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Adaptations of Desert Organisms

Edited by J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson
Volumes already published

Ecophysiology of the Camelidae and Desert Ruminants


Edited by R. T. Wilson (1989)

Ecophysiology of Desert Arthropods and Reptiles


Edited by J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson (1991)

Plant Nutrients in Desert Environments


Edited by A. Day and K. Ludeke (1993)

Volumes in preparation

Seed Germination in Desert Plants


Edited by Y. Gutterman (1993)
Arden D. Day Kenneth L. Ludeke

Plant Nutrients
in Desert Environments

With 22 Figures

Springer-Verlag
Berlin Heidelberg New York
London Paris Tokyo
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Budapest
Prof. Dr. Arden D. Day
2909 East Seneca St.
Thcson, Arizona 85716, USA
Professor emeritus of Plant Sciences, Department of Plant Sciences,
College of Agriculture, University of Arizona, Thcson, Arizona 85721, USA

Dr. Kenneth L. Ludeke


Star Route 2, Box 459R
Buckeye, Arizona 85326, USA
Agronomist, Ludeke Corporation, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Cover illustration: photograph by J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson

ISBN-13:978-3-642-77654-0 e-ISBN-13:978-3-642-77652-6
DOl: 10.1007/978-3-642-77652-6

Library of Congress Cataloging·in·Publication Data. Day, A. D., Plant nutrients in desert en-
vironments / Arden D. Day and Kenneth L. Ludeke. p. cm. - (Adaptations of desert
organisms) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13:97S-3-642-77654-0
1. Desert plants - Nutrition. 2. Plant nutrients. 3. Desert plants -
Ecology. 1. Ludeke, Kenneth L. II. Title. III. Series. QK93S.D4D39 1992
631.S'l1'09154-dc20 92-32705 CIP
This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved, whether the whole or part of the
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under the German Copyright Law.
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1993
Softcover reprint of the hardcover I st edition 1993

The use of registered names, trademarks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the
absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws
and regulations and therefore free for general use.
Production Editor: Herta BOning, Heidelberg
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Dedication and Acknowledgments

A. D. Day, Ph. D. and K. L. Ludeke, Ph. D. dedicate Plant Nutri-


ents in Desert Environments to their wives, Judith C. Day and
Cynthia K. Ludeke. The continuous encouragement, support,
and understanding of these two outstanding women made it
possible for the authors to write this book. Sincere thanks are
given to Cynthia L. Eisenberger, who undertook the painstaking
task of typing, proofing, and preparing the manuscript for publi-
cation, with diligence and professionalism. Appreciation is ex-
tended to Grant Heilman Photography, Inc. for providing ex-
cellent photographs. To all other individuals who have assisted in
any way with the preparation, review, and publication of this
book, the authors are very grateful.
Contents

1 Introduction ............................... . 1

2 Plant Nutrients ............................. . 3


2.1 Essential Plant Nutrient Elements ............ . 3
2.1.1 Major Elements ............................ . 4
2.1.2 Minor Elements ............................ . 4
2.2 Effects of Plant Nutrient Elements on Plants .. . 5
2.2.1 Nitrogen .................................. . 5
2.2.2 Phosphorus ................................ . 6
2.2.3 Potassium ................................. . 6
2.2.4 Minor Elements ............................ . 7

3 Soil Materials .............................. . 9

4 Organic Soil Materials ...................... . 13


4.1 Functions ................................. . 13
4.2 Composition ............................... . 14
4.3 Sources ................................... . 14
4.4 Management ............................... . 15
4.5 Maintenance ............................... . 17

5 Soil Moisture .............................. . 19


5.1 Field Capacity ............................. . 19
5.2 Permanent-Wilting Percentage ................ . 20
5.3 Movement of Water ......................... . 20
5.3.1 Gravitational Water ......................... . 20
5.3.2 Capillary Water ............................ . 21
5.3.3 Water Vapor ............................... . 22

6 Soil Aeration .............................. . 23


6.1 Composition of Soil Air .................... . 24
6.2 Soil Aeration and Plant Growth .............. . 25

7 Exchangeable Bases ......................... . 27


7.1 Exchangeable Bases and Plant Nutrition ....... . 27
VIII Contents

8 Soil Acidity 31

9 Soil Alkalinity .............................. 35

10 Nitrogen as a Plant Nutrient .................. 39


10.1 Nitrogen in Soils ............................ 39
10.2 Nitrogen in Plants ........................... 40
10.3 Forms of Nitrogen Utilized by Plants .......... 42

11 Phosphorus as a Plant Nutrient ............... 45


11.1 Phosphorus in Soils ......................... 45
11.2 Phosphorus in Plants ........................ 46
11.3 Forms of Phosphorus Utilized by Plants ....... 48

12 Potassium as a Plant Nutrient ................ 49


12.1 Potassium in Soils ........................... 49
12.2 Potassium in Plants .......................... 50

13 Plant Nutrients in Desert Soils ................ 53


13.1 Soils in the Yuma Subdesert .................. 53
13.2 Man's Invasion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
13.3 How Desert Soils Differ ...................... 55
13.4 Minerals in Soils ............................ 55

14 Soil Moisture in Desert Environments .......... 57


14.1 Soil Moisture Quantity ....................... 57
14.2 Soil Moisture Quality ........................ 57

15 Plant Nutrients Required for Growth .......... 61


15.1 Plant Nutrients. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
15.2 Essential Elements in Plant Nutrition .......... 62

16 Plant Nutrients in Municipal Wastewater ....... 67


16.1 Municipal Wastewater Treatment .............. 67
16.2 Irrigation with Municipal Wastewater .......... 67
16.2.1 Small Grains Pasture Forage .................. 67
16.2.2 Hay from Small Grains ...................... 68
16.2.3 Grain from Small Grains ..................... 69
16.2.4 Hay from Alfalfa ............................ 70
16.2.5 Cotton ..................................... 70
16.2.6 Bermuda Grass. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
16.2.7 Fertilizer Value of Municipal Wastewater ....... 72
16.3 Future Prospects ............................ 73

17 Plant Nutrients in Sewage Sludge .............. 75


17.1 Sewage Sludge 1teatment ..................... 75
Contents IX

17.2 Plant Growth Factors in Sewage Sludge ........ 75


17.3 Fertilization with Dry Sewage Sludge. . ... . .. . . . 76
17.3.1 Grass and Turf. . . . .. . . . .. . ... . . .. . . ... . .. . .. 76
17.3.2 Wheat ..................................... 76
17.3.3 Differences in Wheat Cultivars ................ 77
17.4 Fertilization with Liquid Sewage Sludge ........ 78
17.4.1 Wheat ..................................... 78
17.4.2 Response of Barley to Liquid Sewage Sludge
Loading Rates .............................. 79
17.4.3 Cotton ..................................... 80
17.4.4 Forest Land ................................. 81
17.4.5 Fertilizer Value .............................. 81
17.5 Future Prospects ............................ 81

18 Plant Growth in Desert Environments. . . .. . . .. . 83


18.1 The Dry Regions of the World ................ 83
18.2 Climatic Factors Affect Plant Growth .......... 84
18.3 Soil Fertility and Its Maintenance ............. 84
18.4 Fertilizer Use in Dry Regions ................. 86
18.5 Crop Introduction and Improvement ........... 86

19 Urban Utilization of Plant Nutrients ........... 89


19.1 Plants in the Living Environment to Lift the
Spirits of Man .............................. 89
19.2 Home Gardens Reduce Food Costs, Landscape
Homesteads, and Improve Neighborliness.. . . .. . 90
19.3 City Parks, Golf Courses, and Recreation Areas. 92

20 Plant Nutrients for Disturbed Land Reclamation 93


20.1 Classification of Disturbed Lands ............. 93
20.2 Reclamation Purposes and Alternatives ......... 94
20.3 Spoil Replacement and Revegetation Techniques. 94
20.4 Coal Mine Reclamation in Desert Areas ........ 95
20.5 Vegetation Adaptability ...................... 96

21 Desert Environments Offer an Outstanding


Future Potential ............................. 99
21.1 Technology Unlocks Cropland Productivity ..... 99
21.2 Future Agricultural Research .................. 100
21.3 Gardening for Food and Fun ................. 100
21.4 Living on a Few Acres ....................... 101
21.5 Desert Environments Attract People ........... 102

Glossary of Agronomic Terms.. . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . ... 105

References ........................................ 115


x Contents

Figure Index

Fig. 1. Commercial agriculture in the desert area


in Colorado, USA ........................ . 2
Fig. 2. Mixed vegetables grown in a small farm garden 8
Fig. 3. A sand dune complex at the foot of mountains
in Sangre de Christo, Colorado, USA ....... . 10
Fig. 4. Plowing under sorghum stubble with a seven-
bottom moldboard plow .................. . 16
Fig. 5. Furrow irrigation in Texas, USA ............ . 21
Fig. 6. An earthworm and earthworm castings
in a fertile organic soil .................... . 24
Fig. 7. Orange trees in Florida, USA
growing in a fertile sandy loam soil ........ . 28
Fig. 8. Planting corn and applying commercial
fertilizers and soil amendments in the USA ... 32
Fig. 9. Alkaline soil deposits in a desert area
in California, USA ....................... . 36
Fig. 10. A stunted ear of corn caused by an extreme
soil nitrogen deficiency .................... . 42
Fig. 11. Surface application of inorganic fertilizer
in Arizona, USA ......................... . 47
Fig. 12. Potassium-deficient corn in the USA ........ . 50
Fig. 13. Native vegetation in a desert area
in Arizona, USA ......................... . 56
Fig. 14. The Rio Grande River in Texas, USA ....... . 58
Fig. 15. Side-dressing corn with anhydrous ammonia
nitrogen fertilizer in the USA .............. . 65
Fig. 16. Beef cattle grazing on an irrigated pasture
in a desert area in Colorado, USA .......... . 72
Fig. 17. Injection of liquid municipal sewage sludge
into agricultural soil in the USA ........... . 82
Fig. 18. Young citrus trees growing in a desert area
in Arizona, USA ......................... . 87
Fig. 19. An outstanding home in a desert area
in California, USA ....................... . 91
Fig. 20. Copper mine tailings that have been contoured
to prevent wind erosion in Arizona, USA .... 97
Fig. 21. A irrigated family farm in a desert area
in the southwestern USA .................. . 103
Fig. 22. A modern city established in a desert
environment in the southwestern USA ....... 103
1 Introduction

Plant nutrients are found in a relatively thin layer of soil materials that
covers all of the continents of the entire world. These plant nutrients
provide the necessary food, clothing, and shelter for human existence. As
the population of the world increases, the plant nutrients in desert environ-
ments become more important for the survival of mankind. The primary
plant nutrients are the essential mineral elements in soil materials required
for optimum plant growth (Miller and Turk 1943).
The important factors in the transformation of rock into soil materials
and plant nutrients are climate, vegetation, topography, parent material,
gravity, and time. Since desert regions have a dryer climate than humid
areas, the formation of soil materials and plant nutrients in desert environ-
ments proceeds more slowly than does the formation of soil materials and
plant nutrients in humid environments. Soil materials in desert environ-
ments contain less organic matter than soil materials in humid environments
(Fuller 1975a).
The soil materials that cover the continents of the world continually
change under the forces of climate. They were slowly formed through the
passing of time as a result of gravitation, meteorologic, geologic, and
biologic action on rock. The soil sustains and continually renews life.
Animal and plant residues decay into simpler constituents and as a result,
nutrient elements are made available for new life in a perpetual cycle.
Soil composition differs like the plants and animals differ in physical and
chemical properties. Soils have easily recognizable physical and chemical
characteristics which classify them into distinct bodies in nature. They
acquire their individual properties from various combined forces which act
upon them. This is part of the reason that desert soils differ from soils from
other climatic zones. There is an increasing migration of people into the arid
and semi-arid climates of the world. The rapid development of these arid
and semi-arid lands for food production, home sites, and metropolitan uses,
justifies describing the soils in desert environments. Exotic fruits and off-
season vegetables are a part of almost every household. Desert soils easily
produce these valuable food products. Homeowners and residents who
relocate from harsh, colder climates search for help in the establishment of a
living foothold in a new and fragile environment. To successfully grow
plants every year, man must know comparatively more about arid climate
2 Introduction

Fig. 1. Commercial agriculture in a desert area in Colorado, USA. Although profitable


commercial agriculture in a desert environment may appear impossible to the newcomer,
if irrigation water is available, profitable commercial agriculture is possible in most desert
environments throughout the world. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)

soils than he does about humid climate soils. Individuals should be aware of
an ecology that can be easily altered by the invasion of the plow, over-
grazing by domestic animals, and bulldozing by the development speculator.
The effective husbandry of scarce water resources is a necessity in the
desert. New management practices must be mastered and continually
improved to prevent soils from going out of production from salt accumula-
tion, mineral deficiencies, soil crusting, compaction, and drought. Soil
and water management practices necessary to maintain continued plant
growth are complicated and not easily understood in desert environments
(Hambridge 1941; Fuller 1975a; Fig. 1).
2 Plant Nutrients

The growth and development of plants are determined by many factors of


soil and climate and by those factors inherent in the plants themselves.
Some of these factors can be influenced by man, but many are out of man's
control. Man has little influence over air, light, and temperature, for
example, but he can regulate the supply of plant nutrients in the soil.
Growers can increase the supply of available nutrients by modifying soil
conditions through good farm management practices or by making additions
to the soil in the form of various fertilizers. Anyone working directly with
the growth of plants is particularly concerned with their nutrient require-
ments (Hambridge 1938; Miller and Turk 1943).
If a soil is to produce crops successfully, it must have an adeqUate
supply of all of the necessary nutrients that plants take from the soil. Not
only must required nutrient elements be present in forms that plants can
use, there must also be a balance between the nutrients in the amounts
needed by plants. If any element is lacking in the plant or if it is present
in improper proportions in the soil, normal plant growth will not occur.
Elements required by plants are designated as essential or indispensable.
Plants obtain their nutrient elements from three sources: (1) air, (2)
water, and (3) soil. Carbon and some of the oxygen are obtained from the
air. Hydrogen and some oxygen and carbon are taken from the soil solution.
Legumes inoculated with effective nodule bacteria obtain portions of their
nitrogen from the air. Other nutrient elements must be obtained from the
soil by plants.

2.1 Essential Plant Nutrient Elements

Ten essential plant nutrient elements that are required in large quantities
for normal plant growth are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorous,
potassium, nitrogen, sulfur, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Plant growth
will be limited by a deficient available supply of anyone of these elements
regardless of the abundance of the remaining elements. Early experimental
work up to the year 1900 indicated that only these ten elements were
required by plants, and until only recently, they were considered the
4 Plant Nutrients

essential elements necessary for the normal growth and development of


plants. With the aid of improved laboratory techniques, researchers have
added to the original list of essential elements. These include copper, boron,
manganese, and zinc, all of which are undoubtedly essential, although they
are needed in relatively small quantities. In addition to the elements listed,
which are needed by all plants, certain other elements like sodium, chlorine,
and iodine are needed by some, but not necessarily by all, plants. The
supply of these elements in soils in forms available for plant use is very
important. Although more than 30 different elements have been detected in
the analysis of plants, the mere presence of one of them in a plant does not
prove that it aids in the development of that plant or that it is indispensable
for plant growth. The necessity for any particular element can be deter-
mined only by carefully conducted experiments (Miller and Turk 1943).

2.1.1 Major Elements

Plants are largely made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, but some of
the elements that occur in only relatively small amounts are just as essential
to their growth and development as those that compose the greater part of
the plant tissue. Obviously, it is incorrect to speak of one essential element
as being more important than any other essential element without specifying
the viewpoint under consideration, but from the agricultural point of view,
or from the farmer's standpoint, the elements nitrogen, phosphorous, and
potassium are of major concern. Years of experimental work and practical
experience have proved that the available supplies of these three elements in
soils are more likely to be insufficient for maximum plant growth than are
the supplies of the other essential elements. In fact, there are very few soils
that are not deficient in one or more of these three elements. They assume
agricultural importance by virtue of the fact that (1) they may be rapidly
removed or lost from soils, (2) they may exist largely in unavailable forms in
soil, and (3) the only way to increase the phosphorous and potassium
contents of a soil is to buy them in some form. Consequently , the fertilizer
companies have made these three elements (N, P, and K) the basis of the
composition of commercial fertilizers that may supply anyone, two, or all
three of them (Miller and Turk 1943; Fuller 1975b).

2.1.2 Minor Elements

It has already been mentioned that plants must have several elements other
than nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium for proper growth. When
referring to commercial fertilizers, additional elements are considered as
minor elements either because they are needed by plants in small amounts
or because fewer soils are deficient in them. In some soils, however, a
Effects of Plant Nutrient Elements on Plants 5

deficiency of one or more elements greatly limits crop production. Secular


publicity has undoubtedly exaggerated the general need for certain elements
in fertilizer materials, and often the impression has been made in the minds
of many people that soils in general are deficient in these elements. Minor
or secondary nutrient elements, such as magnesium, manganese, sulfur,
calcium, zinc, copper, boron, iron, and perhaps others, are essential nutrient
elements; but except in certain specific cases either they are supplied
abundantly by the materials commonly used in making mixed fertilizers or
they are present in sufficient quantities in the soil. The addition of these
elements to all fertilizer mixtures without regard to the crop or soil is
unwarranted and sometimes may prove to be injurious to the plant or soil.
Under conditions where a minor element deficiency occurs, two important
questions come to mind: (1) why are such deficiencies appearing now rather
than at some earlier time; and (2) how do these elements act in promoting
growth? There are perhaps several reasons why more minor element
deficiencies are receiving attention now than at any other previous time.
The continued use of land for cultivated crops, the use of higher-analysis
fertilizers (more pure salts), and the diminishing use of organic nitrogen
fertilizers (plant or animal origin) have done much to hasten the occurrence
of minor element deficiencies. Element deficiencies also occurred in some
instances at earlier times, but the symptoms were not recognized (Miller and
Turk 1943).

2.2 Effects of Plant Nutrient Elements on Plants

Thorough knowledge of the various ways in which the nutrient elements are
of value in affecting the growth of plants is of practical interest and im-
portance to the grower. Each plant nutrient performs definite duties in
the plant and no one nutrient can be completely substituted for another.
Although each element performs certain specific functions, they must all
work together to produce the best results. The effect of any particular
nutrient on plant growth is governed by the supply of the other essential
elements, and the effect of anyone element cannot be interpreted on the
basis of the activity of that element alone.

2.2.1 Nitrogen

Nitrogen has received more attention than any other element in studies
relative to plant nutrition. It is found in greater quantities in young, growing
parts of plants than in older tissues and it is especially abundant in the leaves
and seed. Nitrogen is a constituent of every living cell and its contribution to
plant and animal life is essential. Its importance in crop production is
6 Plant Nutrients

emphasized by the knowledge that this element generally occurs only in


small quantities in soils in available forms. Also, nitrogen is used by many
crops in large quantities and it is easily lost from soils by leaching and
erosion. In addition, of the three elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, and
potassium), it is the most expensive to buy in the form of commercial
fertilizers. Plants with a nitrogen deficiency turn yellow and have a slow and
stunted growth. An abundance of nitrogen promotes rapid growth with
greater development of dark green leaves and stems. An ample supply of
available nitrogen during the early life of a plant may stimulate growth and
result in earlier maturity. The presence of an excess of nitrogen throughout
the growing season may prolong the growth period and prevent a plant
from maturing properly. An excess of nitrogen may encourage lodging in
grain crops, which frequently decreases grain quality. A normal amount of
nitrogen increases seed plumpness in grain crops, which usually increases
seed quality. Nitrogen is the fertilizer plant nutrient that most field crops
need for optimum growth in desert environments (Miller and Turk 1943;
Fuller 1975b; Hendricks 1985).

2.2.2 Phosphorus

The total supply of phosphorus in soils is relatively small and the available
supply frequently falls short of crop requirements in humid regions. The
presence of phosphorus aids the plant in taking up potassium and it tends
to counteract the effects of excess nitrogen. An excess of phosphorus in
proportion to the supplies of other required nutrients may decrease yields,
especially on lighter soils. This is believed to be caused by the hastening of
the maturation processes and by the consequent reduction in vegetative
growth. Phosphorus-deficient plants tend to have a stunted root system
which decreases their feeding zone and, as a result, they are less able
to withstand adverse conditions. Phosphorus tends to hasten the ripening
processes in plants. In the presence of sufficient available phosphorus, seed
formation begins sooner and crops may mature several days earlier than
where phosphorus is deficient. In general, phosphorus improves the quality
of plants and plant products by stimulating the production of a more
vigorous plant growth, which makes plants more resistant to diseases. The
amount of available phosphorus in desert soils is usually sufficient for
indigenous vegetation. When desert soils are irrigated and the plant density
is increased, phosphorus is sometimes needed for some field crops and
certain landscape plants (Miller and Turk 1943; Fuller 1975b).

2.2.3 Potassium

Potassium is one of the many elements that are essential for higher plant
life. Although its specific physiological role is not clear, potassium is
Effects of Plant Nutrient Elements on Plants 7

believed to play an important role in the following plant processes: (1)


carbon dioxide utilization, (2) cell wall formation, (3) absorption of phos-
phate and nitrate under certain conditions, and (4) disease resistance.
Potassium moves readily throughout plants. It is prominently present in
actively growing tissues. Plants deficient in potassium show the following
symptoms: (1) plants grow slowly, (2) leaf margins show browning, starting
on older leaves, (3) stalks are weak, (4) seed and fruit are small and
shriveled, and (5) clovers and alfalfa show characteristic white spots near
leaf margins. Plants differ in their overall requirements for potassium and in
their ability to absorb it from the soil.
Potassium is usually abundant in most desert soils and fertilizer additions
of potassium are required only occasionally in sandy soils. The relative
abundance of available potassium in desert soils is one of their most out-
standing and distinguishing characteristics. It is believed that some home
plants that have been brought into desert conditions may have need for
more available potassium. Certain saline and alkaline soils have been found
to have excessively large quantities of water-soluble and exchangeable
potassium, in which the excess potassium must be leached below the root
zone (Miller and Turk 1943; Fuller 1975b).

