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Soil Fertility & Plant Nutrition

Effect of Wood Ash and Compost Application on Nitrogen Transformations and Availability in Soil-Plant Systems

M. kaleem Abbasi* Nadia Afsar Nasir Rahim

Department of Soil and Environmental Sciences Faculty of Agriculture The University of Poonch Rawalakot Azad Jammu and Kashmir Pakistan

Application of organic–inorganic by-products, that is, wood ash (WA), compost, and organic manures is a valuable restoration strategy that can alleviate the physical conditions and improve the nutrient status of degraded

soils. To get the maximum benefits, proper management and N turnover of these resources need to be examined. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of WA and compost applied alone or with N fertilizer on different fractions of mineral N, that is, mineralization, nitrification, and recovery of N


soil-pant systems. laboratory and greenhouse experiments were conducted


the University of Poonch, Rawalakot Azad Jammu and kashmir, Pakistan. In

the incubation experiment, soil (Humic lithic Eutrudepts, Inceptosols) from an arable field was collected (0–15 cm) and amended with WA, compost, and N fertilizer diammonium phosphate (DAP) [(NH 4 ) 2 HPo 4 ]. In addition,


pot experiment was conducted in the greenhouse to examine the response


sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (l.) Moench] to these amendments. Results

indicated that WA and compost significantly increased N mineralization by releasing a maximum of 48.5 and 76.1 mg N kg 1 , respectively compared

to 21.9 mg N kg 1 in the control. Combined application of 1/2DAP with WA and compost resulted in a significant reduction in the extent of total mineral nitrogen (TMN) disappearance observed in N fertilizer (DAP, full) treatment. Both WA and compost significantly increased nitrification potential and accumulation of No 3 –N at the end was 36.4 and

70.5 mg kg 1 , respectively compared to 10.3 mg kg 1 in the control. Wood

ash applied alone or in mixtures significantly increased soil pH by 0.99 to

1.45 units. Results obtained from the greenhouse experiment indicated that

WA alone did not affect most of the growth characteristics, however, N contents and N uptake by sorghum were significantly increased by WA and compost. Plant N uptake in the combined treatments (1/2DAP+compost, 1/2DAP+WA+compost) was 44 and 57 mg plant 1 , respectively, significantly

higher than the 31 mg N plant 1 in the full DAP treatment. The increase in N uptake and plant dry matter yield was associated with N released from added amendments and a significant correlation existed between TMN and plant

N uptake (R 2 = 0.56) and TMN and plant dry matter yield (R 2 = 0.61). The

present study demonstrates the existence of substantial amount of N reserve

present in these amendments. After proper combinations and management,

N from these resources can be taken into account as potential source for the

management of nutrient poor soils and plant growth.

Abbreviations: DAP, diammonium phosphate; HKH, Hindu Kush Himalaya; TMN, total mineral nitrogen; WA, wood ash; WFPS, water-filled pore space.

S oil quality deterioration and soil fertility depletion are the two major ecolog- ical problems throughout the world (Harden, 2001; Lal, 2001), but they are especially serious in the heavily populated, underdeveloped, and ecologically

Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 77:558–567


Received 31 Oct. 2012. *Corresponding author ( © Soil Science Society of America, 5585 Guilford Rd., Madison WI 53711 USA All rights reserved. No part of this periodical may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Permission for printing and for reprinting the material contained herein has been obtained by the publisher.

