Nutrient leaching under zero tension in a subtropical clonal eucalypt plantation on a sandy soil in South Africa

  • Steven B Dovey
  • Ben du Toit
  • Willem P de Clercq


Little is known about the effects of residue burning or retention on nutrient leaching during the inter-rotation of clonal Eucalyptus grown on the sandy soils of subtropical Zululand, South Africa. A study compared zero-tension nutrient leaching through the top metre of soil at depths of 0.15, 0.5 and 1.0 m in an undisturbed crop with adjacent clearfelled areas subjected to residue burning and residue retention. Leaching at 1.0 m in the undisturbed crop was 80% less than at 0.15 m leaching due to high water use of the mature trees. Loss of nutrients past 1.0 m in the undisturbed crop amounted to 7.0, 13.1, 6.6, 15.1 and 60.7 kg ha−1 of nitrogen (N), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sodium (Na) over the period between felling and new crop canopy closure (22 months). Annualised 1.0 m leaching amounted to 4.2, 7.8, 4.0, 9.0 and 36.3 kg ha−1 of N, K, Ca, Mg and Na, respectively. Clearfelling induced an increase in N and cation leaching that was apparent five months after clearfelling and persisted for nine months. Leaching loss declined rapidly in the new crop after planting to levels similar to the undisturbed crop by six months of age. Leaching past 1.0 m soil depth under residue retention amounted to 30.6, 132.0, 82.5, 108.7 and 299.1 kg ha−1 of N, K, Ca, Mg and Na, respectively, between felling and canopy closure. Although some weakly significantly differences were found between residue burning and retention, residue burning did not substantially alter leaching past 1 m soil depth. Burning rather induced a large loss of N (121 kg ha−1) through oxidisation, around half the residue N content. Residue retention or burning followed by rapid re-establishment can therefore be practiced to retain most nutrients on this site. Burning of residues should be practiced conservatively on low N soils or be followed by N fertilisation.

Keywords: commercial plantation forestry, nutritional sustainability, residue burning, soil solution

South African Journal of Plant and Soil 2014, 31(3): 153–162

Author Biographies

Steven B Dovey
Sustainable Forest Productivity Research, Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; Department of Forest and Wood Science, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Ben du Toit
Department of Forest and Wood Science, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Willem P de Clercq
Department of Soil Science, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2167-034X
print ISSN: 0257-1862