2.2.4 Minor Elements

Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur are well supplied in desert soils. In fact, all
three elements appear in excess of usual plant needs. Iron is the micro-
nutrient most frequently observed to be deficient in calcarious desert soils.
Although most desert soils contain large amounts of iron compounds, the
compounds are quite insoluble and, therefore, are not readily available to
plants. The symptoms of iron chlorosis are usually yellowing of the leaf area
between the veins. Iron deficiencies have been corrected temporarily by use
of iron sulfate. Rarely is zinc found to be deficient in plants grown in desert
soils, although zinc responses have been identified for some fruit trees.
Neither manganese nor copper have been found to be deficient for plants in
arid soils. If deficiencies exist, the symptoms are so slight that they remain
hidden from detection. Desert soils are more likely to contain excesses of
chlorine, boron, and molybdenum than deficiencies.
A balance of micronutrients in the soil is just as important as a balance
of macronutrients. Since desert soils often contain accumulations of nutrients
far in excess of the plant's requirement, it is desirable to point out possible
imbalances that may occur. Iron deficiency may be caused by an excess of
zinc, manganese, and copper. Excess copper or sulfate may adversely affect
the uptake of molybdenum. Excess phosphate may cause a deficiency of
zinc, iron, and copper. Heavy nitrogen fertilization may cause copper or
phosphorus deficiency. Manganese uptake may be limited by high sodium
and potassium content. Boron uptake can be reduced by excess lime.
8 Plant Nutrients

Fig. 2. Mixed vegetables grown in a small farm garden . Fresh vegetables are a good
source of vitamins and minerals in the human diet. The average family can greatly reduce
its food cost by growing a vegetable garden. If irrigation water is available, vegetable
gardens can be grown successfully in most desert environments. (Photo by John Colwell
from Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)

Manganese uptake may be diminished by iron, copper, and zinc excesses.


Because of these and other antagonistic effects, putting nutrient elements
into the soil without knowledge of the soil's physical, biological, and
chemical makeup can be hazardous. Indiscriminate use of micro nutrients
may decrease the soil productivity and reduce the beauty of home gardens
and landscaping (Fuller 1975b; Fig. 2).
3 Soil Materials

The soil-forming factors involved in the development of soils from rock and
rock particles are climate, vegetation, topography, gravity, parent material,
and time (Stefferud 1958; Fuller 1975a).
Climate has a great influence on the characteristics of soils. In desert
areas temperature and moisture (rainfall and irrigation) dominate the pro-
cesses that differentiate soils. Differences between day and night tempera-
tures often range from 30 to 40 OF, which are much greater than the day and
night temperatures in humid climates. Clay soil forms more slowly in arid
areas than it does in humid climates. The annual precipitation in desert
regions only ranges from 3 to 12 in. and it frequently falls as high-intensity,
short-duration rainfall. As a result, soil erosion, moisture run-off, and soil
washing are intense. Since deserts have a dryer climate than do humid areas,
the formation of soil materials in desert environments proceeds more slowly
than does the formation of soil materials in humid environments.
The scarcity of vegetation limits the amount of plant residue available
for soil organic matter production in arid climates. Since nitrogen is carried
in soil organic matter, nitrogen is low in desert soils. Some species of desert
plants accumulate soluble ions, such as sodium salts, and the soil located
under those plants may be highly alkaline and considered unproductive.
Some desert land lies in alluvial valleys and on higher mesas. Topo-
graphy has a major role in desert soil differentiation. Soils in the lower
depressions, which receive moisture run-off from higher levels, frequently
accumulate high concentrations of soluble salts and are less productive than
the adjacent soils. Adequate soil drainage is critical in maintaining high soil
productivity in arid regions. Small topographical changes have greater
influence on plant growth in arid soils than do topographical changes in any
other climatic region.
Parent material is recognized as an initial part of the soil system. It may
be either rock or weathered rock, in-place or transported. Much of the
desert land has been deposited by water or wind. The wind-laid materials
originally were blown out of adjacent alluvial deposits located along river or
stream beds. Physical weathering predominates in arid climates. Soils of
appreciable depth in desert areas form very slowly, if at all, from native rock
under the present limited rainfall. Since soil formation is so slow under these
conditions, the characteristics of the soils are more directly related to the
10 Soil Materials

characteristics of the parent rock material from which they are derived than
are soils in humid climates where weathering and the soil-forming processes
occur at comparatively accelerated rates. Sand dune topography provides an
interesting study of both salinity and plant distribution when compared with
irrigated conditions. Under natural conditions, salinity and vegetation in
large sand dunes may be expected to distribute according to the rainfall
pattern of frequency and intensity. The least amount of salt occurs at the
peak of the sand dune and the most salt accumulation occurs at the bottom
trough between dunes. Natural leaching has moved the salts down into the
dune trough. Observations reveal that the least salt-sensitive plant species
grow at the top of the dune and minimal growth takes place in the trough.
This natural example should not be confused with the furrow irrigation
condition of the microtopography of shallow beds and side-ridge planting
where the reverse conditions exists. Salts accumulate by capillary rise at the
highest, rather than the lowest, point. As a result, the soil in the trough
leaches until the salinity is reduced considerably below that of the ridge.
Time is related to soil formation in arid soils as an interacting function
of climate. The importance of moisture in soil formation is so great that soils

Fig. 3. A sand dune complex at the foot of mountains in Sangre de Christo, Colorado,
USA. Sand dune topography determines the distribution of salinity and vegetation in
desert areas. Salinity and vegetation in large sand dunes distribute according to the
rainfall pattern of frequency and intensity. The least amount of salt occurs at the peak of
the sand dune and the most salt occurs at the bottom trough between the dunes. The least
salt-tolerant plants grow at the top of the sand dune and the most salt-tolerant plants grow
at the bottom of the dune. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
Soil Materials 11

of arid lands develop very slowly. The influence of water and vegetation on
accelerating soil development may be clearly demonstrated by comparing
residential or golf turf lying adjacent to virgin desert. In a very few years
the soil under the turf sod develops a distinctly dark organic layer, and
carbonates move down to concentrate at the greatest depth of leaching. In
fine-textured soils, such as loams and clays, a compact layer often develops
below the organic accumulation layer. Under agricultural field conditions,
sandy loam soils accumulate lime (carbonates) in the upper foot, although
under virgin conditions no carbonates were present. The carbonates came
from the irrigation water that was usually well-supplied with lime. Organic
matter accumulation is not pronounced in garden or field cropping con-
ditions. Compaction of the subsoils is a common occurrence in almost all
soils where traffic is necessary and excessive.
Soil materials in desert environments are different from soil materials in
humid regions. A thorough knowledge of the different characteristics of
desert soil materials and the way they respond to mans treatment of them
is necessary for acceptable living in the desert (Miller and Turk 1943;
Hendricks 1985); (Fig. 3).
4 Organic Soil Materials

Most people realize that organic matter benefits soil and that dark-colored
surfaces are more desirable than light-colored surfaces because they contain
more organic matter. Desert soils do not have as dark a surface as soils in
humid climates. Only in a few of the upland soils, where rainfall is higher,
are soil surfaces dark. Some of the best desert soils have red, reddish brown,
and gray-brown surfaces. Organic matter is low in these soils. Rarely does it
exceed 1% by weight in the upper 6 in. of the soil profile. Although the total
amount of organic matter is small in the desert, this small amount exerts a
great influence on soil productivity. The maintenance of even small quantities
of organic matter in soils is essential to continuing high crop yields, pro-
ductive home gardens, and beautiful landscapes (Miller and Turk 1943;
Fuller 1975b).

4.1 Functions

Organic matter functions as it decomposes. As straw, leaves, sawdust, or


animal manure decompose, new synthetic compounds are formed that coat
and thread soil particles together into porous structures that improve the
physical condition of the soil. Soils with poor structure become compacted,
with slow water penetration and air movement, which are essential for good
root development. The channels and crevices of well-structured soil provide
necessary avenues for root growth and storage places for air and water, just
as building structures provide rooms for human habitation. The breakdown
of soil structure is as critical to plant roots as the breakdown of building
structure is to man. Soils devoid of organic matter dry into hard, massive
lumps, which provide poor seedbeds and bake into hard surfaces.
Organic matter contains valuable plant nutrients which the decay pro-
cesses release into the soil. The plant nutrients necessary to grow a new
cycle of plants are found in the returning residues. The residue, through
microbial degradation, supplies nutrients in mineral form to succeeding
plants. In native soils, nitrogen is carried almost exclusively in the organic
matter. As the organic decomposes, mineral nitrogen is slowly released.
14 Organic Soil Materials

Another important function of organic matter is to act as a source of food


and energy for the maintenance of soil microorganisms.

4.2 Composition

When lignin decomposes in the soil, the initial attack of stripping off some
of the functional groups is quite rapid, like the decay of the husk of a
walnut, leaving the more resistant inner shell. A resistant portion remains
that does not resemble the original lignin and degrades slowly to the soil
organic pool called humus. The carbohydrate-like material in soil organic
matter is primarily of microbial origin. Slimes, gums, and organic salts
contribute to this fraction. These act as cementing agents for good soil
structure and react with mineral constituents of soils assisting in nutrient
release. A third major component of soil organic matter are the protein-like
materials. They also originate chiefly from microbial cells and tissues. These
modified protein compounds are the soils resistance to rapid microbial
degradation. It is believed that they originate from both plant phytin and
microbially synthesized phytin-like compounds. Organic phosphates con-
tribute very slowly to the natural phosphate found in soils. Organic phos-
phates, like other organic compounds, are not directly available for plant
absorption and must be mineralized to release inorganic phosphates before
being absorbed by plants.

4.3 Sources

Any decomposable organic substance can be a potential source of soil


organic matter. Sources vary greatly in effectiveness and cost. The home-
owner who needs only small quantities of organic material can afford to pay
relatively more for his organic source than the municipal landscaper or
farmer. With the modern focus on utilization of wastes that threaten to
pollute the environment and the emphasis on recycling, new organic sources
appear regularly at shopping centers. Some organic materials, such as paper
packaging, that once were disposal problems are such popular sale items
that they cannot keep ahead of the demand.
All animal manures provide a good source of organic material and
nutrients for growing plants. The value of manures in desert areas is not
always appreciated because of their low plant nutrient content and the
high cost of transportation per nutrient weight. Municipal sludges, such as
Miloganite (a trade name) have been used effectively for home landscaping
and gardens. They contain low levels of plant nutrients but have the
advantage of an organic base which improves soil structure and tilth.
Management 15

Composts from plant residues also improve the physical properties of soils
when they are applied in sufficient quantity. Homeowners may create
their own organic matter by using an organic compost unit. Success in
making compost in the desert depends on keeping the material moist and
adding small amounts of chemical nitrogen fertilizer, such as urea,
ammonium nitrate, or ammonium phosphate, which enhances decom-
position. Occasional turning and mixing also hastens the decomposition
process. Degradation of the organic source material should proceed until the
compost is crumbly and loses its original identity as plant residue. Addition
of nitrogen fertilizer along with compost provides an excellent combination
for a fertilization and soil-conditioning program.
Wood products, such as sawdust and bark, make good soil mulch. When
they are mixed into the soil, they improve the pore space and waterholding
relationships in clays and heavy loams. Municipal composts have been used
for growing plants in containers, in greenhouses, and around the home.
They contain low amounts of nutrients and, unless specified as being
fortified with nitrogen, require the addition of nitrogen for best results. Peat
moss and sphagnum moss are proven to be excellent sources of organic
materials. Most growers mix them into soils to improve physical conditions
and water relationships. Since they contain no plant nutrients, nitrogen
fertilization is required for obtaining complete mineral balance in the soil.
Green manure derives its name from the green, succulent, and immature
nature of the material of which it is composed. It is any plant residue which
is incorporated into the soil while it is still in the growing stage. The most
commonly used green manure plants are grasses such as barley (Hordeum
vulgare L.) and legumes such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.). The legumes
are best suited for green manure because they make nitrogen for the
succeeding crops. The renewal of organic matter in desert soils is largely
dependent upon the utilization of mature plant residues. Mature plant
residues of all kinds are valuable because they contain plant nutrients and
because their decomposition is slower than that of green residues and their
beneficial decaying extends over a longer period of time.

4.4 Management

The management of organic residues involves the preparation of composted


materials, method of incorporation or placement into the soil, and nitrogen-
carbon relationships (Miller and Turk 1943; Fuller 1975b).
Composts may be made from almost any plant or animal residue. The
homeowner can prepare any of the following three types of compost in his
own yard: (1) compost prepared strictly with plant and/or animal residues,
(2) compost prepared from vegetable or plant residues but fortified with
commercial inorganic fertilizers and/or soil conditioners, and (3) compost
16 Organic Soil Materials

prepared with animal and/or plant residues but layered with topsoil. Com-
posting is an excellent way to make use of polluting organic wastes, since
any biodegradable material is suitable for processing into compost.
The purpose of using 'organic residues is primarily due to the method of
application. Mulches require no special techniques or equipment in their
use. They are placed on top of the soil at a desirable depth over seedbeds or
around plants. The possibility of mulches floating away during irrigation or
heavy summer storms makes it necessary to provide means for holding them
in place. Mulches perform the following three functions: (1) aid in con-
serving moisture, (2) modify soil temperature in the upper few inches where
root activity concentrates, and (3) keep the soil surface open and porous,
thus favoring water intake and infiltration and seedling emergence and
establishment. Soil conditioning with organic materials is an old and trusted
practice. Gardeners and farmers have known that organic residues and
wastes worked into the soil improve its tilth, aeration, and moisture con-
ditions. The object is to incorporate the residue as deeply into the root
feeding area as possible and mix it with the soil. Peat moss, compost, and
manures are mixed with desert soils at or near the time of planting.

Fig. 4. Plowing under sorghum stubble with a seven-bottom moldboard plow. Desert soils
are very low in organic matter. The addition of organic matter to desert soils increases
crop production. The amount of organic matter in desert soils can be increased by
plowing under the plant residues of the previous crop. (Photo by John Colwell from
Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
Maintenance 17

Soil carbon-nitrogen relationships are critical in the growth of plants


where large amounts of organic residue are mixed deep into the soil. Since
microorganisms control nitrogen metabolism in the soil, plants receive only
the nitrogen that exceeds the microorganisms' needs for decomposition. A
good rule to follow is to apply nitrogen with all mature plant residues at the
time they are mixed or spaded into the soil. Generally there are sufficient
other nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients, either in
the residue or soil, to avoid these becoming limiting to plant growth during
the process of decay. Nitrogen applications often are associated with the
conservation and maintenance of organic matter. This is due to the added
increase in crop residue as a result of increased growth. Root as well as top
growth is greatly increased by favorable nitrogen additions.

4.5 Maintenance

Desert soils are very low in organic matter under virgin conditions; how-
ever, they can be very productive. Some of the highest crop yields in the
world have been recorded from desert soils. These soils often show an
increase in organic matter when placed under irrigated agriculture. This is
caused by the large amount of crop residues entering the soil as compared
with the lack of crop production under virgin conditions. Soils of home
gardens, lawns, golf turfs, and landscaped areas in general are often con-
siderably higher in organic matter than the same soils are when under
natural conditions in the absence of irrigation (Fuller 1975b; Fig. 4).
5 Soil Moisture

Soil is a very complex system that consists of different proportions of the


following four principal components: (1) rock particles, (2) organic matter,
(3) the moisture and solutes that make up the soil solution, and (4) air.
Although the amounts of rock particles and organic matter are very constant
in a given soil, the amount of soil moisture fluctuates over a considerable
range, and the amount of air varies approximately inversely with the soil
moisture content (Hamilton 1966).
Soil moisture may be divided into the following four classes: (1) gravita-
tional moisture, (2) capillary moisture, (3) hygroscopic moisture, and (4)
moisture vapor. Gravitational moisture is moisture that occupies the larger
pore spaces in the soil and drains away under the influence of gravity. This
moisture is often injurious to plants if drainage is too slow. Capillary
moisture is moisture that is held by surface forces as films around the soil
particles, in angles between soil particles, and in capillary pores. In the form
of liquid, capillary moisture moves slowly from thicker to thinner films and
along moisture-tension or diffusion-pressure gradients. It can also move in
the form of vapor. Capillary moisture is the only important source of
moisture for most cultivated plants. Hygroscopic moisture is moisture that is
held as very thin films on soil particles by surface forces. This moisture is
held so firmly that it can move only in the form of vapor. The moisture
remaining in air-dry soil is usually regarded as hygroscopic moisture and it is
unavailable to plants. Moisture vapor is moisture that occurs in the soil
atmosphere and it moves along vapor-pressure gradients. Moisture vapor is
not used directly by plants (Miller and Turk 1943; Kramer 1949).

5.1 Field Capacity

Field capacity has been referred to as the field-carrying capacity, normal


field capacity, normal moisture capacity, and capillary capacity. It is the
moisture content after the gravitational water has drained away and capillary
water movement has become very slow. It is essentially equal to the
capillary capacity. Most soils are at their field capacity within from a few
hours to 2 or 3 days after a rain or after irrigation. While most soils reach
20 Soil Moisture

their field capacity very quickly, the presence of a water table near the
surface will greatly prolong the time required for drainage. If the soil is
saturated to a depth of many feet, drainage of the surface layer to field
capacity will be much slower than it will be if only the top few feet are
saturated. A fine-textured soil overlying a coarse-textured soil will have
a higher field capacity than a uniform ally fine-textured soil. Since field
capacity is related to the soil profile and to soil structure, laboratory deter-
minations will not always indicate what the field capacity will be under field
conditions (Kramer 1949).

5.2 Permanent-Wilting Percentage

The moisture content of the soil at the time when the leaves of plants
growing in that soil first become permanently wilted has been designated as
the wilting point, wilting coefficient, wilting-percentage, and permanent-
wilting percentage. According to modern usage, it is called the permanent-
wilting percentage. Although water absorption is too slow for plant growth
at moisture contents below the permanent-wilting percentage, plants are
able to absorb water from the soil until it is approximately air-dry or until
they have died from desiccation. The permanent-wilting percentage does not
mark any definite limit in the movement of water from soil to plant. It
simply marks the moisture content at which absorption becomes too slow to
replace the water lost by transpiration and the leaves wilt. Many plant
species can survive for considerable periods of time in soils that are drier
than the permanent-wilting percentage (Kramer 1949).

5.3 Movement of Water

5.3.1 Gravitational Water

The movement of gravitational water is affected by number, size, and


continuity of the air spaces, or noncapillary pores, through which it
percolates. Since it usually moves very freely through the large pores of
sandy soils, those soils are quickly drained to field capacity. Movement is
less rapid through clay, because the pores are much smaller, they are
frequently blocked by the swelling of colloidal gels, and air is often trapped
in the pores. Movement of gravitational water is hindered by impermeable
subsoil layers, which trap both water and air. Movement is improved by the
penetration of worms and the decay of roots, which leave passageways. In
general, gravitational water can be expected to drain out of the surface layer
Movement of Water 21

of soil from within a few hours to 2 or 3 days after rain or irrigation (Kramer
1949).

5.3.2 Capillary Water

Since capillary water is the principal source of moisture for plants, its
movement in the soil is of great interest. When water is applied to dry soil
by rainfall or irrigation, it moves downward partly under the influence of
gravity and partly by capillarity. A very limited amount of horizontal move-
ment also occurs by capillarity. The force that causes capillary movement is
largely the difference in the surface tension between films that have different
thicknesses and angles of curvature, since movement proceeds from thicker
to thinner films. If these forces are expressed in terms of tension, water
moves along a gradient from a region where the forces holding water are
low to a region where the forces are higher. Water always moves along a

Fig. S. Furrow irrigation in Texas, USA. In desert areas, supplemental irrigation water is
necessary for profitable field crop production. Furrow irrigation is a popular irrigation
system used to apply irrigation water to field crops that are grown in rows. The crop
plants are grown in rows on the top of beds and the irrigation water is applied in the
furrows between the beds. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
22 Soil Moisture

gradient of decreasing free energy. Its free energy is highest in free water,
lower in moist soil, and still lower in dry soil. Movement of capillary water is
most rapid in sandy soils and slowest in clay soils at saturation (Kramer
1949).

5.3.3 Water Vapor

As the soil dries out, the water films become discontinuous and capillary
movement ceases. Any water movement in air-dry soils must be in the form
of vapor. Under field conditions, the soil atmosphere is always saturated,
except in the surface layer, which occasionally becomes air-dry. Movement
of water vapor is along vapor-pressure gradients and it is affected by the
relative temperatures and vapor pressures of various horizons of the soil and
of the soil and air. The movement of water in the form of vapor is very
important in semiarid regions where there is no direct connection between
the water table and the capillary water in the upper soil layer (Kramer 1949;
Fig. 5).
6 Soil Aeration

The gaseous phase of soils serves simultaneously as a pathway for the intake
of the oxygen that is absorbed by plant roots and soil microorganisms and
also as a pathway for the escape of the carbon dioxide that they produce.
This two-way process is called soil aeration. Soil aeration may become
critical when the water content of soils becomes too high, because the excess
water displaces the soil air (Black 1957).
Soil is porous. The volume of soil that is not occupied by solid soil
particles is called pore space. If soil were Swiss cheese, the holes would be
pore space. Pore space is defined in terms of the percentage of the total
soil volume. Approximately 50% of the soil volume is pore space, which
contains air and water. The main difference between soils in humid and arid
climates is in the proportion of pore space holding air or water. Moisture
occupies a greater percentage of the pore space for a longer period of time
where rainfall is abundant than where it is scarce. Most soils are aerobic
(they contain sufficient air to supply oxygen for favorable chemical and
biological processes). Under certain high rainfall conditions, however, soils
may be waterlogged in which the pore space is fully occupied by water
for different periods of time during which time anaerobic processes (not
requiring oxygen) become dominant. Aerobic conditions favor root growth.
Roots die in soil waterlogged for a too long period of time. Anaerobic
conditions are less likely to occur under arid conditions than under humid
conditions (Fuller 1975a).
During the decomposition of plant residue and soil organic matter,
oxygen is used by the microorganisms and carbon dioxide is released. In
uncompacted desert soils where vegetation is sparse and organic matter is
low, the demand for oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide in the surface
layer is lower than in soils in humid climates. Thus, the proportion of
oxygen to carbon dioxide is usually higher in desert soils than it is in humid
soils. The small differences in the composition of soil air between desert
soils and humid soils is of little practical significance in plant growth when
compared with other factors, such as temperature and moisture. The dif-
ferences between daytime and nighttime temperatures are greater in arid
areas than in humid areas. Soil heat is lost to the atmosphere more rapidly
at night in desert areas than in humid areas. Conversion accounts for as
much as half of the loss of heat from the soil to the air at night. Although
24 Soil Aeration

the surfaces of desert soils become hot, the soil is a good insulator. A few
feet below the soil surface the temperature changes very little between
summer and winter. Most plant roots grow deep into the cool soil to avoid
the heat of the surface soil. Soil animals also find excellent air conditioning
in deep burrows in desert soils (Fuller 1975a).