fragile areas of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region (Tiwari et al., 2010). Each year, a considerable amount of soil and nutrients are lost from sloping uplands of the HKH region mainly as a result of soil erosion and surface run-off. Agriculture production and proper restoration of these degraded and eroded soils is the real concern to provide better soil conditions to be- lowground soil microbial composition and aboveground plant community development. Application of organic–inorganic by-products as soil amendments is a common restoration strategy that improves the physical conditions of the degraded land and also alters the nutrient cycling below ground and consequently aboveground plant production. Recyclable plant biomass, organic manures, and wastes from urban, industrial, and agricultural activity have been identified as valuable natural resources that can be effectively used for sustainable production and ecosystem restoration. Among these resources, WA is increasingly produced as a consequence of the increased use of wood as an energy-supply source. After combustion most of the inorganic nutrients, trace elements, and heavy metals from biomass are retained in the WA which could be a significant source of P, K, Mg, Ca, and could well be used as a supplement to fertilizers (Bougnom and Insam, 2009; Bougnom et al., 2009). Studies have shown that WA increased soil pH and stimulated bacterial activities that in turn increase decomposition rate of the humus layer, N mineralization, and N availability to plants (Fritze et al., 1994; Kreutzer, 1995; Haimi et al., 2000). Odlare and Pell (2009) reported that application of WA to an arable soil increased nitrification rate by 82 to 205% and decreased denitrification rates by 16 to 56% compared to the control. It has been reported that WA application increased microbial activity (Fritze et al., 2000; Perkiömäki and Fritze, 2002) and enhanced CO 2 evolution (Zimmermann and Frey, 2002). A significant increase in growth and yield of different crops following the application of WA has been reported (Odiete et al., 2005; Adekayode and Olojugba, 2010; Gupta et al., 2010). In an experiment under field conditions application of WA increased grain yields of barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), canola (Brassica rapa L.), and pea (Pisum sativum L.) by 49, 59, and 55%, respectively, compared to a corresponding increase of 38, 31, and 49% by lime. The increase in crop yield with WA is attributed partly to increased P availability in WA-amended plots (Arshad et al., 2012). The use of compost in agriculture aids in replenishing and maintaining long-term soil fertility by enhancing soil biological activity and providing nutrients that are slowly released in accordance with the crop needs (Ros et al., 2006). Ribeiro et al. (2010) reported that use of compost by recycling farm and agri-industrial residues provides several agricultural benefits, for example, preserve/restore soil organic C and control plant diseases and is a relatively cheap source of nutrients. Compost when applied to soil may contribute to soil quality by improving aeration, water status, and aggregate stability and as a consequence erosion stability (Kuba et al., 2008). Macro- and micronutrients present in compost improve plant growth, increase organic

matter, and consequently increase cation exchange that would improve the quality characteristics and nutrient turnover in the examined soil. In a study under controlled conditions, Ngo et al. (2011) found that composting or vermi-composting not only increased plant growth but also have positive effects on quantity and quality of soil organic matter. It has been reported that N release capacity of soil was significantly increased following the

application of compost (Cordovil et al., 2005; Busby et al., 2007). Huang and Chen (2009) reported that following the application

of compost, the maximum N released was observed after 14 to 21 d

of incubation, and then the concentration gradually decreased as the incubation period progressed. It is clear that WA and compost have an effect on plant growth promotion and net N mineralization both directly through release of N into mineral N pool and indirectly through altering the physical, chemical, and microbiological properties of soils. Little is known, however, about the effect of both on different fractions of mineral N especially the effect of combined application of WA, compost, and mineral N on N turnover in soil–plant systems. We hypothesized that WA and compost would enhance microbial growth and activity (as reported earlier), and combination of these by-products with DAP would increase N release into soil mineral N pool and N recovery in soil–plant systems that would affect plant growth promotion. The aim of the present study was to quantify the relative potential rates of different fractions of mineral N, that is, mineralization, nitrification, and N recovery of soil amended with WA and compost applied alone or with mineral N fertilize, to assess the N fertilizer value of these amendments and to examine their effect on plant (sorghum) growth promotion.


Soil Sampling/Collection

The soil used in this study was collected from an arable field located at the research farm, Faculty of Agriculture, The University of Poonch, Rawalakot Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan. The soil in the study site was clay loam in texture, Humic Lithic Eutrudepts (Inceptosols). The field was bare at the time of sampling but previously maize (Zea mays L.) and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) were cultivated. Soil samples were collected from 0- to 15-cm depth at random from five different locations and mixed well. The field fresh soil was passed through a 4-mm sieve to eliminate coarse rock and plant material, thoroughly mixed to ensure uniformity and stored at 4°C before use (not more than 2 wk). A subsample of about 0.5 kg was taken, air dried, and passed through a 2-mm sieve and used for the determination of physical and chemical characteristics (Table 1). Soil pH was determined in distilled water with a glass electrode (soil/H 2 O ratio 1:2.5 w/v). Soil texture was determined by the hydrometer method while total N was determined by the Kjeldahl method (Bremner and Mulvaney, 1982). Soil organic matter was determined using a modified Mebius method (Nelson and Sommers, 1982). Soil test

P and K were determined according to the methods described by Winkleman et al. (1985).

