Rasse, D. P., A. J. Smucker, and O. Schabenberger. 1999. Modifications of soil nitrogen pools in response to alfalfa root systems and shoot mulch. Agronomy Journal 91:471-477.
Decomposing alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) shoots and roots generate large amounts of NO3-N available to the next crop but also susceptible to deep leaching. This study was aimed at determining the specific contributions of above- and belowground alfalfa biomass to soil N pools. Dynamics of soil and plant N pools were studied in a Kalamanzoo loam soil (fine-loamy, mixed, mesic Typic Hapludalfs) over a 2-yr period under bare fallow (BF), bare fallow to which alfalfa shoot mulch was applied (BFSM), living alfalfa plants with shoots removed after harvest (A), and living alfalfa with shoot mulch remaining on the soil surface after harvest (ASM). Organic N pools were monitored in alfalfa plant parts, soil-incorporated debris, and soil organic matter to depths of 150 cm. Inorganic N pools were monitored by suction lysimeters, soil extraction, and evaluation of soil denitrification rates. Living alfalfa stands kept soil inorganic N at very low levels, whether shoot mulch was applied or not. Soluble inorganic N concentrations decreased earlier in the fall in the upper horizons of bare fallow soils receiving alfalfa shoot mulch, suggesting enhanced leaching from bare soil under alfalfa mulch. Alfalfa crown and roots contained an average of 115 kg N ha-1 after 2 yr of treatment. In conclusion, alfalfa shoot mulch contributed little to sustained increases in soil N pools, while crowns and roots contributed larger quantities to the soil N pool.Sign in to download PDF back to index