Soil physical factors affecting root growth and maize yield in four Rhodesian soils.
The platinum microelectrode technique for measuring oxygen flux in soils has been reviewed. Shortcomings in the existing technique and instrumentation have been discussed. The new instrumentation, electrode standardization and measurement techniques developed enable the method to be used with confidence in unsaturated soil systems. Measurements of oxygen flux index in four soil samples showed a very highly significant regression relationship between oxygen flux index and air space within the range 3 - 15% air space on each soil. There was no significant difference in the regression relation between soils. A field penetrometer, designed to measure the presence and strength of subsurface pans in field soils has been described. Measurements with the penetrometer on three depth of ploughing treatments (100, 230 and 355 mm) on tillage trials at four sites with different clay contents showed that hard layers were present on all the treatments. Except on the shallowest ploughing depth treatment on the fine-textured soil, where the pan was 225 mm below the nominal ploughing depth, the hard layers were present between a few mm and 150 mm below the nominal ploughing depth, and had strengths of between 16 and 24 bars. The theory and factors affecting measurement of soil strength with needle penetrometers have been investigated. The design and operation of a laboratory penetrometer used to measure soil strength under closely controlled laboratory conditions has been discussed. Physical factors likely to affect root growth, viz. soil texture, air space, bulk density, soil strength and available moisture, have been measured in a comprehensive range of undisturbed cores taken from the four tillage trials. High soil strength is considered as being the soil physical factor most likely to restrict root growth in these soils. Physical factors affecting soil strength have been investigated. Soil strength is shown to be highly dependent upon bulk density, matric potential and soil texture. The hard pans shown to exist in all the tillage trial soils exhibit many of the characteristics of tillage pans, but their existence cannot be attributed exclusively to the ploughing depth treatments imposed in the tillage trials. Rather, the pans have resulted from a combination of interacting factors, including the previous history of the soils, the imposed tillage treatments, crop, and climatic factors. A study of some of the data from the literature on root growth and soil strength shows that root growth is severely restricted by soil strengths of the order of 20 to 30 bars. In order to determine whether root growth was being restricted in the tillage trials, root profiles were extracted from one of the trials. These showed that the pans severely restricted root growth. Analysis of maize yield data from the tillage trials showed that on the three coarse-textured sites yield increased with increased depth of ploughing, and that there was a marked seasonal effect, ploughing depth having a relatively greater effect on maize yield in dry seasons than in wet. On the fine-textured site, however, where no pan existed near the surface in the shallow ploughed treatment, the ploughing depth effect was not significant, nor was there any marked seasonal effect of ploughing depth on maize yield. Evidence presented shows that the pans, by restricting root growth are reducing the amount of water available to the plant. This effect is greater in dry seasons, and in soils with low available water .