Winter wheat roots grow twice as deep as spring wheat roots, is this important for N uptake and N leaching losses?

Kristian Thorup-Kristensen, Montserrat Salmerón Cortasa, Ralf Loges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


Cropping systems comprising winter catch crops followed by spring wheat could reduce N leaching risks compared to traditional winter wheat systems in humid climates. We studied the soil mineral N (Ninorg) and root growth of winter- and spring wheat to 2.5 m depth during 3 years. The roots of the winter and spring wheat penetrated the soil at a similar rate (1.3 mm oC day-1) and by virtue of its longer growing period, winter wheat reached depths of 2.2 m, twice that of spring wheat (1.1 m). The deeper rooting of winter wheat was related to much lower amounts of Ninorg left in the 1 to 2.5 m layer after winter wheat (81 kg Ninorg ha-1 less). When growing winter catch crops before spring wheat, N content in the 1 to 2.5 m layer after spring wheat was not different from that after winter wheat. The results suggest that due to its deep rooting, winter wheat may not lead to as high levels of leaching as it is often assumed in humid climates. Deep soil and root measurements (below 1 m) in this experiment were essential to answer the questions we posed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-114
Number of pages14
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We thank the EU Interreg II programme for financial support for this study. We thank Astrid Bergmann, Birthe Flyger and Jens Jørgen Jensen for excellent work on the experiment, especially the large amount of work on soil sampling and root studies. We also want to thank Hanne Lakkenborg Kristensen her critical evaluation of the manuscript. The second author also would like to thank to the CAI-Programa Europa for the economical support for the stay in Denmark.


  • Catch crops
  • Cover crops
  • Leaching
  • Nitrogen
  • Organic farming
  • Root depth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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