6.1 Composition of Soil Air

Soil air has quantitatively the same composition as atmospheric air. Both
types of air contain nitrogen, oxygen, inert gases, and carbon dioxide.
Substances such as methane and hydrogen, if present, occur in quantities
too small to be detected by ordinary methods. From the quantitative stand-

Fig. 6. An earthworm and earthworm castings in a fertile organic soil. The most
important group of the larger animals that inhabit the soil is the common earthworm.
These organisms prefer a moist environment with an abundance of organic matter and a
good supply of available calcium. The holes left in the soil by earthworms increase soil
aeration and soil moisture drainage. The presence of active earthworms in the A horizon
of a soil indicates that the soil is a productive agricultural soil. (Photo by Grant Heilman
Photography, Inc.)
Soil Aeration and Plant Growth 25

point, the main difference in composition between soil air and atmospheric
air is in the content of carbon dioxide. Atmospheric air contains about
0.03% carbon dioxide. Air extracted from surface layers of soil in which
aeration is thought to be adequate contains from 0.2 to 1% carbon dioxide.
The atmosphere contains about 21 % oxygen. Soil air contains less oxygen
than atmospheric air, but the difference between the two is relatively small
unless the soil has been enriched with carbon dioxide to a greater extent
than the usual 0.2 to 1%. Under aerobic conditions, the volume of carbon
dioxide produced in the soil is approximately equal to the volume of oxygen
consumed. The sum of the carbon dioxide and oxygen percentages is
approximately the same in the soil air as in the atmosphere. The extent to
which soil air differs in composition from atmospheric air is determined by
the rate at which oxygen is consumed and other gases are produced, and
by the rate of gaseous interchange between the soil and the atmosphere.
Respiration by plant roots and microorganisms is the principal cause of
oxygen absorption and carbon dioxide production by soils (Black 1957).

6.2 Soil Aeration and Plant Growth

Plant responses associated with various soil treatments or conditions often


suggest the importance of soil aeration as a causal factor. The only way to
be certain if aeration is adequate is to determine how plant growth is
affected when aeration is improved by supplying additional air without
altering the soil environment in other ways. If no improvement in plant
growth results when air is forced through the soil, aeration may be presumed
to be adequate. In other words, the oxygen supply is sufficient and the
carbon dioxide content is not excessive. The concentrations of oxygen and
carbon dioxide in soil air that correspond to this condition of adequate
aeration may be determined by soil analyses. In desert environments, it is
important to carefully regulate the application of irrigation water so as to
not interfere with sufficient soil aeration for normal plant growth (Black
1957; Fig. 6).
7 Exchangeable Bases

The term "exchangeable bases" or "total exchangeable bases" refers to


the sum of the bases (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium) in
exchangeable form expressed as milligram equivalents per 100 g of soil. Soils
in desert environments contain more exchangeable bases and less exchange-
able hydrogen than do soils in humid areas. Researchers found that when
three soils from three states were averaged, the exchangeable bases cal-
culated as a percentage of the total amounted to 47% with calcium, 16%
with magnesium, 2% with potassium, and 2% with sodium (Anderson et al.
1942). The content of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium in
nonexchangeable form usually exceeds that in exchangeable form. Bases in
nonexchangeable form probably are of little value as sources of nutrients
for plants, but their gradual release serves to replenish the supply of ex-
changeable bases in the soil. The rate of release of bases from the non-
exchangeable form increases with the intensity of weathering if the soil
materials are uniform. If the exchangeable calcium, magnesium, and
potassium in soils represented the total supply of these respective bases,
deficiencies of these bases for plant growth in many soils would appear
within a period of only a few years. This is particularly true of potassium,
which is found in the exchangeable form in relatively small amounts and is
used by plants in relatively large amounts (Black 1957).

7.1 Exchangeable Bases and Plant Nutrition

Plant roots remove ions from the surrounding solution by different pro-
cesses. The first process may be called "active transport". Active transport
takes place as a result of carrier molecules in a protoplasmic membrane that
combine with the ions at the outer membrane surface, transport them to the
inner surface, and release them there as a result of a chemical change. The
second mechanism by which ions are removed from the surrounding solution
is "passive permeation". Passive permeation is the free diffusion of the ions
of the solution into the root external to the membrane across which active
transport occurs. The third mechanism by which plant roots remove ions
from the surrounding medium is by "exchange adsorption". Roots and soils
28 Exchangeable Bases

have cation-exchange properties. Cations held by exchange adsorption do


not diffuse out of the root when the original solution is replaced by water;
however, they are released when other cations are added. In plant nutrition,
cation exchange is much more important than anion exchange. Cations held
in the root in both the exchangeable form and in the freely diffusible form
can be absorbed by active transport. These cations are no longer removable
by exchange with other cations or by free diffusion into water. The bases
present in the soil solution are freely diffusible and will enter by diffusion

Fig. 7. Orange trees in Horida, USA growing in a fertile sandy loam soil. The term
"exchangeable bases' refers to the sum of the bases (calcium, magnesium , potassium, and
sodium) in exchangeable form expressed as mg Eq/IOO g of soil. Soils in most desert
environments contain more exchangeable bases and less exchangeable hydrogen than do
soils in humid areas. Soils in the desert southwestern USA have the right proportion of
exchangeable bases to exchangeable hydrogen for the production of very high quality
citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, and lemons) . (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography,
Inc.)
Exchangeable Bases and Plant Nutrition 29

into the outer space of plant roots, from which they may be absorbed by
active transport. Cations held in exchangeable form by the soil are not freely
diffusible and they must be replaced by other cations before they may be
taken up by plant roots. Exchangeable bases are very important in plant
nutrition in desert environments (Black 1957; Fig. 7).
8 Soil Acidity

Soil acidity is associated with the presence of hydrogen and aluminum


in exchangeable form. Since soil acidity is a condition that results from
prolonged leaching of soluble salts, soils in humid areas are usually acidic.
The concept of acidity was developed in connection with the behavior of
aqueous solutions, which are said to be acid when the activity of hydrogen
ions exceeds that of hydroxyl ions. The same criterion may be applied to
soil. Most soils in the humid regions are acid or "sour" as a result of losses
by leaching and crop removal of such basic elements as calcium, magnesium,
and potassium. In arid or desert regions, soils are usually alkaline or
"sweet". The degree of acidity or alkalinity of a soil is conveniently ex-
pressed in terms of pH values. The pH scale is divided into 14 divisions or
pH units numbered from 1 to 14. Soils with a pH value of 7 are neutral.
Soils with pH values below 7 are acid or "sour" and soils with pH values
above 7 are alkaline or "sweet". A pH of 5 is ten times more acid than a pH
of 6 and a pH of 4 is ten times more acid than a pH of 5. Thus, a soil with a
pH of 4 is 100 times more acid than a soil with a pH of 6 (Black 1957;
National Plant Food Institute 1962).
In most humid areas, acid soils are relatively common. The cause of this
is the leaching of calcium and other exchangeable bases from the surface soil
and their replacement by hydrogen ions. Application of lime corrects the
difficulty. Most crop plants grow well in soil that is neutral, mildly acid, or
mildly basic. Soil that is strongly acid is not suited to crop culture, except for
a few crops, which demand acid soil. There are many reasons for crop
failures on acid soils. The most obvious possibility to suggest itself is that
acid is corrosive and it destroys plant tissue. It is doubtful, however, that the
acidity of soils is ever actually great enough to destroy plant tissue. Of
greater importance are the following: (1) increased solubility of aluminum,
iron, and manganese to the extent that they build up to toxic levels, (2)
insolubility of phosphorus, potassium, and other minerals in the presence of
acids, (3) deficiency of calcium and magnesium ions needed by the plants for
normal metabolism, and (4) inactivity of soil organisms in very acid soils.
The addition of organic matter to an acid soil aids in correcting its acidity.
Organic matter acts as a buffer so that more hydrogen ions are required to
make the soil acidic. However, it takes more lime to neutralize the acid in a
soil high in organic matter. The same is true if the soil is high in colloidal
32 Soil Acidity

clay. In other words, a ton of lime is more effective on sandy soil than on
clay soil if both are initially at the same level of acidity (Pearson 1967).
Most crops grow well if the soil pH is between 6 and 8. Alfalfa (Medicago
sativa L.), for example, demands a pH of about 6.5 or higher and thrives
best at pH values between 7 and 8. Azaleas (Rhododendron L.), on the
other hand, grow poorly if the pH is above 5.5 or 6 and thrive when the pH
is between 3.5 and 4. Although liming is generally desirable if acid soils are
to be made productive, there are times when liming is not advisable, even
for crops which favor a neutral reaction. An example of this can be observed
in producing potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.) . Although potatoes usually
seem to do best as the pH approaches 7, if the land is infested with scab-
disease organisms, it may be desirable to encourage acidity because these
organisms cannot tolerate very strongly acid soils, whereas the potato can.

Fig. 8. Planting corn and applying commercial fertilizers and soil amendments in the
USA. Most soils in humid regions are acid as a result of losses by leaching and crop
removal of such basic elements as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. In desert regions,
soils are usually alkaline. The degree of activity or alkalinity is expressed as pH values. At
planting time, the soil pH should be adjusted to the crop being grown by the application
of appropriate commercial fertilizers and/or soil amendments. (Photo by John Colwell
from Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
Soil Acidity 33

Where the danger of scab is great, sulfur may be added to soils to reduce the
pH to about 5. The soil organisms change the sulfur to sulfuric acid. In
desert environments, soil acidity is seldom a problem (National Plant Food
Institute 1962; Pearson 1967; Fig. 8).
9 Soil Alkalinity

Soil alkalinity or salinity is a condition that results from the accumulation of


soluble salts in soil. Most of the alkaline soils are found in the desert
environments throughout the world. Although saline soils do occur in humid
regions in areas affected by sea water, the most extensive occurrences are
in arid regions, where they usually are found in low-lying areas where
evaporation concentrates the salts received from more elevated locations in
surface water, ground water, or irrigation water. Since low-lying areas are
most easily cultivated and irrigated, they have the greatest agricultural
value. The problems connected with soil salinity in these low-lying areas are
of major importance in highly developed agriculture in desert regions. The
degree of alkalinity of a soil is conveniently expressed in terms of pH values.
The pH scale is divided into 14 divisions or pH units numbered from 1 to 14.
Soils with a pH of 7 are neutral. Soils with pH values below 7 are acid or
"sour" and soils with pH values above 7 are alkaline or "sweet". A pH of 9
is ten times more alkaline than a pH of 8 and a pH of 10 is ten times more
alkaline than a pH of 9. Thus, a soil with a pH of 10 is 100 times more
alkaline than a soil with a pH of 8 (Black 1957; National Plant Food
Institute 1962).
The pH value of most soils falls in the range between 4 and 8. Most crop
plants grow and produce best on slightly acid or neutral soils. There are
exceptions, however, such as some berries which do best on strongly acid
soils. Other crops such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) have a high lime
requirement. Saline conditions are caused by high concentrations of the
following ions: sodium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, and sulfate (occasion-
ally bicarbonate and nitrate) in different combinations. The injury that
occurs to crops from saline soil is of three types: (1) high osmotic pressure
affecting water intake by the plants, (2) disturbed metabolism, especially of
nitrogen, due to the high ion concentration of certain minerals, and (3) the
indirect effect of some of the ions, especially sodium, on soil structure
(Pearson 1967).
Alkali conditions are caused primarily by a high concentration of
sodium carbonate. The injuries caused by alkaline conditions are more
spectacular than those caused by salinity and include the following: (1)
the extreme effect of the sodium ion in breaking down soil structure, (2)
toxicity of the carbonate ion, (3) reduced uptake of calcium, and (4) the
36 Soil Alkalinity

caustic effect of high alkalinity - hence the name "black alkali" . The
accumulation of saline and alkali salts in arid regions is due to high evapora-
tion rates which exceed precipitation so that moisture in the soil is brought
upward to the surface rather than leaching downward. The salts are carried
upward with the rising moisture. There are three major approaches to the
reclamation of alkali and saline soils. Of greatest importance is the establish-
ment of adequate drainage coupled with over-irrigation to leach the salts
through the soil. Where leaching is not practical , the growing of tolerant
crops is recommended. The third method consists of adding organic matter
to the soil. Frequently desert soils have poor soil structure and the addition
of organic matter helps to improve soil structure. In reclaiming alkali soils, a
soil amendment, such as gypsum, may have to be added to increase the
solubility of calcium and make leaching of the sodium ions from the soil
possible. Many studies have been conducted to determine the tolerance of
crop plants to salinity and alkalinity and lists of tolerant crops have been

Fig. 9. Alkaline soil deposits in a desert area in California, USA. Most alkaline soils
occur in arid regions where they are found in low-lying areas where evaporation
concentrates the salts received from more elevated locations in surface water, ground
water, or irrigation water. Since the low-lying areas are most easily cultivat.ed and
irrigated, they have the greatest agricultural potential. A farmer with an alkaline soil
problem should consult the list of alkaline-tolerant crops before choosing crops for his
particular farm . (Photo by Alan Pitcairnom Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
Soil Alkalinity 37

prepared. A farmer with an alkali problem should consult the lists of


tolerant crops before choosing crops for his particular farm. Plants vary
greatly in their sensitivity to saline conditions. Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum
L.) and western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii Rydb.) have been reported
to be very tolerant to salinity, whereas potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.)
and red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) have been reported to be very
sensitive. Plants vary in their tolerance to pH. Sweet clover (Melito us
officinalis Lam.) is reported to tolerate relatively high pH values, while
tobacco, (Nicotiana tobacum L.) will not tolerate an alkaline soil reaction.
The alkali soils are often high in boron. Sugarbeets (Beta vulgaris L.) are
among the crops most tolerant to boron, and field beans (Phaseolus vulgaris
L.) are easily poisoned by boron. Alkali and saline soils are frequently
poorly drained and tolerant crops must be able to tolerate conditions of
poor aeration. Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea L.) has been
reported to tolerate waterlogged conditions relatively well, whereas alfalfa
is very susceptible to waterlogged soil. In choosing crops for a given alkali
soil, it is necessary to consider the type of problem that is most prevalent in
the area in question (Pearson 1967; Fig. 9).
10 Nitrogen as a Plant Nutrient

Plant growth is limited more often by a deficiency of soil nitrogen than by a


deficiency of any other plant nutrient. In desert environments, nitrogen is
the principal plant nutrient that must be applied to the soil for optimum
plant growth. Nitrogen occupies a unique position among the nutrient
elements derived from the soil. Combined nitrogen occurs only in trace
quantities in igneous rocks, but it is required by plants in relatively large
quantities. Soils and plants have a particularly intimate relationship with
respect to nitrogen since the buildup of the supply of soil nitrogen, on which
most plants are dependent, resulted from the growth of plants. The traces of
nitrogen found in igneous rocks appear to be in ammonium form. The much
larger quantities of nitrogen found in soils are largely in organic forms
(Black 1957).

10.1 Nitrogen in Soils

The nitrogen content in desert soils is lower than the nitrogen content in
humid soils because the amount of organic matter, the carrier of nitrogen, is
lower in desert soils. The native nitrogen in desert soils is primarily in the
organic form as a part of the soil organic matter. Very little mineral nitrate
(N0 3 ) is present at anyone time in unfertilized soils. Small but continuous
amounts of mineral nitrate are released by microbial conversions from
insoluble organic matter sources. Ammonium nitrogen (N~) is either not
detected in native desert soils or it is present only in traces, because of its
high rate of conversion into nitrate by the soil microfiora, its absorption by
plants, and its high rate of volatilization into the atmosphere.
Nitrogen undergoes many changes in the soil. The principal changes
include immobilization, mineralization, nitrification, denitrification, fixation,
and translocation. Nitrogen exists in the soil primarily in an immobilized
state of organic combination as a component of plant, animal, and microbial
residues. During the decomposition of organic matter, nitrogen is liberated
for plant uptake only when the supply is greater than that required for use
by the microorganisms. Nitrogen will continue to be recycled by the soil
organisms until the carbon content decreases to a level where the C/N ratio
falls below about 30: 1. This lowering of the C/N ratio takes place through
40 Nitrogen as a Plant Nutrient

the evolution of carbon, as carbon dioxide gas, to the atmosphere. Nitrogen


is recycled until it is no longer needed for carbon degradation, at which time
it is mineralized from proteins to an inorganic form such as ammonia. It is
then released to the soil, where it is oxidized to available nitrate. The
oxidization of ammonia to nitrate in the soil is called nitrification. This
process takes place when the temperature and moisture conditions in the
soil are similar to the conditions required for growing plants. Calcareous
desert soils possess a very active nitrification microflora. Thus, nitrate is the
dominant inorganic nitrogen form in most desert soils.
Denitrification, or nitrogen loss, is the process by which nitrates are
reduced to elemental nitrogen gas (N2)' which escapes to the atmosphere
where it is lost for plant uptake. Under conditions of limited oxygen supply,
such as exist in waterlogged and compacted soils, and where large amounts
of plant residues are incorporated, denitrification is pronounced. Before
plants can use elemental nitrogen gas from the air, it must be combined with
other elements, such as hydrogen or oxygen. This combining process is
called nitrogen fixation and the resulting compounds are available to plant
roots. Nitrogen fixation may occur from chemical reactions, as in the
industrial production of ammonia and nitric acid, or biologically by the soil
microorganisms. The conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia and
finally to amino acids by soil microorganisms and legume plants through
symbiosis in the root nodule is a good example of the latter. All desert
soils contain nitrogen-fixing organisms. The translocation or movement of
nitrogen in the soil depends upon the chemical form in which the nitrogen
exists. For example, nitrogen as ammonia does not move readily in the soil
because it is positively charged and it is absorbed to the soil colloids (clays)
sufficiently to prevent it from moving by the leaching action of water.
Nitrate nitrogen, on the other hand, is not absorbed to soil colloids as tightly
and it is highly mobile and moves readily in the soil water. Thus, it may be
lost to plants by leaching below the root zone or active root feeding area.
Most plants can use both ammonium-nitrogen and nitrate-nitrogen. Unfor-
tunately, ammonium-nitrogen is rapidly converted to the more mobile
nitrate form in desert soils. Excessive watering of soils to remove salts by
leaching may result in the downward movement and loss of nitrogen fertility
from the root feeding zone. Except when there is a need to flush accumulated
salts from the soil, excess watering should be avoided. Nitrogen fertilizers
may best be applied to the soil after the pre-season leaching (Black 1957;
National Plant Food Institute 1962; Fuller 1975b).

10.2 Nitrogen in Plants

Plant cells require nitrogen for their formation and functions. The nucleus,
for example, is a nitrogen-containing structure in living plant cells. Nitrogen
is essential in plant chlorophyll and in the formation of protein compounds.
Nitrogen in Plants 41

Nitrogen occurs primarily in the organic form in plants, although some may
be present in the inorganic form as ammonium, nitrite, or nitrate. The
percentage of nitrogen in different plant parts will vary with the age, type of
tissue, kind of plant, and even the time of day. Excluding the leaves, the
aerial parts of most plants contain more nitrogen than the roots. The plant
nitrogen content varies most in the leaves and least in the roots.
Plant response to nitrogen includes: (1) encouragement of vegetative
growth (stems and leaves), (2) assurance of a favorable rate of growth and
development, (3) an increase in the intensity of green coloring, (4) an
increase in the protein content of different plant parts, and (5) favorable
seed production. An adequate supply of available nitrogen is essential for
maximum plant growth. Either an excess or a deficiency of nitrogen may
limit plant production. An abundance of available nitrogen in the soil
produces a rank growth of foliage, stems, and leaves, and it stimulates
vegetative growth at the expense of flower, fruit, and root development in
some plants. An unusual increase in leaf area is one of the most striking
effects of an abundant supply of nitrogen. Nitrogen also is one of the most
important factors in the growth rate of the leaves. The size of most plants
is thus largely a measure of the rate of nitrogen metabolism. With an
abundance of nitrogen, the water content of the tissues of plants is in-
creased. And increased succulence in plant parts is believed to be caused by
an increased production of protoplasm which is highly hydrated, and a lower
rate of transpiration in those plants receiving a high nitrogen supply com-
pared with plants having a limited nitrogen supply. High nitrogen fertil-
ization, therefore, makes plants more susceptible to freezing. Nitrogen
should be withheld late in the growing season, just as is water, to help
"harden-off" plants in preparation for cold weather.
An excess of available nitrogen salts in the soil may kill plants. Plants
wither, turn brown, and dry up. Excess soluble nitrogen is particularly
hazardous to seedlings when it is placed too close to the seed row by the
sidedress method of application. The toxicity is due to an excess of total
salts, rather than to any specific toxicity of nitrogen itself. When plants are
not killed, excess nitrogen limits root extension and development. Some
grain plants grown with excess nitrogen are delayed in maturing and the
ripening process occurs prematurely before sufficient food materials can be
transferred from the vegetative parts to the seeds or grain. Thus the seeds or
grain that are produced are shriveled and light in weight. An insufficient
supply of available nitrogen results in light green or yellow leaves, stunted
plants, limited branching of annual plants, and small flowers and fruit. The
lower leaves on the stem dry and drop earlier than usual. A decreased
amount of protoplasm is formed, and a general reduction in stems and
leaves occurs. Yields from crop plants decline rapidly when nitrogen is
deficient (Black 1957; National Plant Food Institute 1962; Fuller 1975b).
42 Nitrogen as a Plant Nutrient

10.3 Forms of Nitrogen Utilized by Plants

The two forms of soil nitrogen that are available to plants are inorganic and
organic. The two forms of atmospheric nitrogen available to plants are
combined and elemental. The most common forms of soil nitrogen absorbed
by plants are ammonium (NH4) and nitrate (N0 3 ). These ionic forms
originate from inorganic salts (fertilizers) or as a product of organic matter
decomposition. Some plants grow equally well with either nitrates or
ammonium salts as a source of nitrogen, and other plants, although they will
assimilate ammonium salts in the absence of nitrate, seem to grow better
when nitrates are applied. From the standpoint of the assimilation of these
two forms, ammonium requires a lower expenditure of energy by the plant

Fig. 10. A stunted ear of com caused by an extreme soil nitrogen deficiency. Plant growth
is limited more often by a deficiency of soil nitrogen than by a deficiency of any other
plant nutrient. The nitrogen content in desert soils is lower than the nitrogen content in
humid soils because the amount of organic matter, which is the carrier of nitrogen, is
lower in desert soils. Nitrogen is the fertilizer nutrient most often needed in desert
agriculture. (Photo by Barry L. Runk from Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
Forms of Nitrogen Utilized by Plants 43

in its incorporation into protein than nitrate. There is no apparent practical


significance of this energy relationship. The effectiveness of one form com-
pared with the other appears to depend upon the type and stage of growth
of the plant and the acidity or alkalinity of the soil (Fuller 1975b; Fig. 10).
11 Phosphorus as a Plant Nutrient

Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient for growth. Phosphorus performs


functions in the plant metabolism, structure, and reproduction that cannot
be performed by any other element. The concentration of phosphorus in
plants usually is lower than the concentration of nitrogen, potassium, or
calcium. As a limiting factor, phosphorus is more important than potassium
or calcium. Except for nitrogen, unsatisfactory plant growth is more often
due to a shortage of phosphorus than to a shortage of any other element.
Phosphorus is intimately associated with all life processes and it is a vital
constituent of every living cell. Without phosphorus there would be no
normal life on earth (Black 1957).