Wood Ash and Compost Collection

Wood ash and compost were selected as organic–inorganic by-products for soil amendments. Commercially available compost in the market was used and purchased from the local market. Wood ash was collected from wood combustion in local houses and also from the local restaurants of the city. Samples of both WA and compost were air dried and screened through a 2-mm sieve. Samples were sealed in glass containers until used for analysis or in the experiments. Triplicate samples from each of WA and compost were analyzed for total N, total C, P, and K according to methods described for soil analysis.

laboratory Incubation

Thirty grams of finely ground soil already stored in the refrigerator at 4°C was weighed and transferred into plastic pots of about 100 mL capacity. The initial moisture content of soil was 15% (w/w) that was increased by adding distilled water to achieve a final resulting water-filled pore space (WFPS) of approximately 58%. This moisture was maintained through- out the incubation period. Water-filled pore space (WFPS) was calculated as follows: WFPS = (soil gravimetric water content × bulk density)/[1– (bulk density/particle density)] (Sistani et al., 2008). There were eight treatments: (i) mineral N fertilizer diammonium phosphate, that is, DAP [(NH 4 ) 2 HPO 4 ], (ii) WA, (iii) compost, (iv) WA+compost, (v) DAP+WA, (vi) DAP+compost, (vii) DAP+WA+compost, (viii) a control; seven sampling times i.e., 0, 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 d and three replications. A total of 168 experimental units were used at the start of the experiment. Phosphorus and K were incorporated into all jars (including control) at the rate of 90 mg P 2 O 5 kg 1 in the form of single superphosphate and 60 mg K 2 O kg 1 as potassium sulfate, respectively. Both P and K at this rate are recommended for sorghum under arid conditions of Pakistan. All the amendments except the control were applied on N content basis. In the treatments receiving DAP and compost alone, N was added at the rate of 200 mg N kg 1 (100:0 ratio, w/w). The ratio was 50:50 in the combined treatments of DAP+WA, DAP+compost while the proportion of N in DAP+WA+compost was 50:25:25. In the treatment receiving only WA, WA was applied equivalent to 6.4% of dry soil as reported earlier (Odlare and Pell, 2009). After the addition of these amendments, all the jars were weighed and arranged in the incubator according to a completely randomized design. The jars were covered with parafilm having three to four small holes on the top to allow O 2 exchange. Soil samples were incubated under controlled conditions at 22°C. Soil moisture was checked/ adjusted every 2 d by weighing the glass jars and adding the required amount of distilled water when the loss was >0.05 g. During this process care was taken not to disturb the soil either through stirring or shaking.

Table 1. Selected physicochemical properties of the soil and the chemical composition of wood ash and compost used in the study.



Wood ash


Bulk density, Mg m 3 Particle density, Mg m 3 Porosity, % Particle size distribution Sand, g kg 1 Silt, g kg 1 Clay, g kg 1 Texture class pH CEC, cmol c kg 1 Organic matter, g kg 1 Organic C, g kg 1 Total N, g kg 1 C/N ratio Total mineral N, mg kg 1 Total organic N, mg kg 1 P, mg kg 1 K, mg kg 1 Fe, mg kg 1 Mn, mg kg 1 Cu, mg kg 1 Zn, mg kg 1 Cd, mg kg 1 Cr, mg kg 1







Clay loam











































Soil Extraction and Analysis

Samples of all treatments were analyzed for TMN and NH 4 + –N. Soil samples were extracted by shaking for 1 h with 200 mL of 1 M KCl followed by filtration through Whatman’s

no. 40 filter paper. Initial concentration of TMN and NH 4 + –N

at Day 0 was determined by adding the KCl directly to the flask

immediately after incorporation of each amendment. Thereafter, triplicate samples from each treatment were removed randomly from the incubator at different incubation periods, that is, 5,

10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 d and extracted accordingly. The mineral

N contents of the extract were determined by using the steam

distillation and titration method (Keeney and Nelson, 1982). Aliquots (40 mL) of the extracts were pippetted into a distillation flask and steam distillation was performed after adding magnesium oxide (MgO) and Devarda’s alloy in case of TMN

and by adding only MgO in case of NH 4 + –N. The distillate was then collected in 5 mL of boric acid containing bromocresol green/methyl red mixed indicator and titrated against 0.05 M HCl. Nitrate-N was calculated by subtracting NH 4 + –N from total mineral N. Any NO 2 present would have been included in the NO 3 fraction.

