Plant and Soil

, Volume 372, Issue 1–2, pp 41–51 | Cite as

Determination of the critical soil mineral nitrogen concentration for maximizing maize grain yield

  • Yunfeng Peng
  • Peng Yu
  • Xuexian Li
  • Chunjian Li
Regular Article


Background and aims

A critical soil mineral nitrogen concentration (Nmin) for guiding fertilizer application and maximizing maize grain yield is needed.


A three-year field experiment with three N regimes, unfertilized (N0), optimized N management (Opt.) and conventional N practice (Con.) was performed in maize.


The mean soil Nmin in 0–60 cm soil profile for N0, Opt. and Con. treatments was 2.0, 6.7 and 8.9 mg kg–1 at V8–VT growth stages and 2.2, 6.1 and 11.2 mg kg–1 on average over the whole growth season, respectively. Correspondingly, the soil N supplying capacity (soil Nmin content + fertilizer N) of the three N treatments was smaller, identical or greater than the plant N accumulation at different growth stages. The Opt. treatment had significantly higher N use efficiency, N recovery efficiency and N partial factor productivity compared with the Con. treatment, while it did not cause maize yield loss.


Compared with the insensitivity of the critical shoot N dilution curve to excessive N application, soil Nmin showed strong response to all treatments. We propose a minimum of soil Nmin of 6.1 mg kg–1 at the sowing–V8, 6.7 mg kg–1 at the V8–VT, and 5.5 mg kg–1 at the VT–R6 growing stages with an average of about 6 mg kg–1 of soil Nmin in the 0–60 soil depth for maximizing maize yield and N use efficiency in northern China. To maintain this critical Nmin value over the whole growth period, N topdressing at V8 and V12 stages was recommended.


N use efficiency Critical soil mineral N concentration N dilution curve Soil N supplying capacity Zea mays 



We thank the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No: 31272232), the State Key Basic Research and Development Plan of China (No. 2013CB127402), the Innovative Group Grant of National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31121062) and Chinese Universities Scientific Fund (No. 2012YJ039) for financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yunfeng Peng
    • 1
  • Peng Yu
    • 1
  • Xuexian Li
    • 1
  • Chunjian Li
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Plant-Soil Interactions, MOE, Center for Resources, Environment and Food Security, College of Resources and Environmental ScienceChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Plant NutritionChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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