11.1 Phosphorus in Soils

The amount of available phosphorus in desert soils usually is adequate


for the native vegetation. Plants native to either desert valley floors or
dry uplands do not display phosphorus deficiency symptoms, nor do they
respond to phosphorus fertilizers. On the other hand, when desert soils are
irrigated and the plant density is increased, phosphorus is sometimes needed
for some crop plants and certain landscape plants. In desert areas, the more
intensive use of soils under irrigation and the introduction of new plant
types are responsible for the occasional need for supplemental phosphorus
fertilizer. In desert areas, the native soil phosphates are dominated by the
calcium phosphates. Compared with soils in humid regions, only a small
proportion of the soil phosphates are combined into iron and aluminum
complexes or with kaolin clay. Since these forms are highly unavailable to
plants as compared with the calcium phosphates of desert soils, phosphorus
is not as limiting a plant nutrient in the desert as it is in humid areas.
Organic phosphorus is also found in desert soils in amounts ranging from 10
to 20% of the total in the main root feeding area. Most of the organic
phosphorus is in the upper part of the soil profile associated with the soil
organic matter.
Phosphorus reactions in soils are different from nitrogen reactions in
soils. Phosphorus movement in soils is much less than the movement of
46 Phosphorus as a Plant Nutrient

nitrogen, and phosphorus is not lost from the root zone by leaching, as is
true for nitrogen. More than 90% of applied phosphorus fertilizer moves
less than 3 cm from its placement in the soil. Liquid phosphorus fertilizer
applied on the soil surface remains within 12cm of the surface, even in
sandy soils. The slow movement of soluble phosphorus applied to desert
soils makes it necessary to place it down into the root zone if it is to be of
maximum use to plants. Surface applications of phosphorus are of little
value until they are plowed or spaded into the plant root zone. Small
amounts of phosphorus in the organic forms of microbial and plant debris do
move downward in soil; however, the process is very slow. Roots, dying and
decaying in the soil, contribute to the distribution of phosphorus throughout
the soil profile. One reason why home garden plants and field crops require
phosphorus fertilizer is because the plant residues are removed from the soil
during harvest. Under natural conditions, plant residues remain in the soil
where they are produced and, therefore, become a part of a phosphorus
recycling process, which concentrates phosphorus in the surface layers of the
soil. Much of the phosphorus in fertilizers applied to desert soils reacts with
the soil and is unavailable for immediate plant use; however, it does
become available to plants over a period of time. Only a small part of the
phosphorus in soils is removed in plant residues each year. Therefore,
phosphorus fertilization is not needed as frequently as nitrogen fertilization.
Home gardens may not need phosphorus additions more often than once
every 2 or 3 years (Fuller 1975b).

11.2 Phosphorus in Plants

Except for nitrogen, unsatisfactory plant growth more often is due to a


shortage of phosphorus than to a shortage of any other element. Phosphorus
is intimately associated with all life processes and it is a vital constituent of
every living cell. Without phosphorus there could be no life. Phosphorus is
involved in the conservation and transfer of energy in living cells. All cells in
all plants are dependent on phosphorus and its distribution throughout the
plant is governed by need. Phosphorus in plants is mobile and does not
remain fixed like calcium, iron, and many other elements. Phosphorus is
redistributed within plants when the available soil phosphorus becomes
limiting. It is withdrawn from the older, less active cells and transferred to
the younger, more active cells. Later, phosphorus is withdrawn from the
leaves and transported into the fruit.
Deficiency symptoms of phosphorus are not specific. If phosphorus is
needed, however, the following conditions may appear: (1) root and shoot
growth is greatly reduced, (2) shoot growth is upright and spindly, (3) lateral
shoots are limited and lateral buds may die or remain dormant, (4) pre-
mature defoliation occurs, beginning with older leaves, (5) blossoming is
Phosphorus in Plants 47

reduced, (6) foliage may become purple, and (7) leaf margins may turn
brown. Different plant species have different abilities to absorb phosphorus
from soil or fertilizer. For example, cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) rarely
responds to phosphorus in lint yield, whereas beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)
often require additional phosphorus during growth. Vegetable crops usually
respond to phosphorus but ornamental shrubs seldom respond. Young citrus
trees often respond to phosphorus; however, mature trees seldom show a
response. The need for available soil phosphorus in the early stages of plant
growth is relatively great. The root system is small during the early stages
of growth, the feeding area is limited, and a greater concentration of
phosphorus per unit of root volume is needed. Young plants also demand
more phosphorus than mature plants. Most plants have obtained 50% of
their phosphorus needs by the time they have reached 20% of their entire
growth. Fast-growing plants maturing during the warm summer months
usually respond more to phosphate applications than do the same plants
when growing more slowly during the cooler winter months (National Plant
Food Institute 1962; Fuller 1975b).

Fig. 11. Surface application of inorganic fertilizer in Arizona, USA. Phosphorus is an


essential nutrient for plant growth. Except for nitrogen, unsatisfactory plant growth is due
to a shortage of phosphorus more often than to a shortage of any other element. If a
phosphorus deficiency exists, it may be corrected by the application of inorganic
phosphorus fertilizer with a fertilizer spreader like the one shown in this photograph.
(Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
48 Phosphorus as a Plant Nutrient

11.3 Forms of Phosphorus Utilized by Plants

Most plants have the ability to absorb and store great quantities of phos-
phorus in their tissues, even in excess of their needs. Plant cells contain both
inorganic and organic forms of phosphorus. Desert soils usually supply
soluble calcium phosphates to plants. Phosphorus deficiencies may be
corrected by using phosphorus fertilizers which provide additional phos-
phorus for plant growth in the form of P2 0 S (National Plant Food Institute
1962; Fuller 1975b; Fig. 11).
12 Potassium as a Plant Nutrient

Potassium is one of the macronutrients and it is an essential element for


plant growth and reproduction. Potassium is usually present in plants in
quantities larger than any other nutrient except nitrogen. Some plants and
plant tissues accumulate relatively large quantities of potassium. Tobacco
(Nicotiana tobacum L.) leaves, for example, may contain as much as 8%
potassium on a dry weight basis and they may show symptoms of potassium
deficient if the content falls below 3%. Although plants are capable of
absorbing relatively large quantities of potassium from soils, a deficiency
of potassium in soils is not as widespread as a deficiency of nitrogen.
Experience in the midwestern USA has shown that nitrogen may be de-
ficient for a number of years before potassium becomes deficient. Then,
within a period of a few years, a definite potassium deficiency may develop.
The explanation for this behavior appears to be that many soils originally
have a large reserve of potassium, from which potassium may be withdrawn
at a rate determined, to a large extent, by the plant. The behavior of
potassium in this respect is in contrast to the behavior of nitrogen, because
the maximum rate of withdrawal of nitrogen from the soil is largely beyond
the control of the plant (Black 1957).

12.1 Potassium in Soils

The relative abundance of available potassium in desert soils is one of


their most outstanding and distinguishing characteristics. In desert areas,
potassium fertilizers are seldom needed except in sandy soils. Most resi-
dential and landscape plantings in desert environments have never been
subjected to potassium-deficiency tests. It is believed that some household
plants that have been introduced into desert areas may have need for more
available potassium. The behavior of potassium in calcareous (desert) soils
differs greatly from its behavior in noncalcareous (humid) soils. Replaceable
potassium (that held on clay particles) is more available in calcareous soils
than it is in noncalcareous soils. The water solubility of potassium in
calcareous soils is lower than in noncalcareous soils. The solubility of
potassium is greatly increased by carbonic acid in calcareous soils; however,
50 Potassium as a Plant Nutrient

in noncalcareous soils carbonic acid has very little effect on its solubility.
Exchangeable potassium is more easily replaced in calcareous soils than it is
in noncalcareous soils. Nonexchangeable potassium is higher in calcareous
soils than it is in non calcareous soils (Fuller 1975b).

12.2 Potassium in Plants

Potassium is one of the many elements that are considered essential for
higher plant life . Although its specific physiological role is not clear,
potassium influences plant growth in the following ways: (1) it imparts
increased vigor and disease resistance in plants, (2) it produces strong, stiff
stalks, and reduces lodging, (3) it increases the plumpness of the grain and
seed, (4) it is essential in the formation and transfer of starches, sugars, and

Fig. 12. Potassium-deficient corn in the USA. The relative abundance of available
potassium in desert soils is one of their most outstanding and distinguishing
characteristics. In desert areas, potassium fertilizers are seldom needed except in sandy
soils. In potassium-deficient soils many plants have the following potassium-deficiency
symptoms: (1) the young plants are weak and tend to lodge, (2) the leaf margins turn
yellow and/or brown, (3) the plants are more susceptible to diseases and insects, and (4)
the seeds are small and shriveled. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
Potassium in Plants 51

oils, and (5) it imparts winter hardiness in legume plants and also many
other crops.
Potassium moves readily throughout plants. It is prominently present in
all actively growing tissues. Most plants deficient in potassium exhibit the
following distinct and well-characterized symptoms: (1) plants grow very
slowly, (2) the margins of the leaves turn brown, beginning with the older
leaves, (3) the seeds and fruits are small and shriveled, (4) the stalks are
weak, and (5) the clovers and alfalfa have characteristic white spots along
their leaf margins. Plants differ in their overall requirements for potassium
and in their ability to absorb it from the soil. The potassium requirement
may be more critical at one physiological growth stage than it is at another
stage. For example, potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.) may show no
symptoms of potassium deficiency during the early stages of growth, but
during later stages potassium deficiency may become critical. The critical
stage for potassium, however, is not the same for all plants. Most fertilizers
provide potassium in the form of potash (K20). Potassium chloride, fre-
quently called muriate of potash, (60-62% K2 0) is the most popular
potassium fertilizer grade and it accounts for about 95% of the potassium
fertilizers used in commercial agriculture (National Plant Food Institute
1962; Fuller 1975b; Fig. 12).
13 Plant Nutrients in Desert Soils

A general understanding of desert soils and the plant nutrients that they
contain may be obtained from a brief review of the desert areas in the
southwestern USA. Within this general region there are many individual
desert areas, surrounded by semiarid grasslands, and subhumid forests. The
margins of deserts cannot be clearly defined because they expand during dry
years and contract during wet years. For convenience, geographers have
classified the southwest desert as two large land areas, called the Sonoran
and Chihuahuan Deserts, based on differences in vegetation. The Yuma
subdesert, which represents the extremely dry and hot Sonoran Desert, has
a mean annual rainfall of about 8cm. It is selected for detailed description
to represent what is meant by a true desert. The soils of this selected area
are representative of those in other desert valley floors throughout arid
environments (Fuller 1975a).

13.1 Soils in the Yuma Subdesert

The Yuma Subdesert is a comparatively smooth plain, interrupted by low,


narrow mountain ridges of bare rock. The lowlands are broad, flat belts of
sandy soil, with alluvial fans of rock debris near the mountains. Along the
Colorado and Gila Rivers, flat, narrow strips of valley soil support luxurious
plant growth where water is available. The soil surface is smooth, but
broken in places by sand dunes and old river channels. The elevation is
from 30 to 60m above sea level. Away from the valley floors, the Yuma
Subdesert rises 12 to 60 m to a broad, smooth, sandy terrace. The terrace is
separated from the valley floor by a well-defined bluff. Beyond the terrace is
the Yuma Plain. It is interrupted by low and narrow mountain ridges that
extend in a northwest-southeast direction. The Yuma plain is much larger
than the Yuma Terrace or Mesa.
The soils in the Yuma Subdesert have an interesting geologic history.
The nature of the geologic debris, rock, and stone from which the soils were
formed, together with the factors of climate, vegetation, micro-organisms,
and time, give the soils their individualistic character. The Yuma area was
exposed to alternating periods of humid and arid climate. It was also
54 Plant Nutrients in Desert Soils

invaded by seas, lakes, and rivers. The valley soils were laid down by river
water and are called alluvial soils. These soils are fine-textured and very
fertile. The terrace and plain soils were formed by wind-blown particles
from the river bottoms, are sandy in texture, and are called aeolian. Near
the mountains, broad, alluvial fans (water-laid deposits) of geologic debris
accumulate in different degrees of particle size (rocks, stones, gravel, sand,
and silt), depending on the volume and rate of flow of water in the out-
washes from the mountains. The soils of the Yuma Subdesert, for the most
part, have developed on either water-transported or wind-transported
material. Under strictly desert conditions, weathering is more of a physical
process than a chemical process. Physical weathering of soil materials
includes fracturing by expansion and contraction as a result of heating and
cooling and wind and sand abrasion. The physical weathering processes in
desert environments are usually much slower than the chemical weathering
processes that predominate in humid climates (Arnon 1972; Fuller 1975a).

13.2 Man's Invasion

The Anglo-American settlement of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona took


place about 300 years after the first Spanish settlements. Mining attracted
the Anglo-Americans more than agriculture. The full impact of man on the
soils in the Yuma Subdesert was not felt until the early 20th century. Small
parcels of irrigated land along both the Colorado and Gila Rivers were
established and abandoned sporadically until about 1900. The building of
the Alamo Canal began in 1902. It delivered water to Imperial Valley,
California, by way of a natural drainage way, partly in Mexico and partly in
the United States. In 1905, the Colorado River flooded into and overran the
canal and drainage way, and filled many hectares with water in the Salton
Sea depression before it was finally diverted back to its delta. There was a
constant fear that the Colorado River would overflow and inundate the
Imperial, Yuma, and Mexican desert areas, located near or below sea level,
and drown their populations. The Hoover Dam Project, which impounds
water in Lake Mead and provides hydroelectric power as well as streamflow
control, was authorized in 1928 and completed in 1935. Further down-river,
the sediment-laden water required the building of a desilting works in order
for it to be used for irrigation. The Imperial Dam, at the intake of the All-
American Canal that delivers water to clay soils in the Imperial Valley, was
built for this purpose. The sediment brought to the sandy Yuma Mesa prior
to the building of the desilting works had a favorable influence on these
porous soils. The water-holding capacity and the chemical bonding of the
fine silt made the sandy mesa more agriculturally productive. These and
other dams have encouraged extensive agricultural land development in the
Yuma Subdesert. The environment has been changed from an area to be
Minerals in Soils 55

avoided to one of the fastest-growing population areas in the entire United


States (Fuller 1975a).

13.3 How Desert Soils Differ

The differences that exist among soils are as great as the differences among
trees, birds, or insects. Soil composition varies within a single climatic
region almost as much as among different climatic regions. Wide differences
exist in fertility and productivity. Even when brought to the same fertility
level by adding nutrients, different soils do not necessarily produce
identically. Soil variations are inherited during formation from differing
geologic parent materials and/or from the differing conditions under which
soils develop. Soils vary in depth of the surface organic layer and total depth
to parent material. Some soils in the desert southwest are as fertile in the
subsoil as they are in the surface layers. Unlike the more developed humid-
climate soils, removing the topsoil of desert valleys by cutting, filling, and
leveling does not necessarily impair its productivity and may even improve
it. Where soils are shallow because of underlying caliche, rock, gravel, sand,
or hardpan, stripping the surface exposes a poor medium which always
creates a problem for growing plants. A knowledge of soil and water
behavior is essential for successful gardening in an arid climate. Although it
is well known that a scarcity of water will cause salts to accumulate in soils,
plants may be damaged by excessive watering. Without provision for
drainage, excessive water in most soils creates a waterlogged condition in
the subsoil which leaves plants stunted and yellow (chlorotic). When over-
watering is continued, a high water table may develop. Salts move up from
the subsoil water by capillary action and collect on or near the surface. Such
soils soon become so salty that plants grow poorly or fail to grow (Fuller
1975a).

13.4 Minerals in Soils

Mineral matter constitutes the bulk of soils in the desert southwest. Mineral
materials originate from rock. When rocks are reduced to small particle
sizes by weathering, they form soils. Not all minerals change chemically
by weathering. The primary minerals that remain relatively unaltered by
weathering do so because of their chemical and structural nature. Precious
stones like rubies, garnets, and zircons are examples of primary minerals
that are resistant to weathering. Secondary minerals, called clays, form from
the less resistant rock material. Soils are organized bodies containing both
56 Plant Nutrients in Desert Soils

Fig. 13. Native vegetation in a desert area in Arizona, USA. Except for nitrogen, many
desert soils contain sufficient plant nutrients for profitable field crop production, if
supplemental irrigation water is applied, as needed, throughout the growing season. If
desert soils are deficient in plant-available nitrogen, the best time to apply nitrogen
fertilizer is at planting time. (Photo by Alan Pitcairn from Grant Heilman Photography,
Inc.)

primary and secondary minerals. The principal fertilizer elements needed


for plant growth are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Soils differ greatly in their natural fertility. Nitrogen is the fertilizer
element that varies more than any other fertilizer element in soil. Soil
organic matter contains most of the reserve nitrogen which eventually
becomes available to the plant, therefore if organic matter is low, so is
nitrogen. Soils in the desert southwest are very low in organic matter and
nitrogen. In desert areas, nitrogen is the principal fertilizer element needed
for profitable plant growth. The amount of available phosphorus in desert
soils is usually adequate for the native vegetation. When desert soils are
irrigated and the density of plants is increased, phosphorus may be needed
for some crop plants and certain landscape plants. The relative abundance
of available potassium in desert soils is one of their most outstanding and
distinguishing characteristics. Potassium fertilizers are seldom needed for
the profitable production of most crop plants in desert environments
(Stefferud 1957; Arnon 1972; Fuller 1975a; Fig. 13).
14 Soil Moisture in Desert Environments

The soil moisture or soil solution in desert environments differs from that in
humid regions in its salt content, that is usually expressed as parts per
million of dissolved solids. The presence of salts makes it necessary to be
alert concerning the quantity and quality of water used for irrigation. The
management of irrigation water in a desert climate is so critical that it has
'become a science. Slight changes in total salt content and/or in kind of salt
(sodium, calcium, etc.) may make the difference between plant growth and
no growth (Fuller 1975a).

14.1 Soil Moisture Quantity

Since rainfall is limited in arid regions, irrigation leaching must be ac-


complished to carry the salts below the root zone if harmful accumulation is
to be prevented. Dissolved salts in the soil solution move to the depth of
water penetration. The salts in the soil solution come from both soil and
water. In fact, irrigation water alone contains sufficient salt to put the land
out of production if it is not leached occasionally. In home gardens and
lawns, as in irrigated agriculture, leaching below the root zone should be
practiced at least once a year. The amount of leaching water necessary to
maintain productive soils depends on the quality or salt content of the
irrigation and drainage water. The saltier the water, the more of it is
required to keep a favorable low salt balance in the soil. Plants vary in
adaptation to salt. For example, radish (Rophanus sativus L.) will tolerate
2000 to 3000ppm of salts in the soil solution, whereas beets (Beta vulgaris
L.) will tolerate three times more salt. Soil water in humid climates contains
only a few ppm of salts, rarely more than 200. Soil water in arid soils may
contain from 2000 to 20000ppm of salts (Fuller 1975a).