The recovery of added N and gain in NO 3 –N were calculated (from the mean values) as follows:

Recovery of added N(%) =

TMN of amended soils (mg kg


) - TMN of control soils(mg kg




N applied(mg kg



Gain in NO



- N(%) =



- - N of amended soils (mg kg


) - NO



- N of control soils (mg kg




N applied (mg kg



Sorghum Growth and Nitrogen Accumulation

A pot experiment was conducted in sorghum under

greenhouse conditions using cleaned earthen pots of 38 cm height and 18 cm width. Each pot contained approximately

12 kg soil. There were eight treatments with three replications

(as described in Lab experiment), comprising a total of 24 pots. The pots were arranged in a randomized complete block (RCB) design.Two plants from each treatment were sampled at different growth stages (Vn, milking, and maturity). At each sampling time data were collected for shoot length, root length, shoot dry weight, root dry weight, and chlorophyll content. Averaged values (three samplings) of these parameters were taken to present the results. Chlorophyll content was measured following the method of Bansal et al. (1999) and Amujoyegbe et al. (2007)

as reported in detailed by Abbasi et al. (2012).

Total chlorophyll (g kg 1 ) = [20.2(A645) – 8.02 (A663) × VW]/1000

where A = absorbance at the given wavelength, W = weight of fresh leaf sample, V = final volume of chlorophyll solution. For analysis of the N content in shoot (including leaves), oven-dried plant material from each pot were ground separately with a grinder (Polymix PX-MFC 90D; Switzerland) to pass through a 2 mm-mesh sieve. Total N concentrations in the samples were determined using Kjeldahl’s method (Bremner and Mulvaney, 1982).

Statistical Analysis

The data obtained from pots was analyzed statistically according to the RCB design, while laboratory data was analyzed according to the completely randomized design (CRD). The M-STAT C software was used to analyze all the data. To show significant variations among means for selected subsets of data LSD value was used. Individual treatments were compared for mean at 5% probability level (Steel and Torrie, 1980).


Nitrogen Mineralization

Total mineral N content in the unamended control at the start (Day 0) was 4 mg kg 1 and showed no significant changes until Day 20. Thereafter the concentration increased to 21.9,

18.9, and 15.4 mg kg 1 at Day 30, 40, and 50, respectively (Fig. 1). The initial lag phase, then increasing tendency and at the end the declining phase showed the mineralization trend of the control soil. Averaged across incubation periods, only about

12 mg kg 1 of N was released from the control soil. The low N

concentration implies that microbial activity (for N cycling) and

N turnover is restricted by the lack of available N. These results

highlighted the importance of applying additional N in this soil for sustainable crop production. Expressed as percentage of total organic N initially present, the N mineralized (maximum) during

the incubation was 3.7%. This value for N mineralization (3.7%) was comparable to that reported earlier in arable soils (2.7–8.8%) (Haer and Benbi, 2003) but lower than that recorded in our previous study, that is, 9.5% (Abbasi et al., 2011). The TMN in soil amended with WA increased as the incubation proceeded (Fig. 1). A maximum of 48.5 mg N kg 1 was recorded at Day 40 compared to 7.0 mg kg 1 at the start

showing a substantial N release over time. Overall effect indicated a twofold increase in TMN by WA compared to the control demonstrating stimulating effect of WA on decomposition of organic N which in turn increased N mineralization. Effect

of WA on N mineralization has been reported to increase soil

pH and stimulate bacterial activities that may have increased

N mineralization and availability to plants (Fritze et al., 1994;

Haimi et al., 2000). Jacobson et al. (2004) reported a significant

increase in mineral N in the humus layer of a forest soil following WA application. The authors explained that addition of an alkaline compound (WA) increased the decomposition rate, which sequentially increased N mineralization. In the soil amended with compost, after an initial lag phase TMN was significantly increased at Day 20 and continued to increase until the end. The maximum concentration of 76.1 mg kg 1 was released at the end (Day 50) that was significantly higher than the TMN released from WA (42.5 mg kg 1 ) and from the control soil (15.4 mg kg 1 ) showing that TMN of compost-amended soil was 1.8-fold higher than the WA and fivefold higher than the control soil. Similar positive effects

of compost on soil N mineralization have also been reported

earlier (Cordovil et al., 2005; Busby et al., 2007; Barbanti et al., 2011). Our results indicated that under optimum temperature and moisture (as managed in the experimental conditions), application of compost to soil can supply sufficient available N to the growing crops. Such environmental conditions exist during kharif (summer) season when major crops and vegetables are grown in this region. On the basis of the maximum net N released (subtracting from the control), apparent soil N mineralization approximately reached 30% of the compost N applied at the beginning. A study on N release capacity of a 15 N-labeled compost indicated that apparent soil mineralization was about 45% of compost total

