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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Plant and Environment Interactions

Phytoextraction of Soil Phosphorus by Potassium-Fertilized Grass-Clover Swards


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 45 No. 2, p. 701-708
    unlockOPEN ACCESS
    Received: Aug 12, 2015
    Accepted: Nov 02, 2015
    Published: January 29, 2016

    * Corresponding author(s): b.timmermans@louisbolk.nl
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  1. Bart G. H. Timmermans *a and
  2. Nick van Eekerena
  1. a Louis Bolk Institute, Hoofdstraat 24, 3972 LA Driebergen, The Netherlands
Core Ideas:
  • Intensively harvested grass-clover is an effective tool to reduce excess P from topsoil.
  • On sandy soils a potassium source is necessary for this technique to be successful.
  • Soil P phytoextraction (“mining”) can reduce P enough for species-rich grassland development.
  • Soil balances suggest reduced leaching of P, declining the P load to surface water.


In the development of the Dutch National Ecological Network, many hectares of arable land are converted to nature areas to protect plant and animal species. This encompasses development of species-rich grasslands. On former agricultural land on sandy soils, this development is often hampered by relatively high phosphorus (P) levels, which also cause eutrophication. Standard practices to decrease the amount of P are either topsoil removal or long-term mowing of low-yielding established grassland. Both methods have disadvantages, and there is a need for additional techniques. As an alternative, phytoextraction (“mining”) of soil P has been proposed. We tested a new technique of mining without mineral N fertilizer by cropping an intensively mown grass-clover with potassium (K) fertilization that could potentially be used as cattle feed. A long-term field experiment was conducted, comparing soil P removal by grass-clover swards with and without supplementary K fertilization on a sandy soil. During the experiment, which ran from 2002 to 2009, soil P levels and nutrient contents of grass-clover were measured, and P and K balances were calculated. Our results show that grass-clover with K fertilization removed excess soil P (also at lower P levels) at a relatively high rate (34 kg P ha−1 yr−1, significantly higher than without K fertilization; P < 0.05) and produced reasonable yields of grass-clover. Our P balance suggested reduced leaching from the topsoil during this experiment. For nature restoration in agricultural areas, this tool opens many possibilities.

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