14.2 Soil Moisture Quality

Certain elements in irrigation water exercise a disproportionate influence on


soil properties when they are compared with other elements. Sodium is one
S8 Soil Moisture in Desert Environments

of the critical elements. If the ratio of sodium to calcium plus magnesium


is high (above a ratio of 1: 1), soil particles disperse, water penetration
and infiltration decrease, organic matter solubilizes, and the black color of
humus appears. Such conditions are referred to as black alkali. Black alkali
soils are found in un irrigated and uncultivated soils and also in irrigated
soils. Soil water in sodic soils has a pH value above 8.4 and it is high in
sodium, carbonate, hydroxide, and phosphate . Only the most salt-tolerant
plants can grow in soils with a pH above 8.4. Sodium must be removed by
deep leaching. Fortunately, only limited and scattered areas of black alkali
soils occur in most desert environments. Most desert soils have a pH range
from 6.8 to 8.4. Some soils may be high in specific toxic ions such as boron.
Boron is readily detected in the soil solution by chemical tests and it can be
leached below the root zone.
Some salt is necessary for good soil structure . For example, some soils
become dispersed when waters of very low salt content are used and the
leaching of salts proceeds too far. Some salt is necessary to keep the clay

Fig. 14. The Rio Grande River in Texas, USA . The single most important requirement
for profitable commercial agriculture in most desert environments is the availability of
sufficient irrigation water. The presence of a fresh water river in desert areas is the best
source of irrigation water. An outstanding example of a profitable commercial agricultural
industry is the commercial agriculture in the Rio Grande River Valley in the southwestern
USA. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
Soil Moisture in Desert Environments 59

flocculated. In some desert environments, salty well water is mixed with


unsalty river water to keep the irrigation water at a favorable salt level,
which prevents the harmful dispersion of the soil particles and also extends
the existing unsalty water supply.
Water quality requirements for irrigation purposes are not the same as
for domestic use. High quality domestic water may be unsuited for irrigation
and vice versa. Some water softener devices use sodium chloride (table
salt) to exchange with calcium to reduce water hardness. Sodium waters
deteriorate the physical condition of soils and eventually make them
unsuited for growing plants. Compared with sodium, the hardness due to
calcium does not detract from irrigation water quality. Fluorides, chromates,
lead, and many other elements, whose presence makes water undesirable
for domestic sources, do not affect their quality for irrigation.
In the USA, the use of the Colorado River water for irrigation has
increased dramatically since the early years of the 20th century. The devel-
opment of new irrigation districts and expansion of old districts have
resulted in some deterioration in quality of water all along the length of the
river. As water passes from state to state there is a progressive increase in
salt content. In addition, irrigators in Mexico receive saltier Colorado River
water than do irrigators in the United States (Stefferud 1955; Fuller 1975a;
Fig. 14).
15 Plant Nutrients Required for Growth

The control of plant nutrition is one of the foundations of modern agri-


culture. Although the influence of soil on plant growth is recorded in ancient
writings, the role of inorganic minerals was unknown until recent years. The
nutrition of crops is heavily dependent upon the chemical and physical
properties of soil, which influence its ability to hold and provide water and
nutrients for plant growth. The fertility of a soil is only indirectly related to
the chemical composition of its primary inorganic minerals. Frequently, the
important factor is the form in which the nutrients exist in the soil. The
availability of nutrients depends upon many factors, among which are the
solubility of the nutrients, soil pH, cation-exchange capacity of the soil, soil
texture, and the amount of organic matter present (Janick et al. 1969).

15.1 Plant Nutrients

About 90% of the entire weight of a living herbaceous plant is water. The
remaining 10% is dry matter and it consists primarily of three elements:
carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. A small but important fraction of the
dry matter consists of other elements that are indispensable for growth.
Although soil may supply a large number of minerals, only 13 (in addition to
carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) have been proven to be absolutely essential
for higher plant life and growth. These 13 essential elements are divided into
two categories on the basis of the abundance with which they are required
by plants. The major elements are required in relatively large amounts and
are usually expressed as parts per hundred (%) per unit of dry matter.
The major elements include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium,
magnesium, and sulfur. Minor elements are required in very small quantities
and are usually expressed in parts per million (ppm) per unit of dry matter.
The minor elements include boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese,
molybdenum, and zinc (Janick et al. 1969).
62 Plant Nutrients Required for Growth

15.2 Essential Elements in Plant Nutrition

The three essential fertilizer elements needed in plant nutrition are nitrogen,
phosphorus, and potassium. Of the three foregoing essential fertilizer
elements, nitrogen is the most important in desert environments. Amino
acids, which are the building blocks of plant protein, and many other plant
substances contain nitrogen. Although nitrogen accounts for only 1 or 2% of
the dry weight of a plant, nitrogen-containing compounds make up about
25% of the dry weight. Excess nitrogen delays maturity and fruiting in some
plants by promoting vegetative growth. Severe nitrogen deficiencies may
also delay maturity and reduce crop yields. High-nitrogen plants may be less
fruitful than low-nitrogen plants. Nitrogen causes plants to grow rapidly,
resulting in a high proportion of succulent, fleshy plant tissue in contrast to
stiff fibrous tissue. As a result, herbaceous plants with a high nitrogen
content are often blown over or lodged, as they approach maturity. Plant
material with a high nitrogen content is more susceptible to freezing injury
than is plant material with a low nitrogen content. Nitrogen-deficiency
symptoms are easily identified. Leaves of nitrogen-deficient plants are
usually very light green, but may be yellow or red because when chlorophyll
is deficient the color of other pigments shows through. The leaves are also
small. Lower leaves are usually the first to show discoloration, and may turn
yellow and drop off before the topmost leaves have lost their intense green
color. Individual branches may die and the entire plant is stunted. Nitrogen
is found in both organic and inorganic compounds in the soil. Soil nitrogen
is most abundant in climatic regions that favor the accumulation of organic
matter, such as the grasslands. Mineralization of nitrogen (the change from
an organic to an inorganic form by the decomposition of organic matter)
must take place before nitrogen can be absorbed and used by plants. The
forms of nitrogen most usable by plants are the ammonium (NH4) and
nitrate (N0 3 ) ions. Ammonium nitrate (NH4N03 ) is widely used as a
fertilizer because it is composed of both ions. Nitrogen fixation is the
transformation of atmospheric nitrogen into forms available to plants and it
is accomplished by symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in nodules on the roots
of legume plants. Nitrogen fertilizers may be either organic or chemical.
Organic matter has been used as fertilizer for thousands of years. Legume
crops have been used to add nitrogen to soil for many years. Ammonium
sulfate contains 20.5% nitrogen. It is called acid-forming fertilizer because
the sulfate can be transformed to sulfuric acid. It is usually obtained as a
by-product of coke ovens, but is also made from ammonia. Anhydrous
ammonia (dry ammonia) is a gas at temperatures at which plants grow but it
becomes a liquid when cooled and put under pressure. It may be injected
into the soil as a gas or as a liquid and it may be added to irrigation water.
Ammonium nitrate contains 33.5% nitrogen and it is usually used in the
form of pellets. It is one of the most widely used nitrogen fertilizers.
Essential Elements in Plant Nutrition 63

Ammonium phosphates are used to make mixed fertilizers. Urea is an


excellent fertilizer because of its high nitrogen content (45%). Urea may be
applied either to the soil or to the plant foliage (Janick et al. 1969).
Phosphorus is intimately associated with all plant life. Except for
nitrogen, unsatisfactory plant growth is more often due to a shortage of
phosphorus than to a shortage of any other fertilizer element. Phosphorus is
found in plants in many forms. In seeds it is stored as phytin. During
germination, phosphorus is "mobilized" (converted to a form in which it
can be translocated) and becomes part of the new proteins formed during
growth. Nucleoproteins are composed in part of phosphorus. There are
many phosphorus compounds involved in the metabolic transfer processes in
plants. Although phosphorus is an essential nutrient for productive plant
growth, only about 0.2% of the total dry weight of a plant is phosphorus.
Phosphorus-deficient plants frequently have purplish leaves, stems, and
branches. Maturity is retarded and growth is generally slow. Yields of fruits
and seeds are usually poor and fruit often drops prematurely. Phosphorus
deficiency in tobacco results in stunted growth and small, dark green leaves
that form a rosette. Legumes have a high requirement for phosphorus and
seed yields may be greatly reduced when phosphorus is limited. Oranges
from phosphorus-deficient trees have a coarse skin, sour juice, and poor
shape. Phosphorus is released into soils by the weathering of rocks that
contain the mineral apatite. It occurs naturally as calcium phosphate, iron
and aluminum phosphates and as organic phosphates. A soil may have an
abundance of phosphorus and yet have little available for plant nutrition if
the soil conditions are unfavorable. The availability of phosphorus to plants
is partially a function of soil reaction. In acid soils (pH 4 and less) insoluble
iron and aluminum phosphates form, and in highly alkaline soils (pH 8.5
and higher) calcium phosphates are equally insoluble. Drought usually
causes a decrease in phosphorus availability that lasts long after the imme-
diate effects of soil desiccation. During the process of dehydration, the
concentration of solutes in the soil solution increases, and large, complex,
mineral crystals form that have less surface area per unit volume and are less
readily dissolved than small crystals. When phosphorus is applied to soil, it
seldom moves very far from the point of application because of its numerous
complex reactions with clay and organic matter. Consequently, it is usually
placed close to the crop row rather than broadcast, because band application
reduces surface contact with soil particles. Although it is applied in a water-
soluble form, phosphorus usually does not move more than 2 to 3 cm from
the point of application in the same form, but it is converted to an insoluble
compound within 2 or 3 days. Losses of phosphorus from the soil are usually
due to the removal of crop plants and to its becoming unavailable in the soil.
Since it is a metal, phosphorus is not volatile, and it is not subject to
leaching from the soil. Phosphate rock is treated with sulfuric acid to form
superphosphate, which contains about 9% available phosphorus. Triple
superphosphate, which is made by treating phosphate rock with phosphoric
64 Plant Nutrients Required for Growth

acid, contains about 20% elemental phosphorus. Other phosphate fertilizers


are ammonium phosphate, calcium phosphate, and finely ground phosphate
rock. The amount of available phosphorus in most desert soils is usually
adequate for the native vegetation. Plants native to desert valley floors or to
dry desert uplands do not show phosphorus-deficiency symptoms, nor do
they respond well to phosphorus fertilizers (National Plant Food Institute
1962; Janick et al. 1969; Fuller 1975b).
Potassium is a soft white metal that can be cut with a knife. It is so
reactive that it must be stored under oil or in sealed tubes because it will
react with oxygen, water, and carbon dioxide. Potassium in the form of
potassium carbonate is commonly called potash. Potassium was first dis-
covered to be essential for plant growth in 1866. At that time, it was
found that oats would not produce flowers unless potassium was present.
Potassium is necessary for the formation of sugars and starches, for the
synthesis of proteins, and for cell division. It also neutralizes organic adds
and regulates the activity of other mineral nutrients in plants. It activates
certain enzymes, helps to adjust water relationships, and promotes the
growth of young plants. It improves the rigidity of straw and helps prevent
lodging, increases the oil content of fruits grown for oil, contributes to cold
hardiness, and improves the flavor and color of some fruit and vegetable
crops. About 1% of the total dry weight of a plant is potassium. Plants
deficient in potassium produce low yields even before abnormal external
colorations and other symptoms can be observed. Potassium-deficient leaves
are usually mottled, spotted, or curled, and the older leaves show symptoms
first. The leaves may appear burned along the edges and at the tips with
dead areas falling out and leaving ragged edges. Corn plants with insufficient
potassium are usually streaked with yellow or yellowish green. Tobacco
leaves become mo~tled and chlorotic and develop dead spots in the center of
the mottled areas. Potassium-deficient plants nearly always have poorly
developed root systems and are easily blown over. Carbohydrate synthesis is
so greatly impaired that there is not enough to supply both tops and roots.
The tops usually have greater priority, partly because they are nearer the
place of synthesis, and the roots receive less than they need for optimum
growth. Most potassium in soils is derived form the minerals muscovite,
biotite, orthoclase, and microcline. The first two are micas and the second
two are feldspars. These minerals are usually found as large particles in the
soil. A small amount of the potassium in soil solutions comes from soluble
salts, such as KCI, and is highly available to plants. Under normal con-
ditions there is a balance between the different forms and when potassium is
added to the soil in the form of a soluble salt it is most available to plants.
Much of the potassium applied to soils is removed by crops. Since most of
the potassium utilized by plants is in the leaves, crops grown for their
foliage, such as forage crops, remove much more than those grown for other
parts, such as tubers and fruits. Potassium is not readily leached from most
soils. It is more likely to be deficient in the upper soil layers than in the
Essential Elements in Plant Nutrition 65

Fig. 15. Side-dressing com with anhydrous ammonia nitrogen fertilizer in the USA. The
three essential fertilizer elements needed in plant nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and
potassium. Of the three foregoing essential fertilizer elements, nitrogen is the most
important in desert environments. When row crops like com are grown , a portion of the
nitrogen fertilizer is usually applied in the form of an inorganic nitrogen fertilizer at
planting time and an additional application of nitrogen is applied as a side-dressing to the
young plants in the form of anhydrous ammonia . (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography,
Inc.)

lower layer, mainly because it is removed from the upper layers by plants.
With increasing depth, potassium becomes more abundant and more
uniformly distributed throughout soils. When potassium fertilization is
required, about 95% of all potassium is applied in the form of potassium
chloride (KCl). Potassium may be applied to soils in mixed fertilizer and
also as separate materials. The relative abundance of available potassium
in desert soils is one of their most outstanding and distinguishing charac-
teristics. The native soils in most desert environments contain sufficient
potassium for the profitable production of most field crop plants (National
Plant Food Institute 1962; Janick et al. 1969; Fuller 1975b; Fig. 15).
16 Plant Nutrients in Municipal Wastewater

Municipal wastewater (sewage effluent) from an activated sludge sewage


treatment plant contains most of the major plant nutrients needed for plant
growth. It contains more nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, the prin-
cipal fertilizer elements needed for growth, than does most irrigation water
from rivers, dams, and wells. In desert environments, if municipal waste-
water is used instead of conventional irrigation water, it provides more
nitrogen, which is the fertilizer plant nutrient needed most for plant growth,
than is usually necessary for favorable crop production (Sopper and Kardos
1973; Fuller and Tucker 1977).

16.1 Municipal Wastewater Treatment

It is important that all municipal wastewaters that are to be used as sources


of plant nutrients in commercial agriculture come from modern sewage
processing plants that produce a clean wastewater that has been sufficiently
processed to make it environmentally safe for all people, animals, and plants
involved in its use (Page et al. 1983).

16.2 Irrigation with Municipal Wastewater

16.2.1 Small Grains Pasture Forage

Eight experiments were conducted in Arizona, USA, to compare the


pasture forage production of small grains irrigated with municipal waste-
water with the forage obtained when small grains were irrigated with well
irrigation water and fertilized with different amounts of commercial fertilizer
(Day and Tucker 1959). Winter pasture forage (85% moisture) yields equal
to 12.5kg/ha were obtained from barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) irrigated
with wastewater and no additional fertilizer. Barley produced 112% more
forage on plots irrigated with wastewater alone than was produced on check
plots that received well water with no additional fertilizer. Barley was more
68 Plant Nutrients in Municipal Wastewater

sensitive to wastewater than wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) or oats (Avena


sativa L.).
When wheat was grown with well water with no additional fertilizer, it
produced 3.9 kg/ha of green forage. Wheat plots that received wastewater
with no additional fertilizer produced 263% more forage than check plots
that received well water with no additional fertilizer. In general, as the
amount of nitrogen fertilizer was increased, the average wheat forage yield
also was increased. Wheat was not as sensitive to wastewater as barley.
Oats produced 3.5 kg/ha of green pasture forage when irrigated with
well water with no additional fertilizer. When oat plots were irrigated with
wastewater with no additional fertilizer, they produced 249% more forage
than plots that received only well water. As the amount of nitrogen fertilizer
was increased, the average oat forage yield increased. Oats were not as
sensitive to wastewater as barley. When irrigated with wastewater, barley
produced more early winter pasture forage than did either wheat or oats.
Oats produced more vegetative growth later in the winter pasture season
than did either barley or wheat.

16.2.2 Hay from Small Grains

Small grains (barley, oats, and wheat) provide high quality hay for beef and
dairy cattle. They can be grown in the summer in the cooler climates and
during the winter months in desert environments. Normal rainfall is not
sufficient in desert regions to provide maximum hay production from small
grains. Supplemental irrigation water is often not available or too expensive
for agricultural use. Six experiments were conducted over a 2-year period in
Arizona, USA, to compare hay production from small grains irrigated with
municipal wastewater with hay obtained from small grains irrigated with
well water and fertilized with different amounts of commercial fertilizer
(Day and Tucker 1960). Each of three small grain crops (barley, oats, and
wheat) was studied in two experiments for 2 years.
When barley was irrigated with well water and fertilized with recom-
mended commercial fertilizer, it produced 6.3 kg/ha of air-dry hay. When
barley was irrigated with municipal wastewater with no additional fertilizer,
it produced 5% more hay than did barley grown with well water and
recommended commercial fertilizer. Barley was more sensitive to the pre-
sence of detergents and higher accumulation of soluble salts in wastewater
than were oats and wheat.
Oats irrigated with well water and fertilized with recommended com-
mercial fertilizer produced 3 kg/ha of air-dry hay. When oats were irrigated
with municipal wastewater with no additional fertilizer, they produced 126%
more air-dry hay than did oats grown with well water and recommended
commercial fertilizer. Oats utilized the fertilizer nutrients in wastewater
more efficiently in the production of hay than did barley. Oats were less
Irrigation with Municipal Wastewater 69

sensitive to the detrimental effects of the detergents and higher accumula-


tion of soluble salts in wastewater than was barley.
When wheat was irrigated with well water and fertilized with recom-
mended commercial fertilizer, it produced 6.2 kg/ha of air-dry hay. When
wheat was irrigated with municipal wastewater with no additional fertilizer,
it produced 16% more air-dry hay than did wheat grown with well water and
recommended commercial fertilizer. Wheat utilized the fertilizer nutrients in
wastewater more efficiently than did barley and less efficiently than did oats
in the production of hay. Wheat was less sensitive than barley and more
sensitive than oats to the detrimental effects of the detergents and higher
accumulation of soluble salts in wastewater.

16.2.3 Grain from Small Grains

Small grains (barley, oats, and wheat) can be grown successfully for grain
productions in the southwestern USA and in similar desert environments
throughout the world. Normal rainfall is not sufficient for maximum grain
production from small grains in these semi-arid areas and supplemental
irrigation water is not available. Experiments were conducted in the USA to
determine if municipal wastewater can be used successfully as supplemental
irrigation water to produce grain from small grains in desert environments
(Day et al. 1962). Each of three small grain crops (barley, oats, and wheat)
was studied for a 2-year period.
Average grain yields from barley, oats, and wheat irrigated with well
water and fertilized with recommended commercial fertilizer were 2933,
2195, and 1864kg/ha, respectively. Average grain yields from barley, oats,
and wheat irrigated with municipal wastewater with no additional fertilizer
were 16, 20, and 32% higher, respectively, than grain yields from the same
crops irrigated with well water and fertilized with recommended commercial
fertilizer. These data indicated that all three small grain crops utilized the
fertilizer nutrients in municipal wastewater, efficiently, in the production of
high grain yields.
The principal grain quality factor that determines the price received for
grain on world markets is bushel weight. High bushel weight grain sells at a
premium. The average bushel weights of grain from barley, oats, and wheat
irrigated with municipal wastewater with no additional fertilizer were equal
to or higher than the average bushel weights of grain from the same grain
crops irrigated with well water and fertilized with recoptmended commercial
fertilizer. These data indicate that grain from barley, oats, and wheat
irrigated with municipal wastewater will sell for the same price as grain from
the same crops irrigated with well water and fertilized with recommended
commercial fertilizer.
Most of the grain from barley, oats, and wheat is used for livestock
feed. The two principal livestock feed quality characteristics used in
70 Plant Nutrients in Municipal Wastewater

evaluating grain quality are: (1) total protein percentage and (2) total
digestible laboratory nutrients (DLN) percentage. The average protein and
DLN percentages in grain from barley, oats, and wheat irrigated with
municipal wastewater with no additional fertilizer were the same as the
protein and DLN percentages in grain from the same crops irrigated with
well water and fertilized with recommended commercial fertilizer. These
data suggest that grain from barley, oats, and wheat irrigated with municipal
wastewater with no additional fertilizer has the same livestock feeding
quality as grain from the same crops irrigated with well water and fertilized
with recommended commercial fertilizer.

16.2.4 Hay from Alfalfa

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is the legume plant that produces the highest
quality hay for livestock feed in the world. Alfalfa grows very well in many
humid climates and also in most desert environments. The influence of
municipal wastewater on the growth and yield of hay from alfalfa was
studied in field experiments in the USA (Day et al. 1982). The crop was
planted in October of each year at a seeding rate of 22.4 kg/ha. Approxi-
mately 150 cm of irrigation water were applied in flood irrigations each year.
The response of alfalfa to two irrigation treatments: (1) well water from
local wells (control) and (2) municipal wastewater and well water in a 50: 50
mixture was compared by sampling the first harvest in selected fields. The
hay was harvested when 10% of the alfalfa stems had one or more flowers.
Alfalfa irrigated with the wastewater and well water mixture produced
taller plants and higher yields of hay than did alfalfa grown with well water
alone. Total protein in the hay and in vitro dry matter disappearance
(IVDMD) of the hay was the same for alfalfa grown with both sources of
irrigation water. When municipal wastewater was mixed with well water
high in total soluble salts, the salt content of the mixture was reduced and
the quality of the irrigation water was improved. The higher yields obtained
when alfalfa was irrigated with the wastewater and well water mixture than
when grown with well water alone probably resulted from lower concentra-
tions of soluble salts and higher concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous
in the mixture than were present in the well water. Municipal wastewater
can be used effectively as a source of irrigation water and plant nutrients in
the commercial production of high quality alfalfa hay, making more regular
well water available for domestic purposes in the southwestern USA and
also in similar environments throughout the world.

162.5 Cotton

Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) is the most important crop grown for lint
or fiber in the world and it grows best in desert environments. The influence
Irrigation with Municipal Wastewater 71

of municipal wastewater on the growth, yield, and quality of lint from cotton
was studied in field experiments in the USA (Day et al. 1981). The crop was
planted in April and harvested in November each year. Approximately
122 cm of irrigation water were applied in furrow irrigation each year.
Two sources of irrigation water were used: (1) well water from local wells
(control treatment) and (2) municipal wastewater and well water in a 50:50
mixture. The well water contained 4600 ppm total soluble salts and 22 ppm
total nitrogen (N). The wastewater and well water mixture contained
3400 ppm total soluble salts and 40 ppm total N. The suggested fertilizer rate
for cotton in the area, 56kg/ha of N fertilizer, were applied prior to planting
the cotton that was irrigated with well water, increasing the total N to
334 kg/ha. No N was applied to the cotton that was irrigated with the
wastewater and well water mixture, although the total N applied was
488 kg/ha. All other cultural practices were similar for cotton grown with the
two irrigation treatments.
Cotton grown with the wastewater-well water mixture was taller and it
produced more seed cotton and lint cotton than cotton irrigated with only
well water. The lint quality characteristics of cotton grown with the two
irrigation treatments were similar. The quality of irrigation water is in-
fluenced by salt concentrations, which lower the desirability of water for
irrigation. The lower concentrations of salts present in the wastewater and
well water mixture indicated that the mixture was of a higher quality than
well water alone. The wastewater-well water mixture, therefore, was more
desirable for irrigating cotton than was well water. The use of municipal
wastewater in the commercial production of cotton uses a municipal waste
material effectively in commercial agriculture and makes more well water
available for domestic purposes.