N in pots without plants (Barbanti et al., 2011). Similarly, the

apparent N mineralization of different organic amendments including composted municipal solid waste was 22 to 37%

reported earlier by Cordovil et al. (2005).In the combined treatment of WA+compost, the N release was comparable

to WA but values were significantly lower than the compost

treatment showing some negative effects of WA on compost decomposition and mineralization. Soil amended with mineral N as DAP (full dose 200 mg N kg 1 ) displayed a different N turnover and TMN significantly decreased with incubation periods (Fig. 1). By the end, the TMN remained in mineral N pool was 95.2 mg kg 1 compared to 173.6 mg kg 1 at the start showing that 45% of TMN initially present had disappeared during incubation. These

results were in accordance with our previous study conducted in grassland soil where 30%

of the initial mineral N added by DAP had

disappeared over 42 d incubation (Abbasi

et al., 2001). The N unaccounted for may be

denitrified due to simultaneous nitrification and denitrification in soil as reported earlier (Abbasi and Adams, 1998, 2000a). When mineral N (DAP) was combined with WA and compost (50:50; 50:25:25), the TMN remained stable throughout the incubation (except few samplings) and loss of initial N was low compared to the treatment where DAP was applied alone. Results indicated that WA and compost either

reduced the N losses of applied N fertilizer or recovered any loss by supplying N after their decomposition or mineralization. These results demonstrated that combined application

of DAP, WA, and compost resulted in (i) a

significant reduction in the extent and rate of TMN disappearance and (ii) TMN released from these treatments (at the end was) was comparable to that released from full DAP (100:0) treatment.

comparable to that released from full DAP (100:0) treatment. Fig. 1. Total mineral N (NH 4

Fig. 1. Total mineral N (NH 4 + –N + No 3 –N) at successive incubation periods of a soil (0–15 cm) amended with wood ash, compost, and diammonium phosphate (DAP) [(NH 4 ) 2 HPo 4 ] applied alone or in different combinations over a 50-d period under controlled laboratory conditions.

mineral N pool indicating that nitrification was not a rate- limited process in the net mineralization of organic N or N from DAP or combined treatments. The declining trend of NH 4 + –N with incubation periods reported here was similar as reported earlier (Cordovil et al., 2005; Azeez and Van Averbeke, 2010).

Accumulation of Nitrate-Nitrogen

In contrast to the NH 4 + –N, the concentration of NO 3 –N was significantly increased as the incubation period progressed (Fig. 2). In the soil to which WA, compost, and WA+compost was applied, the maximum NO 3 –N was 41.0, 70.5, and 41.5 mg kg 1 , respectively, compared to 15.4 mg kg 1 in the control. Averaged over incubation periods, NO 3 –N concentration of WA, compost, and WA+compost was 21.3, 26.6, and 22.2 mg kg 1 , respectively compared to 6.0 mg kg 1 in the control. A significant increase in nitrification rate following the addition of WA has already been reported in an incubation study (Odlare and Pell, 2009). The authors explained that WA increased soil pH that may increase populations of nitrifying bacteria by enzyme production and growth and consequently increase nitrification. However, several authors reported WA as a significant source of P, K, Mg, Ca, and lime (Merino et al., 2006; Bougnom and Insam, 2009; Bougnom et al., 2009) and found that application of WA stimulated microbial activity (Fritze et al., 2000; Perkiömäki and Fritze, 2002). Therefore, the increase in nitrification due to WA in the present study may also

Changes in Ammonium-Nitrogen

The concentration of NH 4 + –N in the control and soil amended with WA, compost and WA+compost did not follow any particular pattern or significant changes (except at few samplings) during incubation (Fig. 2). The

concentration never exceeded 12 mg kg 1 soil in these treatments.

