Plant and Soil

, Volume 291, Issue 1–2, pp 301–309 | Cite as

Heterogeneous distribution of phosphorus and potassium in soil influences wheat growth and nutrient uptake

  • Qifu Ma
  • Zed Rengel
  • Bill Bowden
Original Paper


Heterogeneous distribution of mineral nutrients in soil profiles is a norm in agricultural lands, but its influence on nutrient uptake and crop growth is poorly documented. In this study, we examined the effects of varying phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) distribution on plant growth and nutrient uptake by wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) grown in a layered or split soil culture in glasshouse conditions. In the layered pot system the upper soil was supplied with P and either kept watered or allowed to dry or left P-deficient but watered, whereas the lower soil was watered and fertilised with K. Greater reductions in shoot growth, root length and dry weight in the upper soil layer occurred in −P/wet than in +P/dry upper soil treatment. Shoot P concentration and total P content were reduced by P deficiency but not by upper soil drying. Genotypic responses showed that K-efficient cv. Nyabing grew better and took up more P and K than K-inefficient cv. Gutha in well-watered condition, but the differences decreased when the upper soil layer was dry. In the split-root system, shoot dry weight and shoot P and K contents were similar when P and K were applied together in one compartment or separated into two compartments. In comparison, root growth was stimulated and plants took up more P and K in the treatment with the two nutrients supplied together compared with the treatment in which the two nutrients were separated. Roots proliferated in the compartment applied with either P or K at the expense of root growth in the adjoining compartment with neither P nor K. Heterogeneous nutrient distribution has a direct decreasing effect on root growth in deficient patches, and nutrient redistribution within the plant is unlikely to meet the demand of roots grown in such patches.


Wheat Phosphorus Potassium Layered pot Split-root system Plant growth 



We thank Dr Ross Brennan for helpful comments on the manuscript and Mr Terry Rose for technical support. This project was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Australia.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, School of Earth and Geographical SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Agriculture, Western AustraliaNortham Regional OfficeNorthamAustralia

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