16.2.6 Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon L.) is a long-lived perennial grass, with


a spreading growth habit, that propagates by runners, underground root-
stocks, and seed. It is adapted to desert environments and it is commonly
grown for turf and forage in all tropical and subtropical parts of the world.
The influence of municipal wastewater on the growth, yield, and quality
of forage from bermuda grass was studied in the USA (Day et al. 1984).
Bermuda grass utilized the plant nutrients in municipal wastewater as
effectively as it utilized the nutrients in commercial inorganic fertilizer in the
production of high yields of high quality forage for livestock feed. When
it was irrigated with wastewater, bermudagrass produced a very compact
turf that withstood heavy traffic. When bermuda grass was irrigated with
municipal wastewater, it produced a popular turf for golf courses, city parks,
recreational areas, and home lawns in the arid areas of the southwestern
United States.
72 Plant Nutrients in Municipal Wastewater

16.2.7 Fertilizer Value of Municipal Wastewater

Research was conducted in Arizona, USA, to determine the average


quantities and fertilizer values of the N, P2 0 S , and K2 0 that are normally
present in the treated municipal wastewater from 1000 people per year (Day
et al. 1987a). In Tucson, AZ, each person produces 90 gallons of raw
sewage per day, which translates into 32850000 gallons of raw sewage per
1000 people per year. The raw sewage is processed into treated municipal
wastewater (effluent) and anaerobically digested liquid sewage sludge in an
Activated Sludge Treatment Plant. The municipal wastewater from WOO
people per year contains 5395, 4648, and 2988 pounds of N, P2 0 S , and K20,
respectively. At an estimated cost of $0.30, $0.20, and $0.10 per pound for
N, P20S, and K20 , respectively, the fertilizer value of the municipal waste-
water from 1000 people per year is $1619, $930, and $299 for N, P2 0 S , and

Fig. 16. Beef cattle grazing on an irrigated pasture in a desert area in Colorado, USA.
Municipal wastewater (sewage effluent) can be used very effectively as irrigation water to
produce pasture forage for beef cattle in desert areas. Properly treated municipal
wastewater contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are the principal
fertilizer elements needed for plant growth . Most crop plants utilize the plant nutrients in
municipal wastewater as effectively as they utilize the plant nutrients in commercial
inorganic fertilizers. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
Future Prospects 73

K2 , respectively, which amounts to a total fertilizer value of $2848 from 1000


people per year.

16.3 Future Prospects

The future of municipal wastewater is very encouraging in the desert en-


vironments throughout the world. Properly treated municipal wastewater
contains considerable quantities of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and
potassium (K), which are the principal fertilizer elements needed for plant
growth. Most crop plants utilize the plant nutrients in municipal wastewater
as effectively as they utilize the plant nutrients in commercial inorganic
fertilizers. When municipal wastewater is used to irrigate and/or fertilize
crop plants, a municipal waste material is disposed of in an environmen-
tally safe manner and more regular irrigation water and/or fertilizer is
made available to irrigate and/or fertilize food crops for human consumption
(Fig. 16).
17 Plant Nutrients in Sewage Sludge

Anaerobically digested sewage sludge from modern metropolitan sewage


treatment plants is a good source of plant nutrients required for growth.
Sewage sludge also contains a considerable quantity of organic matter,
which is usually very low in soils in most desert environments. Sewage
sludge may be applied to soil as a dry solid or as a liquid. Method of
application is very important. Surface spreading results in considerable loss
of nitrogen by volatilization to the atmosphere in the inorganic ammonia
form (NH3)' Other disadvantages of surface application are (1) greater
susceptibility to wind, water, and soil erosion, (2) attraction for flies, insects,
and vermin, (3) slower biodegradation, (4) metals and nitrates are less likely
to be attenuated by the soil, and (5) society finds it less acceptable. Injection
prevents the immediate and future loss of NH3 because it is released from
the organic matter during biodegradation and ammonification to N~ as the
first mineral form. Injection also corrects all of the other problems listed for
surface application (Sommers 1977; Fuller 1983).

17.1 Sewage Sludge Treatment

It is important that all sewage sludge that is to be used as a source of plant


nutrients in commercial agriculture come from a modern sewage plant that
produces an anaerobically digested sludge that is environmentally safe for all
people, animals, and plants involved in its use (Page et al. 1983).

17.2 Plant Growth Factors in Sewage Sludge

Katterman and Day (1989) reported that anaerobically digested sewage sludge
contained two chromatographically separated components of cytokinin-like
activity, that served as active plant growth agents, in addition to consider-
able quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus, and .potassium, which are the prin-
cipal fertilizer nutrients needed for plant growth. The presence of these two
cytokinin-like growth agents in sewage sludge was suggested as one possible
76 Plant Nutrients in Sewage Sludge

reason why some field crops produce higher yields of plant products,
when fertilized with sewage sludge, than can be explained on the basis of
the concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the sludge.
Sewage sludge contained more organic matter than did inorganic fertilizers.
When desert soil was fertilized with sewage sludge, the additional organic
matter increased the water-holding capacity, decreased water-runoff,
improved aeration, and resulted in a more desirable soil structure for plant
growth.

17.3 Fertilization with Dry Sewage Sludge

17.3.1 Grass and Turf

Most grass and/or turf species may be fertilized effectively with dry sewage
sludge from municipal sewage treatment plants. One of the best-known
areas for fertilization of grass and turf with dry sewage sludge is the south-
western USA, where sun-dried sludge has been incorporated as a filler in
mixed fertilizer for over 25 years. The economical use of radiant energy for
drying sewage sludge in a series of shallow ponds makes the management
of sludge in desert regions attractive. The application of dry sewage sludge
to grass and turf species is an environmentally safe way to dispose of a
municipal waste and provide needed fertilizer for effective plant growth in
most desert environments throughout the world (Fuller and Tucker 1977).

17.3.2 Wheat

A 6-year experiment (1978 through 1983) was conducted in Arizona, USA,


to study the effectiveness of dried sewage sludge as a fertilizer for the
production of grain and straw from wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) (Day et al.
1987c). Two fertilizer treatments were used: (1) suggested rates of nitrogen
(N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) for wheat in Arizona (160, 80, and
Okg/ha of N, P 20 5 , and K 2), respectively, and (2) 10 metric tones/ha of
sewage sludge to provide the suggested N level of 160 kg/ha. The two
fertilizer treatments were applied during seedbed preparation before planting
in December of each year. The experimental design was a Randomized
Complete Block with four replications. The plots were fertilized, pre-
irrigated, and then planted with wheat at the rate of 112 kg/ha. The wheat
was irrigated as needed to prevent soil moisture stress throughout the
growing season. About 76cm/ha of irrigation water were required to pro-
duce wheat grain. The grain was harvested at 12% moisture in June of the
following year.
Fertilization with Dry Sewage Sludge 77

Average number of days from planting to harvest, plant height, grain


yield, grain volume-weight, and grain/straw ratio were similar for wheat
grown with the two fertilizer treatments. In vitro dry matter disappearance
(IVDMD) and total protein concentrations in wheat grain were similar for
the two fertilizer treatments. IVDMD and total protein concentrations were
higher in wheat straw grown with sewage sludge alone than they were in
straw grown with suggested N, P, and K from commercial fertilizer. Wheat
grain and straw from both fertilizer treatments contained relatively low
concentrations of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc. Concentrations
of N, P, K, Na, and total soluble salts were higher in soil fertilized with
dried sewage sludge for 6 years than they were in the original soil. The
foregoing data suggest that a grower can produce high yields of wheat grain
and straw for livestock feed using dried sewage sludge as a source of
fertilizer and that the grain and straw will not contain excessive amounts of
cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc. Fertilization with dried sewage
sludge for 6 years did not decrease the yield or quality of wheat grain and
straw or result in any adverse effects of the soil that could not be corrected
with minor changes in field crop culture.

17.3.3 Differences in Wheat Cultivars

A 3-year experiment (1981 through 1983) was conducted in Arizona, USA,


to compare the growth and grain yield of six wheat cultivars when fertilized
with dried sewage sludge and inorganic fertilizers from commercial sources
(Day and Thompson 1988). At planting, in December each year, tWo
fertilizer treatments were applied: (1) 160kg/ha Nand 80kg/ha P20 5 from
inorganic sources and (2) 10 metric tons/ha of dried sewage sludge to
provide 160kg/ha of N. The following six wheat cultivars were grown in
each fertilizer treatment: Aldura, Anza, Cajeme, Siete Cerros, WPB 1000-
D, and Zaragoza. The experimental design was a split plot with four replica-
tions. The fertilizer treatments were the main plots and the cultivars were
randomized within each main plot as subplots. In December of each year,
the plots were pre-irrigated with 15 cm of water, fertilized, and then planted
with the six cultivars at the rate of 112 kg/ha of seed. From planting to
maturity, 75 cm of irrigation water were applied at 15 cm per irrigation
interval. The following data were obtained from each cultivar: days from
planting to maturity; plant height; lodging; heads per unit area; seeds per
head; seed weight; grain yield per unit area; grain to straw ratio; and
concentration of heavy metals in the grain.
Wheat cultivars grown with suggested rates of N, P, and K from com-
mercial fertilizer required a shorter period from planting to flowering, grew
shorter plants, and produced lower grain yields than did the same cultivars
grown with dried sewage sludge in amounts necessary to provide the
suggested amount of N, with no additional commercial fertilizer. Wheat
78 Plant Nutrients in Sewage Sludge

grain from both fertilizer treatments contained very low concentrations of


cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc; however, grain grown with dried
sewage sludge contained more lead, nickel, and zinc than did grain pro-
duced with conventional culture. Cultivars differed in number of days from
planting to flowering, plant height, lodging, number of heads per unit
area, number of seeds per head, seed weight, and grain yield, within each
fertilizer treatment. Future wheat breeders should be able to select and/or
develop new cultivars that can utilize the plant nutrients in dried sewage
sludge more effectively than present cultivars in the southwestern United
States and also in other desert environments throughout the world.

17.4 Fertilization with Liquid Sewage Sludge

17.4.1 Wheat

The disposal of liquid sewage sludge on agricultural lands is used in many


metropolitan societies as a cost-effective and environmentally safe alter-
native to other sewage disposal methods. Experiments were conducted in
Arizona, USA, to compare plant growth, hay yield, grain yield, straw yield,
and livestock feeding qualities of wheat fertilized with liquid sewage sludge
with the same qualities of wheat fertilized with suggested inorganic fertilizer
(Day et al. 1990). The wheat was grown on sandy loam soil and fertilized
with suggested rates of inorganic nitrogen (N) and suggested rates of plant-
available N from anaerobically digested liquid sewage sludge. The liquid
sewage sludge had a pH of 7.6 and it contained an average of 1.5% solids,
9% total N, 5.4% phosphoric acid, and 0.4% potash on a dry weight basis.
The heavy metal contents of the liquid sewage sludge on a dry weight basis
were: 1Omg/kg cadmium (Cd), 886mg/kg copper (Cu) , 53mg/kg nickel
(Ni), 218mg/kg lead (Pb), and 118mg/kg zinc (Zn). Urea was used as the
source of inorganic N. The sewage sludge was surface-applied from tanker
trucks and incorporated into the soil to a depth of 15 em with a disk harrow.
The urea was applied once in the first irrigation water after planting. Fol-
lowing sludge application, the fields were plowed, disked, and listed to form
I-m planting beds. Ourum wheat was planted in dry soil with a grain drill at
150 kg/ha. All other cultural practices were those normally used for wheat in
the area. The wheat hay was harvested at the milk stage of seed develop-
ment and air-dried to 10% moisture content. The grain and straw were
harvested at maturity.
Fertilization of wheat with liquid sewage sludge increased number of
days from planting to heading, plant height, and tillering. Liquid sewage
sludge and inorganic N fertilizer treatments produced similar yields of hay,
grain, and straw from wheat. Wheat hay, grain, and straw grown with liquid
sewage sludge and inorganic N were similar in livestock feeding qualities.
Fertilization with Liquid Sewage Sludge 79

Heavy metal concentrations in wheat hay, grain, and straw were low in both
fertilizer treatments. Cadmium and nickel levels were below detectable
limits. When wheat was grown to maturity, more heavy metals accumulated
in the grain than in the straw. Liquid sewage sludge was used effectively as a
source of fertilizer in the production of high yields of high quality hay, grain,
and straw from wheat in the desert environment in the southwestern United
States.

17.4.2 Response of Barley to Liquid Sewage Sludge Loading Rates

Since 1984, liquid sewage sludge from Tucson, Arizona, USA, has been
applied to farm lands as an alternative to disposal in landfills. Present
guidelines by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) for land
application of sewage sludge dictates that application rates be limited to the
nitrogen requirement of the crop to be grown. However, projected increases
in sewage sludge and limitations in land areas for disposal may require
higher application rates than those presently recommended.
Detailed greenhouse experiments were conducted in Arizona, USA, to
study the effects of liquid sewage sludge loading rates on the vegetative
growth, yield, and quality of barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) grain and straw
(Day et al. 1989). The liquid sewage sludge had a pH of 7.6, 1.5% total
solids, 9% total N, 5.4% phosphoric acid, and 0.4% potash on a dry weight
basis. The plant-available N in the sewage sludge was estimated to be 6.8%.
The sewage sludge loading rates consisted of seven treatments, each
replicated four times as follows: (1) check (a soil with no fertilizer applied),
(2) recommended N for barley (112kgN/ha from ammonium nitrate), (3)
liquid sewage sludge in amounts to provide the recommended plant-available
N (112 kg N/ha) , and (4) sewage sludge rates to provide plant-available N in
amounts equal to 2,3,4, and 5 times the recommended N rate. Each sludge
treatment was mixed with 20 kg of soil, using a cement mixer, and placed in
plastic pots 25 cm in diameter and 40 cm deep. For the inorganic N treat-
ment, ammonium nitrate was applied 3 cm below the soil surface at planting.
Barley was planted in December each year and thinned to nine plants per
pot 1 week after seedling emergence. Shallow and frequent hand watering
was continued throughout the growing season, to prevent moisture stress
and to minimize leaching. The grain and straw were harvested by hand at
maturity.
Barley responded more in vegetative growth than in grain yield to
increases in sewage sludge loading rates. Vegetative growth and grain yields
were similar whether barley was fertilized with inorganic N or equivalent
amounts of plant-available N from sewage sludge. Sewage sludge loading
rates more than three times the recommended plant-available N rate
decreased barley stands in the seedling stage. Dying seedlings exhibited
chlorosis and tip-burn, similar to symptoms of salt toxicity. Surviving plants
80 Plant Nutrients in Sewage Sludge

regained vigorous growth later in the season. It is suggested that high


concentrations of soluble salts in the high sludge loading rates caused initial
seedling death; however, the excess salts were leached-out of the soil during
subsequent watering. Sludge loading rates higher than the recommended
plant-available N level tended to delay maturity, increase tillering, and
increase straw yield. Grain yield was not increased by higher sludge applica-
tion rates because some tillers did not produce heads and others produced
small heads. Heavy metal concentrations in barley grain and straw and the
amounts of metals recovered in the soil following each harvest were similar
for all fertilizer treatments. The heavy metal content of the sewage sludge
was very low and most of the metals were not available for plant uptake or
contamination of the ground water because they usually interact with the
soil to form insoluble compounds and/or complexes. Studies have shown
that over 90% of sludge-borne heavy metals were retained in the top 15 cm
depth of the soil horizon and less than 10% of those metals was recovered
by plants. The foregoing observations, together with Arizona's industrial
pre-treatment requirements, indicate that, on the basis of heavy metals,
liquid sewage sludge from Tucson, Arizona, is safe for disposal on crop
lands at rates higher than those presently recommended.

17.4.3 Cotton

Most modern cities are faced with problems of sewage and sewage disposal.
Liquid sewage sludge from sewage processing plants contains considerable
quantities of the three fertilizer elements needed for plant growth: (1)
nitrogen, (2) phosphorus, and (3) potassium. If liquid sewage sludge could
be used effectively as a source of plant nutrients in the commercial pro-
duction of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.), it would solve an important
pollution problem and provide essential clothing and food for an increasing
population.
Experiments were conducted in Arizona, USA, to compare the plant
growth, seed cotton yield, and cotton lint quality of cotton fertilized with
liquid sewage sludge and inorganic fertilizer (Day et al. 1987b; Day et al.
1988). Two fertilizer treatments were compared: (1) recommended nitrogen
(N) and phosphorus (P) for cotton from inorganic sources and (2) sewage
sludge to provide the recommended amount of plant-available N for cotton.
Seedling emergence, plant establishment, plant height, and seed cotton
yield for cotton grown with liquid sewage sludge were similar to seedling
emergence, plant establishment, plant height, and seed cotton yield for
cotton grown with recommended inorganic fertilizer. Most lint quality
characteristics were similar for cotton fertilized with liquid sewage sludge
and inorganic fertilizer. Fertilization of cotton with liquid sewage sludge
tended to increase vegetative growth, increase lint yield, delay lint maturity,
and decrease lint qUality. Cotton can utilize liquid sewage sludge as a source
Future Prospects 81

of fertilizer in the production of high yields of high quality lint, with only
minor changes in field crop culture. When liquid sewage sludge is used
as a fertilizer for cotton production, in arid environments, additional
inorganic fertilizers are made available for the production of food for human
consumption.

17.4.4 Forest Land

The application of liquid sewage sludge on forest land was suggested as a


possible way to dispose of sewage sludge and not contaminate the environ-
ment (Sopper and Kerr 1979). Many trees and grasses that provide feed for
wildlife do respond to the fertilizer nutrients in liquid sewage sludge applied
to forest land. It is believed that it is possible to apply low rates of liquid
sewage sludge to forest land in a manner that will be environmentally safe
and also in a way that will provide additional plant products for use by man
and wildlife. The application of liquid sewage sludge to forest land in desert
environments, where plant nutrients and irrigation water are in short supply,
may have a great future potential.

17.4.5 Fertilizer Value

Research was conducted in Arizona, USA, to determine the average


quantities and fertilizer values of the N, P20 5 , and K2 0 that are normally
present in the anaerobically digested liquid sewage sludge from 1000 people
per year (Day et al. 1987a). In Tucson, Arizona, each person produces 90
gallons of raw sewage per day, which translates into 32850000 gallons of
raw sewage per 1000 people per year. The raw sewage is processed into
treated municipal wastewater (effluent) and anaerobically digested liquid
sewage sludge in an Activated Sludge Treatment Plant. The liquid sewage
sludge from 1000 people per year contains 4130,2802, and 200 pounds of N,
P2 0 5 , and K2 0, respectively. At an estimated cost of $0.30, $0.20, and
$0.10 per pound for N, P20 5 , and K2 0, respectively, the fertilizer value of
the liquid sewage sludge from 1000 people per year is $1239.00, $560.00,
and $20.00 for N, P20 5 , and K20, respectively; which amounts to a total
fertilizer value of $1819.00 from 1000 people per year.

17.S Future Prospects

The future of liquid sewage sludge is very encouraging in the desert environ-
ments throughout the world. Anaerobically digested liquid sewage sludge
contains considerable quantities of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and
82 Plant Nutrients in Sewage Sludge

Fig. 17. Injection of liquid municipal sewage sludge into agricultural soil in the USA.
Anaerobically digested liquid sewage sludge from sewage treatment plants is a good
source of plant nutrients in the production of crop plants. Liquid sewage sludge can be
injected into agricultural soils, below the soil surface, and provide both fertilizer and/or
irrigation water for the production of high yields of plant products in desert environments.
(Photo by Larry Lefever from Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)

potassium (K), which are the principal fertilizer elements needeq for plant
growth. Most crop plants utilize the plant nutrients in liquid sewage -sludge
as effectively as they utilize the plant nutrients in commercial inorganic
fertilizers. When liquid sewage sludge is used to irrigate and/or fertilize crop
plants, a municipal waste material is disposed of in an environmentally safe
manner and more regular irrigation water and inorganic fertilizers are made
available to irrigate and/or fertilize food crops for human consumption
(Fig. 17).
18 Plant Growth in Desert Environments

The word desert implies a deficiency of rainfall as the basic characteristic of


desert environments. However, the amount of rainfall cannot serve as an
adequate measure of a desert unless the amount of rain is related to its
effectiveness. The effectiveness of rainfall depends on its seasonal distribu-
tion, the rate of evaporation, the nature of the soil, and the vegetative
cover. The rate of evaporation is determined by temperature, air humidity,
and wind movement. A desert environment is defined as one in which, for
the greater part of the year, rainfall is less than the potential evaporation
plus water loss from plants. A number of attempts have been made to
classify the different types of dry (desert) climates, generally based on the
amount of rainfall and its effectiveness. None of the classifications that have
been developed is ideal in the sense that it is simple and complete, and that
climatic factors relate satisfactorily to natural vegetation, to soil types, or to
land use. The Koppen System of Climate is the most generally accepted
system and it is based mainly on the relation between rainfall (amount and
distribution) and temperature. It assumes that: (1) the higher the tempera-
ture, the greater the amount of precipitation that will still result in the
same degree of aridity, and (2) relatively less precipitation is needed if
it is concentrated during the cool season, more is required if distribution
throughout the year is uniform, and the highest requirement is associated
with precipitation that is concentrated in the warm season (Arnon 1972).