In the soil amended with DAP alone or DAP combined with

WA, or compost, initial NH 4 + –N significantly increased ranged between 98 and 179 mg kg 1 . However, a substantial proportion of the initial NH 4 + –N continued to disappear during incubation and very little NH 4 + was left at the end. During NH 4 + –N disappearance, concentrations of NO 3 –N increased to a maximum of 72 to 85 mg kg 1 indicating that

nitrification was also occurring. However, it is worth noting that the depletion of NH 4 + –N during the same period was greater than the accumulation of NO 3 –N indicating that the buildup

of NO 3 –N was much smaller than the decrease in NH 4 + –N.

A reasonable interpretation of this disparity is that NO 3 –N

was being lost through denitrification after nitrification. Thus a substantial accumulation of NO 3 –N would not be expected where both processes occurring simultaneously (Abbasi and Adams, 1998). The pattern of changes in NH 4 + –N observed here was almost similar to that found in our previous study in grassland soil where more than 50% of N applied as NH 4 + disappeared over a period of 42 d and only 35 mg kg 1 was accumulated as NO 3 –N (Abbasi and Adams, 2000b). The low concentration

of NH 4 + –N with the subsequent increase in NO 3 –N in the

Fig. 2. Changes in NH 4 + –N and accumulation of No 3 – –N

Fig. 2. Changes in NH 4 + –N and accumulation of No 3 –N at successive incubation periods of a soil (0–15 cm) amended with wood ash, compost, and diammonium phosphate (DAP) [(NH 4 ) 2 HPo 4 ] applied alone or in different combinations over a 50-d period under controlled laboratory conditions.

be due to its effect on the availability of nutrients especially P that may have an affect on the nitrifying population. It has been reported that by making soil pH more optimal for nitrifying bacteria and providing extra substrate (NH 4 + –N) to nitrifying microorganisms, WA+mineral N fertilizer increased net nitrification of soil (Saarsalmi et al., 2010). The effect of compost on nitrification was more visible and evident than WA. Accumulation of NO 3 –N from compost- amended soil at Day 50 (end of incubation) was 70.5 mg kg 1 compared to 36.4 mg kg 1 in WA treatment and 56.8 mg kg 1 in DAP full dose (200 mg N kg 1 ) indicating 94 and 24% higher nitrification by compost than WA and DAP, respectively. Results of our study showed that accumulation of NO 3 –N in compost-amended soil was slow initially and then increased progressively with time reached to a maximum of 70.5 mg kg 1 at Day 50, that is, significantly higher than the NO 3 –N in the mineral N (DAP) treatment. These results suggested that slow decomposition and degradation of compost provided a steady and significant amount of NO 3 –N in mineral N pool that may affect the N availability to plants in the later stages of their growth. The reduction in NH 4 + –N disappearance and increase in NO 3 –N with incubation periods (up to 220 mg kg 1 ) following the application of municipal solid waste compost was also reported earlier (Madrid et al., 2011). It has been reported that use of compost in agriculture soil tended to increase soil NO 3 –N that comes after mineralization of soil organic matter (Baldi et al., 2010). The amount and trend (with time) of NO 3 –N accumulation found in this study was quite similar to the

previous observation where more than 80 mg NO 3 –N kg 1 was recorded in compost-amended soil after 100 d incubation (Moore et al., 2010). Addition of WA with compost significantly increased nitrification compared to the control. The concentration was comparable to WA treatment but lower than that recorded for compost showing that WA decreased nitrification of the added compost (Fig. 2). However, in the combined treatments of DAP+WA, DAP+compost, and DAP+WA+compost, nitrification at the end was either comparable or significantly higher than full DAP treatment. Results suggested that application of half mineral N with WA or compost under favorable moisture and temperature conditions released and accumulated NO 3 –N equivalent to or higher than the full (200 mg N kg 1 ) fertilizer N application. These results are in accordance with our previous study (Abbasi and Khizar, 2012) where poultry manure and white clover (Trifolium repens L.) residues in combination with half urea N accumulated NO 3 –N equivalent to or higher than full urea N.

