrate-N, but not ammonium-N, to 4 m was affected by LUS. Total nitrate to 4 m was 199 kg N ha-1 for the maize LUS, 42 kg N ha-1 for the natural fallow and 51 kg N ha-1 for the sesbania fallow. Soil nitrate in the maize LUS was highest at 0.3 to 1.5-m depth on this Oxisol with anion sorption capacity. No such accumulation of subsoil nitrate was present under sesbania and natural fallow.

agroforestry fallow maize nitrate root distribution root length density root to shoot ratio Sesbania sesban 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kindu Mekonnen
    • 1
  • Roland J. Buresh
    • 1
  • Bashir Jama
    • 1
  1. 1.International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF)NairobiKenya

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