IS.1 The Dry Regions of the World

The dry (desert) regions of the world constitute about one-third of the total
land area. They are divided almost equally into arid and semi-arid regions.
The dry regions occur in five large zones, separated from each other by
oceans or wet equatorial zones. The largest of the five is the North African-
Eurasian dry zone, extending from the west coast of Africa eastward into
India. The other dry zones are in South Africa, western North America,
western South America, and most of Australia (Arnon 1972).
84 Plant Growth in Desert Environments

18.2 Climatic Factors Affect Plant Growth

The distinctive trait of arid lands is insufficient rainfall. In deserts, the


average rainfall is never great, although heavy showers may occasionally
occur. The mean annual precipitation totals at a few typical desert locations
are: Yuma, 75mm; Khartoum, 150mm; and Baghdad, 175mm. In most
parts of the Egyptian Desert, the annual rainfall does not exceed 10 mm,
while in parts of the Libyan Desert, several years may pass without any
rainfall at all. The precipitation in some deserts is even too small to meas-
ure. Desert areas are usually surrounded by fringe areas that receive more
precipitation than do the desert areas. The fringe areas are the steppes or
semi-arid areas. As a general rule, the semiarid fringe bordering on the
temperate deserts receives winter precipitation, while the semiarid fringe
bordering on the tropical deserts receives summer rainfall. In deserts, crop
yield levels are determined by the amount of precipitation above the basic
minimum required to permit the crop to reach maturity. If, under given
circumstances, 250 mm is the minimum precipitation for a grain crop,
225 mm, or a reduction of only 25 mm, may result in complete crop failure.
Conversely, 50 mm above the minimum requirement may double the yields
(Amon 1972).
Desert regions are characterized by predominately clear skies during
both day and night, permitting a large amount of solar energy to reach the
earth. However, a large proportion of this energy is lost by radiation back
to the atmosphere, by being used for warming the soil, and by evapo-
transpiration. Solar energy provides two essential needs of plants: (1) light,
required for photosynthesis, and (2) thermal conditions required for the
normal physiological functions of plants. The large amount of sunshine is
the greatest potential asset of the desert regions for agriculture, and it may
reach 75-90% of the possible sunshine. Even during the winter months in
semiarid areas, with winter rainfall, sunshine is plentiful (Amon 1972).

18.3 Soil Fertility and Its Maintenance

Under arid conditions the physical, chemical, and biological processes of soil
formation occur more slowly than in humid climates. The plant cover is
dispersed and of low productivity. As a result, rock minerals break down
slowly, profile characteristics are not well developed, and soil organic matter
and soil nitrogen are always at a low level. Leaching is also at a low level
and there is usually an excessive accumulation of soluble salts in the soil.
The fertility cycle under desert conditions is practically a closed system, with
plant nutrients circulating at a very slow rate. The breakdown and decom-
position of plant residues is extremely slow under arid conditions and nitrifi-
Soil Fertility and Its Maintenance 85

cation is inhibited. Plant nutrients may accumulate in the soil during a cycle
of very dry years that may produce a lush growth of plants when rains do
finally occur. This may give a mistaken impression of soil fertility because
poor plant growth frequently occurs after two or three good rainfall seasons
in succession. The farmer has a great influence on the level of fertility of his
soils. Practically all agricultural operations affect soil fertility for better or
for worse, according to the way in which they are executed. Tillage can
improve soil structure or just as effectively destroy it. Chemical fertilizers
are one of the most efficient means of increasing the productivity of the soil,
but their incorrect use may cause great damage to soil fertility. Irrigation
can make the desert bloom; however, it can also transform fertile areas into
deserts, in which even desert plants may fail to become established. No
single factor is capable of raising the fertility of the soil to its highest
potential level if other relevant factors are neglected (Arnon 1972).
Most desert soils contain the principal fertilizer nutrients needed for
plant growth. The primary source of soil nitrogen is the inexhaustible supply
obtained directly or indirectly from the atmosphere. The amount of nitrogen
in the plowed-layer of cultivated soils usually ranges from 0.02 to 0.4% by
weight. Most of the nitrogen in the soil is in the organic form. It is generally
assumed that organic matter in the soil contains about 5% nitrogen, of
which only a small amount becomes available to plants each year. The
rate at which nitrogen becomes available to plants depends on the rate of
mineralization of the organic matter in the soil. In desert soils, nitrogen is
the principal fertilizer nutrient needed for optimum plant growth. Most of
the soil phosphorus is in the inorganic form and its original source is the
apalite group of minerals. The organic compounds containing phosphorus
are derived from the decay of animal and plant bodies. The total amount of
phosphorus in soil is usually less than the total amounts of nitrogen and
potassium. Desert soils usually contain sufficient available phosphorus for
most field crop plants. Of the macronutrients, potassium is usually most
abundant in desert soils and it is very seldom ever needed as a fertilizer
additive for most crop plants. The calcium content of desert soils varies
more than does that of any other element. Calcium produces several specific
effects, which result in the improvement of soil structure and in increased
crop production. There is usually a close relationship between calcium and
magnesium in arid soils. Magnesium carbonate is usually found in mixtures
with calcium carbonate. Magnesium deficiencies are rare in arid-land soils.
Large amounts of sodium may accumulate in the soils of arid and semi-arid
regions. Excess sodium in the soil may damage the soil structure and reduce
crop yields. Deficiencies of minor elements are very rare in desert soils
(Black 1957; Arnon 1972).
86 Plant Growth in Desert Environments

18.4 Fertilizer Use in Dry Regions

The elements that are essential in relatively large amounts for the growth
of plants are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium,
sulfur, calcium, and magnesium. The farmer is concerned mainly with the
supply of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, in the form of fertilizers.
The other elements that are also essential for plant growth and are required
by plants in relatively large amounts are sulfur, calcium, and magnesium.
These are, however, usually present in the soil in sufficient amounts for crop
production, or they are added incidentally by using commercial fertilizers
supplying N, P, or K, or in the water used for irrigation. The essential
micro-nutrients iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, and molybdenum,
are usually present in many arid soils in sufficient amounts to supply the
needs of crop plants. The high proportion of calcium that is typical of many
arid soils may, however, hinder absorption of iron and magnesium, and
cause deficiencies even when these two elements are present in the soil in
sufficient amounts. Other micro-nutrients, such as sodium, cobalt, silicon,
and vanadium, are not essential for all plants, but may be for some (Black
1957; Arnon 1957).

18.5 Crop Introduction and Improvement

Thousands of new, improved varieties of the principal field crops are devel-
oped and released yearly by plant breeders allover the world. Introducing
ready-made varieties into desert regions is the cheapest and most effective
way of replacing inefficient varieties that are used in traditional agriculture.
When crop species are introduced into a new region free from their natural
enemies, they may be more successful than in their country of origin. Even
for countries with an advanced agriculture, the introduction of improved
varieties, and varieties with special characteristics required for breeding
work is an essential part of any breeding program. Very few varieties of
the major crop species grown in the USA originated within the borders
of the country. Even the hard red wheats, which are grown extensively
in the United States, were derived from plant introductions. The same is
true for oats, rye, and sorghum. Wheatgrass was introduced from Siberia,
soybeans were introduced from Asia, and cotton was introduced from
Mexico. An introduction service must be established that is capable of
testing new introductions for adaptability, disease resistance, and techno-
logical suitability, according to scientific procedures. The introduction of
new varieties of crops, if carried out without the necessary safeguards and
supervision, may cause untold damage by introducing at the same time
insect pests, diseases, or weeds that were previously nonexistent in the
Crop Introduction and Improvement 87

Fig. 18. Young citrus trees growing in a desert area in Arizona, USA. Citrus trees
(oranges, grapefruit, and lemons) grow very well in many desert areas in the southwestern
USA. When supplemental irrigation water is applied to the fertile desert soils, high yields
of high quality citrus are produced. In desert areas where citrus is adapted, its cultivation
has transformed former areas of wasteland into highly productive areas of commercial
agriculture . (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)

country. A number of breeding objectives may be useful in improving the


yielding ability of a crop in a desert environment. An important agronomic
practice is the adjustment of plant population to the expected moisture
supply. This is practically impossible to achieve with crop varieties that have
a strong tendency to tiller. Tillering may be profuse in the early stages of
growth, when soil moisture is still adequate, producing an excessive vege-
tative cover and a number of heads which cannot be brought to maturity
because of the early depletion of the limited moisture supply. Breeding
for limited tillering can therefore by very useful in crops such as barley,
sorghum, and wheat for growing under dry conditions (Woodward 1966;
Arnon 1972; Martin et al. 1976 Fig. 18).
19 Urban Utilization of Plant Nutrients

As the world population increases, more people are choosing to make their
homes in the desert environments throughout the world. As new population
centers develop, there is a great demand for city parks, golf courses, and
other recreation areas. The landscaping of new home sites and all types of
recreation areas require large quantities of plant nutrients for their success-
ful establishment and maintenance. Interest in home gardening is at its
highest level since the Victory Garden Era of World War II. Victory
Gardens were encouraged to offset the shortages in commercial production,
processing, and transportation of fruits and vegetables during the war years.
The current high interest in home gardening is attributed to the increasing
cost of food which has resulted from higher energy and labor costs in
producing, processing, and transporting food. In urban areas, next door
neighbors often do not get acquainted with each other. However, if neigh-
bors have home gardens, they have much in common to talk about, to
share, to compare, and to exchange in terms of information, ideas, plant
materials, products, successes, and failures. The present interest in home
landscaping and gardening has created a great demand for plant nutrients in
desert environments and also in humid regions (Hayes 1977).

19.1 Plants in the Living Environment to Lift the Spirits of Man

Our view of the earth from a car window in many cities shows land with
most of the natural vegetation removed. Spaces are filled with buildings,
roads, and construction machinery. Any open areas are tan and gray-
colored, or blacktopped and covered with cars. Green plants are forgotten
in this landscape and the few plants that are present grow with great
difficulty. This need not be the vista confronting people in their cities, or
wherever they live and work. We must set new priorities for land use and
create new landscapes with the many uses of green plants. We must educate
the new generations to the benefits of having plants in their lives. Green
plants in the countryside seem so simple and abundant. They appear to grow
everywhere and survive all kinds of changes. Under the protection and
comforts of indoor living we forget the ruthlessness of the outdoors. We
90 Urban Utilization of Plant Nutrients

retain only the memories of the balmy days of late spring and the chilling
nights of fall. Plants growing in our landscapes are adapted to survive in
changing environments (Black et al. 1970).
A farmer knows how suddenly the weather can change. An emerging
crop of seedlings or a field of maturing produce can be wiped out in
minutes. Thunderstorms, driving rains, and abrupt changes in temperatures
are considered natural calamities. Much of the information on the function
of plants is lost prior to reaching people. Most people know that plants are a
counterpart of animals. They remember vaguely that, if the two types of
organisms are combined in the proper manner, plants will provide for the
support of animals and vice versa.
Green plants that are introduced into a town or city have many ad-
vantages over their counterparts in the wild. We can select plants from a
specific clone instead of randomly picking them from a seedling population.
We can train plants for transplanting to a specific site. We can position
plants in their own especially selected urban micro-climate. If all of the
interests of plant scientists and gardeners were focused on adapting plants to
urban environments, plants may lift the spirits of mankind in the future
family environment (Hayes 1972).

19.2 Home Gardens Reduce Food Costs, Landscape Homesteads,


and Improve Neighborliness

Home gardens may be grown successfully in full sun and away from tree
roots. Only a few garden sites are free from the shade cast by walls, fences,
or trees, and are also free from foraging tree roots. Thus, gardening often
becomes an exercise in compromise, where people learn to live with site-
imposed restrictions and settle for somewhat less than optimum garden
performance and yield.
Home gardeners should look beyond the traditional concept of a single
plot as a vegetable and/or fruit garden. Frequently, two or more small plots
have advantages over a single garden. Small plots are also easier to dress-up
with flowers to make them blend into the general homestead landscape. If
space permits, a separate orchard and berry plot is preferred over a combi-
nation garden and orchard and berry plot. Toxic pest control sprays from
fruit trees and berries may drip on vegetables. In addition, certain kinds
of berries spread aggressively and invade nearby rows of vegetables. Site
selection for fruit or nut trees is more critical than it is for vegetables,
berries, and bush fruits because orchards are not portable. One cannot
move an orchard around like a vegetable garden. The location of fruit or nut
trees and the form, flower, and foliage color of the varieties chosen may
have a significant impact on the homestead landscape. Fruit, nut, and citrus
trees change in size and form as they mature. During the winter months,
Food Costs, Landscape Homesteads, and Improve Neighborliness 91

deciduous trees are barren because of leaf loss, and citrus trees lose color
and some of their foliage. Most professional landscapers prefer not to
integrate fruit or nut trees in a landscape plan but would rather set them
along the back or side of the property, where they are screened by more
graceful trees or large shrubs. A survey for potential garden and orchard
sites on your property may prove disappointing, but you have options
today that were not open a few years ago. Gardens in urban areas have
experienced a resurgence in popularity. In addition, container gardening
now permits vegetable and fruit culture where no suitable plots of soil exist.
Home gardens reduce food costs, landscape homesteads, and encourage
neighborliness in urban environments. Every home garden and/or orchard
depends upon the extensive use of plant nutrients for its success (Hayes
1977).

Fig. 19. An outstanding home in a desert area in California, USA. As the world
population increases, more people are choosing to make their homes in the desert
environments throughout the world. As people move from the cities to the country, there
is an increased interest in home landscaping and home gardening which has created a
great demand for plant nutrients. The current high interest in home gardening is
attributed to the increasing cost of food which has resulted from higher energy and labor
costs in producing, processing, and transporting food . (Photo by Grant Heilman
Photography, Inc.)
92 Urban Utilization of Plant Nutrients

19.3 City Parks, Golf Courses, and Recreation Areas

In urban environments, after the homestead landscaping and gardening has


been accomplished, most family members turn their attention to city parks,
golf courses, and other recreation areas as preferred places to spend their
leisure time. In a survey to find out which of 26 items people consider most
important to their happiness, 59% of those answering checked "green grass
and trees around me". This survey, together with the active interest taken in
combatting air and water pollution, clearly indicates that growing plants are
extremely important and greatly desired by all groups of people. This is
especially true of urban dwellers in desert environments where most people
have very few opportunities to walk on the green grass and among the tall
trees. City parks, golf courses, and other recreational areas with green grass
and tall trees can only be produced with the liberal use of fertilizer plant
nutrients (Hayes 1972; Fig. 19).
20 Plant Nutrients for Disturbed Land Reclamation

Large areas of land are disturbed in the desert environments throughout the
world. The removal of earth, rock, and overburden soil materials in the
recovery of underground minerals disturbs millions of hectares of land
annually. The abandonment and/or relocation of agricultural farm land and
livestock feeding operations leaves vast areas in need of reclamation. Inter-
state, intrastate, and local highway networks occupy large geographical
areas that must be revegetated. The effective rehabilitation of the foregoing
types of disturbed lands requires large quantities of plant nutrients (Dean
1971; Beatty et al. 1979).

20.1 Classification of Disturbed Lands

Disturbed lands in desert environments may be classified into three principal


categories: (1) mineral wastes, (2) agricultural areas, and (3) highway slopes
and medians.
The United States Bureau of Solid Waste Management estimated that
by the 1980s the USA mineral industries will be generating between 2 and 4
billion metric tons of solid wastes annually. Mineral wastes consist of barren
overburden, submarginal grade ore, milling wastes, and strip-mine spoils.
The total accumulated mineral solid wastes in the USA has been reported to
be about 22.7 billion metric tons covering 800000ha of land (Schaller and
Sutton 1978; Beatty et al. 1979).
In the dry regions of the world, poorly managed agricultural land has
created serious pollution problems. Large acreages of crop land adjacent to
cities in the irrigated areas have been taken out of cultivation because of the
increased demand for water for domestic purposes. Overgrazed rangelands
in dry climates are subject to wind and water erosion. The most serious
impact of mineral wastes on air quality occurs in arid regions, such at
the southwestern USA. The relocation of cattle feeding operations in low
rainfall areas creates odor and dust pollution problems for nearby popula-
tion centers (Whyte 1987).
The development of federal, state, and local highway systems disturb
large areas of land in both arid and humid regions throughout the world. In
94 Plant Nutrients for Disturbed Land Reclamation

dry climates, dust pollution from barren road cuts, medians, and highway
slopes is associated with many multicar accidents each year (Beatty et al.
1979).

20.2 Reclamation Purposes and Alternatives

The primary purpose for reclaiming disturbed lands in arid regions is to


stabilize the spoil material and prevent it from being moved by winds
and flash floods, the common transporting agents in dry climates. After
disturbed areas have been stabilized, a second objective for reclamation is to
revegetate the barren soil materials, so that they will blend into the sur-
rounding landscape and minimize visual pollution. Disturbed soil materials
have a serious impact on air quality, especially in dry regions.
The principal methods used to stabilize disturbed land areas in dry
climates are physical, chemical, and vegetative. Physical stabilization, with
the use of topsoil and/or overburden soil materials, has been used success-
fully to control air pollution along highways and adjacent to mining
operations. Chemical stabilization has been effective in reducing wind and
water erosion of mineral wastes. Vegetative stabilization has been success-
fully used along highways, in vacant urban areas, on over-grazed rangelands,
and around mining operations. Disturbed land pollution has stimulated a
variety of esthetic concerns and objections throughout the semiarid and arid
regions of the world. Various professional organizations outside and within
the mining and metallurgical industries have expressed specific esthetic
concerns. Public servants in local communities have worked in cooperation
with professional organizations in the development of local guidelines
regulating the environment (Schaller and Sutton 1978; Beatty et al. 1979).

20.3 Spoil Replacement and Revegetation Techniques

Spoil replacement in arid regions has been accomplished on a number of


disturbed lands by capping with topsoil and/or overburden soil material. It
was possible to cap copper tailing pond berms with a layer of desert topsoil
to control wind erosion of the tailing soil material. This physical means of
stabilization did not, however, control water erosion in southern Arizona,
USA, where flash floods frequently occur. Capping tailing ponds with desert
soil did allow indigenous plant species to reestablish themselves on the area
over a period of years.
Petroleum by-products have been used to partially stabilize fine soil
materials; however, this form of chemical stabilization provided only tem-
porary control and it was a very expensive way to contain waste materials.
Coal Mine Reclamation in Desert Areas 95

Chemical stabilization involves the reaction of a chemical reagent with the


waste material to form an air- and water-resistant crust or surface layer.
Chemicals may be effective stabilization agents in areas where physical and
vegetative techniques are impractical due to poor accessibility and rough
and rocky terrane.
Various plant species have been used to stabilize a variety of disturbed
land areas throughout the world for many years. The following character-
istics should be considered in choosing plants· for erosion control and
uniform ground cover on disturbed soils: (1) plants must have the ability to
thrive under the existing conditions of soil, moisture, and exposure, (2)
rapid-growing species should be chosen since they provide earlier protec-
tion, (3) plants producing the most mulch are most effective in controlling
erosion, (4) plants should be resistant to insects and diseases, (5) plants that
are poisonous to man or animals should not be used, and (6) plants that
work well in conjunction with municipal wastewater and/or sewage sludge
should be used whenever possible (Schaller and Sutton 1978; Beatty et al.
1979; Sopper et al. 1982).

20.4 Coal Mine Reclamation in Desert Areas

As worldwide energy demands expand, there is an increasing demand on the


surface coal mining industry to help supply those energy needs. Increased
production of coal creates additional mining wastes in the form of barren
strip-mine spoils. There is a need to stabilize and reclaim coal spoil materials
and rehabilitate them to a productivity level equal to or greater than their
pre-mined condition. Reclamation of strip-mine spoils is especially difficult
in low rainfall regions, such as the southwestern USA, where the annual
rainfall averages less than 25 cm/year. These arid conditions limit adapted
plant species for coal mine reclamation. Revegetation of disturbed lands for
pastoral use should produce plant cover that can exist under local conditions
without assistance. For the Black Mesa Coal Mine in northern Arizona,
USA, local conditions were a semiarid environment with less than 25 cm of
total rainfall per year, overgrazing, and a sandy-loam soil material.
A 3-year experiment was conducted in Arizona, USA, to study the
effects of three soil materials, three mulching treatments, and two soil
moisture treatments on the growth and forage production of western wheat-
grass (Agropyron smithii Rydb.) when used in the reclamation of coal mine
spoil (Day and Ludeke 1987). The three soil materials were: (1) Gila loam
soil, (2) unmined soil, and (3) coal mine spoil. The three mulching treat-
ments were: (1) no mulch, (2) barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) straw mulch,
and (3) Russian thistle (Salsola kali L.) mulch. The two soil moisture
treatments consisted of (1) optimum (60cm total) and (2) stressed (30cm
total). There were significant differences in number of stems per unit area,
96 Plant Nutrients for Disturbed Land Reclamation

plant height, and forage yield between soil materials, mulching treatments,
and soil moisture treatments. The Gila loam soil, barley straw mulch, and
optimum soil moisture treatment produced the highest number of stems per
unit area, the tallest plants, and the highest yield of forage. Plants were
more vigorous and produced more forage when soil mulch (incorporated
organic matter mulch) was used than when soils were not mulched. Barley
straw and Russian thistle were of similar value as mulching materials.
Within soil materials and within mulching treatments forage yields were
significantly higher with optimum soil moisture than they were when soil
moisture was limited (Day and Ludeke 1987; Day and Ludeke 1988).