Recovery of Added Nitrogen and Gain in Nitrate-Nitrogen

Nitrogen recovery from WA, compost, and WA+compost was 14, 30, and 16%, respectively, while the recovery from DAP alone or DAP+WA, DAP+compost, and DAP+WA+compost was 40, 29, 32, and 33%, respectively (Fig. 3). A 14% recovery

of N from WA showed that WA increased decomposition and consequently mineralization of soil organic matter resulting

a considerable release of N into

mineral N pool. The N recovery from full DAP was significantly higher than the remaining treatments while

recovery from full compost treatment (equivalent to 200 mg N kg 1 ) was at par with that recorded from 1/2DAP+1/2compost treatment. In contrast, the conversion of added N into NO 3 –N (gain in NO 3 –N) was significantly higher in soil amended either with compost alone or compost with 1/2DAP or compost with 1/2DAP+WA (30, 31, and 32%, respectively) compared

to the soil amended with full DAP

(23%). These results indicated that WA and compost when applied with

results indicated that WA and compost when applied with N fertilizer increased the nitrification of added


fertilizer increased the nitrification


added fertilizer. This might be due


the effect of WA and compost on

microbial population and activity especially the effect on nitrifying bacteria that tended to increase nitrification process in soil.

Fig. 3. Recovery of added N (%) and gain in No 3 –N (%) (calculated from the values found at the end

at Day 50) at successive incubation periods of a soil (0–15 cm) amended with wood ash, compost, and

diammonium phosphate (DAP) [(NH 4 ) 2 HPo 4 ] applied alone or in different combinations over a 50-d

period under controlled laboratory conditions. Vertical lines on each bar represent the lSD (P 0.05) for percent recovery of added N to total mineral nitrogen (TMN) and percent added N converted into No 3 –N across different N treatments. Comp represents compost.

reported earlier (Usman et al., 2004; Bougnom et al., 2009). The reason is a flow of protons from the soil to the organic matter sites; composts are stable products rich in humic substances with functional groups (carboxyl, phenolic, and enolic) conferring binding and buffering capacities (Bougnom et al., 2009).

Sorghum Growth and Nitrogen Accumulation

The results of the Exp. 2 indicated that WA did not affect most of the growth characteristics except shoot length when applied alone (Table 3). However, application of WA either with compost or DAP tended to increase plant growth showing

Changes in Soil pH

Results presented in Table 2 indicated that DAP significantly decreased soil pH from 6.8 at Day 0 to 6.4 at Day

20 and thereafter pH became stable until the end of incubation. Similarly DAP when combined with compost significantly decreased pH from 7.7 at Day 0 to 6.64 at Day 50. On the other hand, WA considerably increased soil pH from 7.4 at Day 0 to the maximum of 8.3 at Day 30 and 50. Wood ash when added with combined treatments of DAP+WA, WA+compost, and

DAP+WA+compost significantly increase pH compared with the control and DAP treatments. Compost also significantly increased pH from 7.2 at Day 0 to 7.5/7.6 at Day 5 and Day 40. Averaged over incubation periods, soil pH in WA, WA+compost, and DAP+WA was significantly higher than the pH of the remaining treatments. The increased in pH due to WA application ranged between 0.56 to 1.45 units. The increase in soil pH following WA application had also been reported in other studies (Merino et al., 2006; Kuba et al., 2008; Bougnom et al., 2009; Adekayode and Olojugba, 2010). The acid neutralization capacity of the oxides, hydroxides, and carbonates of Ca, Mg, and K in WA is probably its most important characteristic (Vance, 1996), that may increase pH of the soil. Soil pH also increased after compost amendments confirming the results

Table 2. Changes in soil pH (0–15 cm) at successive incubation periods amended with wood ash, compost, and a mineral N fertilizer, that is, diammonium phos- phate (DAP) applied alone or in different combinations over a 50-d period under controlled laboratory conditions.

Days after incubation









lSD (P ≤ 0.05)†


Soil pH

Control DAP§ Wood ash (WA) Compost WA+compost (50:50) DAP+WA (50:50) DAP+compost (50:50) DAP+WA+compost


6.2c‡ 6.4c

7.0ab 6.97ab























7.3cd 7.5ab

7.4bc 7.5ab







8.1ab 8.2a




7.8bc 7.7c








6.9bc 6.8bc

6.9bc 6.8bc











LSD (P 0.05)








† The least significant difference (LSD P 0.05) at the end of each column is given showing significant difference among different treatments at each incubation periods. ‡ Lettering is done across each row showing significant difference (P 0.05) among different incubation periods of individual treatments. § DAP = diammonium phosphate, that is, DAP[(NH 4 ) 2 HPO 4 ].

Table 3. Effect of organic–inorganic by-products, that is, wood ash, compost, and a mineral N fertilizer, that is, diammonium phosphate (DAP) applied alone or in different combinations on the growth and N accumulation of sorghum grown in pots under glasshouse conditions.


Shoot length Root length Shoot weight fresh

Root fresh

Shoot dry

Root dry


Shoot N

N uptake






––––– cm ––––––

––––––––––– g plant 1 –––––––––––

mg g 1


mg plant 1

Control DAP Wood ash (WA) Compost WA+compost (50:50) DAP+WA (50:50) DAP+compost (50:50) DAP+WA+compost (50:25:25) LSD (P 0.05)


















































































† The least significant difference (LSD P 0.05) at the end of each column is given showing significant difference among different treatments for each parameter.

stimulating effect when applied with organic or mineral N fertilizer. Since a substantial amount of N from WA-amended soil was released into mineral N pool (under Lab experiment), therefore response of plant growth to WA was expected as

supplement value for poor and degraded soils. Our results showed that WA addition has some benefits in terms of raising the soil pH, stimulating N mineralization potential and plant N uptake, therefore proper use of WA either with organic amendments

reported in different studies. But such response was not found


with mineral N fertilizer may be an important management

here. Demeyer et al. (2001) reported that since WA contains virtually no N, combination of WA with additional N is

strategy for sustainable agriculture production systems in subhumid, rainfed soils low in organic matter. Considering

necessary if a balanced fertilization is required. Application of


chemical composition (as reported in the literature), WA

compost significantly increased sorghum growth compared to

constitutes an excellent source of major and minor nutrient

the control and the values for most of the growth characteristics were comparable to those recorded for full DAP. Combined application of DAP, WA, and compost resulted in the highest growth compared to sole application and the maximum values were recorded in the treatment receiving DAP+WA+compost. Total N uptake by plants (shoot) treated with WA, compost,

elements and is therefore of interest in correcting certain nutrient deficiencies in soils. Similarly, the release of mineral N from soil was increased by threefold following the addition of compost. Our results showed that compost applied alone or as a mixture with 1/2 DAP or 1/2 DAP+WA appears to be an effective N amendment approach since it provides an amount of available

and WA+compost was 13, 28, and 27 mg plant 1 compared to


equivalent to or higher than that recorded for full DAP,

7 mg plant 1 in the control (Table 3) demonstrating a two- to fourfold increase in N uptake due to WA and compost application. The effect of WA on N contents and N uptake was more evident than its effect on growth characteristics showing WA influence

therefore allowing a reduction by half of the typical mineral

fertilizer (if applied) and also cutting fertilization cost. Results also indicated that the highest mineral N from WA, compost, 1/2 DAP+compost was recorded in the later part of incubation


N dynamics as presented in mineralization experiment under

that can be associated with minimum N losses and maximum

Lab conditions. Plants supplemented with combined application

availability to crop. Application of these organic-inorganic by-


DAP+compost or DAP+WA+compost exhibited the highest

products to sorghum showed some promising results. Effect

N-uptake of 44 and 57 mg plant 1 compared to 31 mg plant 1


integrated use of WA, compost, and mineral N (1/2DAP)


full DAP (100:0) treatment. These results indicated that


plant growth promotion, N contents, and N uptake was

application of WA and compost with half mineral N significantly increased N accumulation in sorghum compared to full mineral

equivalent to or higher than full DAP treatment showing the fertilizer value of both WA and compost when combined with


(DAP) application. The increase in N uptake and plant dry

mineral N. This study is a step forward toward the use of easily

matter yield (shoot dry weight) was associated with N released from added amendments as a significant correlation existed between TMN and plant N uptake (R 2 = 0.56) and TMN and plant dry matter yield (R 2 = 0.61) (data not shown).

available, less expensive, and environmental friendly nutrient resources for sustainable agriculture production systems in the HKH region.


The quantitative measurements of N turnover and N release

capacity of soil amended with WA and compost applied alone or in different combinations showed a substantial quantity

of N released into the mineral N pool, indicate their nutrient


Authors wish to acknowledge anonymous reviewers for the critical review of the manuscript. We are grateful to the staff of the Department of Soil & Environmental Sciences, University of Poonch, Rawalakot Azad Jammu & Kashmir for their favor and help both in lab and greenhouse work.


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