20.5 Vegetation Adaptability

Vegetation adaptability is essential in the successful reclamation of all


disturbed lands in arid regions. Since indigenous plant species are adapted
to the area in question, they are frequently used in the initial stages of a
revegetation program; however, their extremely slow growing characteristics
may require many years to obtain a satisfactory ground cover. Although
indigenous plants and cacti may be used to stabilize disturbed areas in the
southwestern USA, the sparse vegetation that they provide is inadequate to
effectively control wind and water erosion. The Arizona Interagency Range
Technical Sub-Committee reported in 1969 that introduced plant species are
frequently preferred to indigenous species in disturbed land reclamation
because of their higher adaptability, greater availability of seed, and lower
cost. Most introduced perennial species are difficult to establish on barren
waste soil materials. When sprinkler irrigation was available, a number of
annual, agronomic plant species have been used effectively during the initial
stages of revegetation of disturbed soil materials in dry climates. Important
advantages of planting annual agronomic species, such as barley, on a newly
disturbed soil material is that these species germinate quickly, produce
impressive vegetative growth, and add large amounts of organic matter
for incorporation into the surface. Mulching with organic matter improved
the germination and seedling establishment of most perennial grass species
because the addition of organic matter to disturbed soil materials improved
the soil moisture conditions around germinating seeds, insulated the soil
surface against excessive heat and cold, and bound the soil particles together
around established seedlings (Schaller and Sutton 1978; Beatty et al. 1979).
A 2-year experiment was conducted in the southwestern USA to study
the use of forest litter as a seed source in coal mine reclamation (Day and
Ludeke 1990). Two soils were studied: (1) undisturbed soil and (2) coal
mine soil (spoils). Two seeding treatments were evaluated: (1) forest litter
and (2) no forest litter. Two soil moisture treatments were compared: (1)
natural rainfall and (2) natural rainfall plus supplemental irrigation. The
Vegetation Adaptability 97

experimental design was a split-split plot with soil materials as main plots,
seeding treatments as subplots, and soil-moisture treatments as sub-subplots,
with four replications. The plot size was 4 m square. The coal mine soil
was leveled with a bulldozer to conform to the surrounding topography.
Undisturbed soil and coal mine soil were both disked with a double-disk
harrow to produce a satisfactory seedbed for planting. Both soil materials
were fertilized with 560 kg/ha of 16-20-0 commercial fertilizer prior to
planting. The forest litter was obtained, at random, from the surface 10 cm
on the Coconino National Forest. After it was uniformally mixed, the forest
litter was broadcast over the surface of the soil materials and incorporated
into the surface of the soil material with hand rakes. Irrigation water was
applied immediately after planting and as needed throughout the growing
season with a sprinkler irrigation system. The following data were obtained
at the end of the growing season each year: (1) seeds germinated (emerged) ,

Fig. 20. Copper mine tailings that have been contoured to prevent wind erosion in
Arizona, USA. Large areas of land are disturbed annually in desert areas in the western
USA by the mining and milling of copper. The primary purpose for reclaiming copper
mining wastes in dry regions is to stabilize the spoil material and prevent it from being
moved by winds and flash floods. A second objective for reclamation is to revegetate the
barren soil materials, so that they will blend into the surrounding landscape and minimize
visual pollution. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)
98 Plant Nutrients for Disturbed Land Reclamation

(2) seedlings established, (3) plant height, and (4) percent ground cover. All
data were analyzed using the standard analysis of variance. Germination,
seedling establishment, plant height, and ground cover on undisturbed soil
and coal mine soil were higher when forest litter was applied than when it
was not applied and when natural rainfall was supplemented with sprinkler
irrigation than when rainfall was not supplemented with irrigation. Appli-
cations of forest litter and supplemental irrigation may insure the successful
establishment of vegetation on areas disturbed by open-pit coal mining in
many desert environments throughout the world (Whyte 1987; Day and
Ludeke 1990; Fig. 20).
21 Desert Environments Offer
an Outstanding Future Potential

During the next 100 years, University of Arizona scientists will develop
plants that will be adapted to life in arid and semi-arid lands and that will
yield products necessary to support quality human life and industry. In
addition, agricultural animals will be developed to live more comfortably
and to be more productive in desert environments. Research programs
in the College of Agriculture Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station
(AAES) already emprace today's advanced biotechnology. AAES scientists
are leading the way, with other university scientists beyond the frontier, into
a new era of genetic engineering. Plant research includes cell fusion, micro-
culture, and gene transplants. Embryo recovery and transfer will become a
focus of the animal scientists. These advanced investigations in Arizona,
USA, may playa very important role in the improvement of life for plants,
animals, and people in desert environments during the next century (Haney
et al. 1985).

21.1 Technology Unlocks Cropland Productivity

The success story of American agriculture is the envy of the world. Between
1950 and 1980, total US crop production doubled, with a 5% increase in
cropland and a 63% reduction in labor use. US farmers were so productive
that agricultural policies were dominated by farm surplus problems. After
World War II, rapid development and application of such yield-increasing
technologies as fertilizer formulation and delivery, plant variety improve-
ments, moisture conservation, and irrigation occurred. The impact of these
technologies on the nations food and fiber production, however, peaked in
the mid-1970s.
US farmers are more export-dependent today than they have ever been.
The domestic demand for farm products is about half what the United States
is capable of producing. The available improved farm technology around the
world has caused a world over-production crisis. Until the 1960s, few
countries outside of the United States experienced rising crop yields. Today,
record crop yields are occurring annually in all of the grain-producing
countries. Much of the increased crop production throughout the world has
100 Desert Environments Offer an Outstanding Future Potential

occurred in the desert environments, where new technology has unlocked


their potential. If agricultural research continues to receive adequate
support from both the public and private sectors, the needed food and fiber
will continue to be produced on fewer acres. There is little reason for
concern that the United States and many other countries will run out of
needed farmland in the foreseeable future (Whyte 1987).

21.2 Future Agricultural Research

To maintain US agriculture at a competitive and profitable level, pro-


ductivity and production efficiency resulting from new knowledge and tech-
nology must continue to increase. In only 45 years, one farmer has gone
from feeding 19 to 116 people by using better fertilizers and feeds, tractors,
genetic hybrids, irrigation, and pesticides. Problems like soil erosion,
aquifer depletion, and environmental pollution have occurred, but work on
these problems is now leading to new technologies like conservation tillage,
learning to grow plants in stubble to minimize soil exposure, new approaches
to irrigation, and integrated pest management. There are many dramatic
examples of increasing productivity in all agricultural areas. To illustrate
only one, animal scientists in a recent comparison found that 33-pound pigs
fed a 1907 diet gained 7 pounds in 60 days, while those on a 1983 diet gained
63 pounds, a ninefold increase in productivity. Increasing productivity may
mean even fewer farmers in the future. It also means many exciting new
careers in fields like agricultural engineering, agricultural economics, bio-
chemistry, entomology, animal science, plant science, and soil science. In
the future, record yields will also be increased as plant physiologists under-
stand phenomena such as the efficiency of basic nitrogen fixation, plant
nutrient uptake, and water uptake. A recent agricultural research article
projected increases in yields of corn (Zea mays L.) from an average of 113
bushels/acre today to 275 and 385 bushels/acre by the years 2000 and 2050,
respectively. These yields exceed the highest experimental yield ever
produced. Improved methods of growing, processing, and marketing pro-
ducts from field crop plants will be developed in the years ahead (Crowley
1986).

21.3 Gardening for Food and Fun

There is a great interest in home gardening among families who live in


desert environments. The current high interest in gardening is attributed
to several factors. Among these is the increasing cost of food which has
resulted from high energy and labor costs in producing, processing, and
Living on a Few Acres 101

transporting food. At current prices, it has been estimated that an average


family can save from $200 to $300 annually on food costs by growing and
processing fruits and vegetables at home. Your savings may be greater or
less, depending on the size of your family, the size of your garden, and your
skills as a gardener. Other values derived from gardening are perhaps more
important than the potential savings in food costs. Produce harvested at
peak maturity from the garden generally has a better flavor and a higher
nutritional value than that harvested at earlier stages of maturity and
shipped long distances to the supermarket. Working with living plants and
seeing them respond has a therapeutic value. The exercise can be relaxing
and even recreational. Gardening and home preserving of fruits and
vegetables can be a learning experience for the entire family: what better
way to teach biology to your children? Gardening is a back-to-nature trend.
This has been cited as one of the reasons why so many young adults
have developed a keen interest in gardening and food preservation. The
vegetable garden and home orchard can be an integral part of the home
landscaping and add variety and color at different seasons of the year. In
urban areas, next-door neighbors often do not really get acquainted with
each other; however, if neighbors garden, they will have much in common
to talk about and share. If you have a plot in a community garden, this
special comradeship can be broadened beyond the immediate neighborhood
(Hayes 1977).

21.4 Living on a Few Acres

Who lives on a few acres in the country? These rural residents are a very
diverse group ranging from computer analysts, chiropractors, carpenters,
salesmen, to professors. The land on which they live ranges in size from
enough for a rural residence with a large back yard to small-scale farms
involving a number of acres. The 1970s brought renewed interest in the
country lifestyle. The rural movement is not a simple phenomenon. There
are many objectives, resources, and situations involved and the implications
for the future are very complex. There is no such thing as an average
resident on a few acres in the country. Some are involved in agriculture,
operating a few acres on a part-time basis. Some are willing to make the
material sacrifices necessary to achieve a preferred rural lifestyle. Others
have enough wealth to afford this lifestyle without income from the land.
People live in the country and own a few acres for a variety of reasons.
Their objectives might be anyone of the following: (1) to use the acreage
solely as a residence, (2) to pursue hobbies or recreational activities, (3) to
reduce the family's food cost by gardening, (4) to provide an alternative
lifestyle for meeting food and energy needs, or (5) to provide an extra part-
time source of income by selling produce from the acreage or engaging in
102 Desert Environments Offer an Outstanding Future Potential

some other sideline. Most rural residents sell less than $1000 worth of
agricultural produce each year. Their primary interest is the pastoral setting
for their home. Many view the few acres on which they live as an extended
backyard. They are frequently city folks buying up old farmhouses that are
surrounded by a few acres. Many rural residents are called gardeners. These
are people who may sell some of their produce but they are primarily
interested in reducing their family's food bill by growing their own food.
They often use their land for an extensive vegetable garden, some fruit
trees, one or two head of livestock, and a few chickens. Although country
living may be practiced anywhere, it is especially satisfying in the desert
environments throughout the world (Hayes 1978).

21.5 Desert Environments Attract People

As the world population increases, more people are choosing to make their
homes in the desert environments throughout the world. As new population
centers develop, there is a great demand for city parks, golf courses, and
other recreation areas. The landscaping of new home sites and all types of
recreation areas requires large quantities of plant nutrients for successful
establishment and maintenance. As mankind looks into the future, the
desert environments throughout the world offer a delightful place in which
to live, work, and play (Hayes 1971, 1983; Whyte 1987; Figs. 21, 22).

Fig. 21. An irrigated family farm in a desert area in the southwestern USA. As many
successful business men approach retirement age, they invest in a small family farm, so
that they can spend their retirement years in the peace and quiet of country living. A
family farm also provides additional income during retirement years. Family farms in
desert environments provide a greater opportunity to enjoy country living than do family
farms in humid areas. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography, Inc.)

Fig. 22. A modem city established in a desert environment in the southwestern USA. As
the world population increases, more people are choosing to make their homes in arid
areas. The landscaping of new home sites and all types of recreation areas require large
quantities of plant nutrients for their successful establishment and maintenance. As
mankind looks into the future, the desert environments throughout the world offer a
delightful place in which to live, work, and play. (Photo by Grant Heilman Photography,
Inc.)
Desert Environments Attract People 103
Glossary of Agronomic Terms
(Martin et al. 1976)

A Horizon The surface and subsurface soil that contains most of


the organic matter and is subject to leaching.
Abscission The natural separation of leaves, flowers, and fruits
from the stems or other plant parts by the formation
of a special layer of thin-walled cells.
Acid soil A soil with a pH reaction of less than 7 (usually less
than 6.6). An acid soil has a preponderance of
hydrogen ions over hydroxyl ions. Litmus paper turns
red in contact with most acid soils.
Adventitious Arising from an unusual position on a stem or at the
crown of a grass plant.
Aerial roots Roots that arise from the stem above the ground.
Aftermath The second or shorter growth of meadow plants in the
same season after a hay or seed crop has been cut.
Agrobiology A phase of the study of agronomy dealing with the
relation of yield to the quantity of an added fertilizer
element.
Agronomy The science of crop production and soil management.
The name is derived from the Greek words agros
(field) and nomos (to manage).
Aleurone The outer layer of cells of the endosperm of the seed.
Alkali soil A soil, usually above pH 8.5, containing alkali salts
in quantities that usually are deleterious to crop
production.
Alkaline soil A soil with a pH above 7, usually above pH 7.3.
Ammonification The formation of ammonia or ammonium compounds
in soils.
Amylose The straight-chain fraction of normal starch.
106 Glossary of Agronomic terms

Angiosperms The higher seed plants.


Annual A plant that completes its life cycle from seed in one
year.
Anther The part of the stamen that contains the pollen.
Anthesis The period during which the flower is open and, in
grasses, the period when the anthers are extended
from the glumes.
Apomixis A type of asexual production of seeds, as in Kentucky
bluegrass.
Aquatic plant A plant that lives in the water.
Arid climate A dry climate with an annual precipitation usually
less than 10 in. and not suitable for crop production
without irrigation.
Asexual Reproduction without involving the germ or sexual
reproduction cells.
Ash The nonvolatile residue resulting from the complete
burning of organic matter.
Auxins Organic substances that cause stem elongation.
Awn The beard or bristle extending from the tip or back of
the lemma of a grass flower.
B Horizon The subsoil layer in which certain leached substances
are deposited.
Backcross The cross of a hybrid with one of the parental types.
Beard The awn of grasses.
Bed A narrow flat-topped ridge on which crops are grown
with a furrow on each side for drainage of excess
water.
Biennial Of 2 years' duration; a plant germinating one season
and producing seed the next.

Binder A machine for cutting a crop and tying it into bundles


with twine.
Blade The part of the leaf above the sheath.
Boll The subspherical or ovoid fruit of flax or cotton.
Boot The upper leaf sheath of a grass.
Glossary of Agronomic terms 107

Branch A lateral stem.


Broadcast To sow or scatter seed on the surface of the land by
hand or by machinery.
C Horizon The layer of weathered parent rock material below the
B horizon of the soil but above the unweathered rock.
Calcareous soil An alkaline soil containing sufficient calcium and
magnesium carbonate to cause visible effervescence
when treated with hydrochloric acid.
Caliche A cemented deposit of calcium carbonate often mixed
with magnesium carbonate at various depths, charac-
teristic of many of the semiarid and arid soils of the
world.
Cambium The growing layer of the stem.
Carbohydrates The main constituents of plants, including sugars,
starches, and cellulose, in which the ratio of hydrogen
molecules to oxygen molecules is 2: 1.
Carotene A yellow pigment in green leaves and other plant
parts, which is the forerunner of vitamin A.
Caryopsis The grain or fruit of grasses.
Cell The unit of structure in plants. A living cell contains
protoplasm, which includes a nucleus and cytoplasm
within the cell wall.
Cereal A grass cultivated for its edible seeds or grains.
Chernozem soil A dark to nearly black grassland soil high in organic
matter developed in a subhumid climate. .
Chestnut soil A soil having a dark brown surface developed under
mixed tall and short grasses in a subhumid to semiarid
climate.
Chlorophyll The green coloring matter in plants that takes part in
the process of photosynthesis.
Chlorosis The yellowing of leaves and other chlorophyll-bearing
plant parts.
Clay Small mineral soil particles less than O.OO2mm in
diameter.
Climate The total long-time characteristic weather of any
region.
108 Glossary of Agronomic terms

Coleoptile The sheath covering the first leaf of a grass seedling as


it emerges from the soil.
Combine A machine for harvesting and threshing in one
operation.
Companion crop A crop grown with another crop, such as a small grain
crop grown with a forage crop.
Consumptive use The use of water in growing a crop, including water
used in transpiration and evaporation.
Cover crop A crop grown between orchard trees or on fields be-
tween cropping seasons to protect the land from
leaching and erosion.
Crown The base of the stem where the roots arise.
Culm The jointed stem of grasses.
Cultivar (variety) A group of individuals within a species that differ from
the rest of the species.
Cytoplasm The contents of a cell outside of the nucleus.
Deciduous Plants or trees that shed their leaves at a particular
season or stage.
Drill A machine for sowing seeds in furrows.
Ecology The study of the mutual relations between organisms
and their environment.
Embryo The rudimentary plantlet within a seed. The germ.
Endosperm The starchy interior of a grain or seed.
Ensilage Silage.
Epidermis The external layer of cells.
Erosion The wearing away of the land surface by water or
wind.
Fallow Cropland left idle, usually for one growing season,
while the soil is being cultivated to control weeds and
conserve moisture.
Fertilization (plant) The union of the male (pollen) nucleus with the
female (egg) cell.
Fertilization (soil) The application to the soil of elements or compounds
that aid in the nutrition of plants.
Glossary of Agronomic terms 109

Fibrous root A slender thread-like root, such as the roots in


grasses.
Fodder Maize, sorghum, or other coarse grasses harvested
whole and cured in an erect position.

Forage Vegetable matter, fresh or preserved, gathered and


fed to animals.
Gene The unit of inheritance, which is transmitted in the
germ cells.
Genetics The science of heredity, variation, and sex
determination.
Gluten The protein in wheat flour that enables the dough to
rise.
Grain (1) A caryopsis, (2) a collective term for the cereals,
(3) cereal seeds in bulk.
Grass A plant of the family Gramineae.

Green manure Any crop or plant grown and plowed under to


improve the soil, especially by the addition of organic
matter.
Hardpan A hardened or cemented soil horizon.
Hay The herbage of grasses or fine-stemmed plants cut and
cured for forage.

Humus The well-decomposed and stable part of the organic


matter in the soil.
Husk The coarse outer envelope of a fruit, such as the
glumes of an ear of maize.
Hybrid The offspring of two parents unlike in one or more
heritable characters.
Inflorescence The flowering part of a plant.
Leaf The lateral organ of a stem.
Legume Any plant of the family Leguminoseae.

Lister An implement for furrowing land, often having a


planting attachment.
Loam A soil composed of a mixture of clay, silt, and less
than 52% sand.
110 Glossary of Agronomic terms

Meadow An area covered with fine-stemmed forage plants,


wholly or mainly perennial, and used to produce hay.
Middlebuster A double-shovel plow or lister.
Mulch A layer of plant residues on the surface of the soil.
Neutral soil A soil neither acid nor alkaline, with a pH of about 7.
Nutrient A chemical element taken into a plant that is essential
for growth, development, and reproduction of the
plant.
Organic farming Growing crops without applying pesticides and
mineral fertilizers in an inorganic form.
Panicle An inflorescence with a main axis and subdivided
branches, as in oats and sorghum.
Pasture An area of land covered with grass or other herbaceous
forage plants, used for grazing animals.
Perennial Living more than 1 year but, in some cases, producing
seed the first year.
Plant Any organism belonging to the plant or vegetable
kingdom.
Planter A machine fOT opening the soil and dropping tubers,
cuttings, seedlings, or seeds at intervals.
Pollen The male germ cells produced in the anthers of a
flower.
Pollination The transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of
a flower.
Productivity The capability of a soil to produce a specified plant
(of soil) or sequence of plants under a specified system of
management.
Profile (of soil) A vertical section of the soil through all its horizons
and extending into the parental material.
Protoplasm The contents of a living cell.
Pubescent Covered with fine, soft, short, hairs.
Pure line A strain of organisms that is genetically pure because
of continued inbreeding.
Rachis The axis of a spike in grasses.
Radicle That part of the seed which upon growing becomes the
root.
Glossary of Agronomic terms 111

Reaction (of soil) The degree of acidity or alkalinity of the soil expressed
as pH.
Replication Multiple repetition of an experiment.
Respiration The process of absorption of oxygen and giving out of
carbon dioxide.
Root The part of the plant (usually subterranean) which
lacks nodes.
Runner A creeping branch or stolon.
Sand Small rock or mineral fragments having diameters
ranging from 0.05 to 2 mm.
Seed The ripened ovule enclosing a rudimentary plant and
the food necessary for its germination.
Seedling The juvenile stage of a plant grown from seed.
Semiarid climate A climate which usually has an annual precipitation of
between 25 and 50cm.
Shoot A stem with its attached members.
Silage Forage preserved in a succulent condition by partial
fermentation in a tight container.
Silt Small mineral soil particles of a diameter of 0.002 to
0.05mm.
Single cross The first generation hybrid between two inbred lines.
Soil The natural medium for the growth of land plants on
the surface of the earth, composed of organic and
mineral materials.
Sow To place seeds in a position for growing.
Spike An unbranched inflorescence in which the spikelets
are sessile on the rachis, as in barley and wheat.
Spikelet The unit of inflorescence in grasses, consisting of two
outer glumes and one or more florets.
Stamen The pollen-bearing organ of a flower.
Stand The density of plant population per unit area.
Sterile Incapable of sexual reproduction.
Stigma The part of the pistil that receives the pollen.
Stolon A modified creeping stem above ground that produces
roots.
112 Glossary of Agronomic terms

Strain A group of plants derived from a variety.


Straw The dried remnants of fine-stemmed plants from
which the seed has been removed.
Stubble The basal portion of the stems of plants left standing
after cutting.
Subsoil The part of the soil below the plow depth or below the
A horizon.
Taproot A single central root.
Tassel The staminate inflorescence of maize composed of
panicled spikes.
Tedder An implement for stirring hay in the swath or
windrow.
Terrace A channel or embankment across a slope approxi-
mately on a contour to intercept runoff water.
Till To plow or cultivate soil.
Tiller An erect shoot arising from the crown of a grass plant.
Tilth The physical condition of the soil with respect to its
fitness for the planting or growth of a crop.
Topsoil The surface soil, usually the plow depth of the A
horizon.
Transpiration The evaporation of moisture from plants through their
leaves.
Tuber A short thickened subterranean branch.
Turf The upper stratum of soil filled with the roots and
stems of low-growing grasses.
Unisexual Containing either stamens or pistils, but not both.
Unit character A hereditary trait that is transmitted by a single gene.
Variation The occurrence of differences among individual plants
of a species or variety.
Variety (cultivar) A group of individuals within a species that differ from
the rest of the species.
Vein A bundle of threads of fibrovascular tissue in a plant
leaf or other organ.
Weed A plant that in its location is more harmful than
beneficial.
Glossary of Agronomic terms 113

Windrow Curing plant herbage that is dropped or raked into a


row.
Winter annual A plant that germinates in the fall of 1 year and
matures in the spring or summer of the following year.
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