IPI International Potash Institute
IPI International Potash Institute

Research Findings: e-ifc No. 22, March 2010

Potassium Extracting Power: A Key Factor in Determining the Efficiency of the Sodium Tetraphenylboron Method in the Evaluation of Plant Available Soil K as Assessed by Sequential Ryegrass Cropping

Wang, H.Y., H.X. Sun, J.M. Zhou, W. Cheng, C.W. Du, and X.Q. Chen(1).
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(1)State Key Laboratory of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 21008, P.R. China. hywang@issas.ac.cn.

Abstract
The sodium tetraphenylboron (NaBPh4) method for evaluating K availability in soil was modified to improve evaluation of plant available K in four different soil types in China. The amount of soil K extracted in this method is dependent on the K extracting power (KEP), which is determined by concentrations of NaBPh4, NaCl and the extraction period used. At lowest KEP, only soluble and exchangeable K are extracted, which is equivalent to the K obtained from three successive extractions using the conventional ammonium acetate (NH4OAc) method. Increasing KEP in the NaBPh4 method resulted not only in an equivalent extraction of K as obtained by NH4OAc, but also in an increase in the amount of the easily releasable non-exchangeable K (NEK), which contributed significantly to the K uptake by ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) from the soils. The results suggest that the NH4OAc method was only suitable for evaluating K availability in soils of the same soil type or with similar K buffering capacities, but not in soils in which K buffer capacity varies and in which NEK contributes, to a varying extent, to plant K uptake. The soil available K extracted by the NaBPh4 method with suitable KEP, correlated well to K removal by eight sequential crops of ryegrass. By adjusting the KEP to a suitable level, the modified NaBPh4 method was shown to be suitable for evaluating plant available K.

Materials and methods
Soils
Four topsoils (0-20 cm) with different soil properties such as pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC) CaCO3, organic matter, clay content and K buffering capacity were used (Table 1). Two soils, LY and WC, contrasting in potassium availability, were included. Soil LY contained a low level of readily available K (soil solution and exchangeable K), with K plant supply being dependent on K release from the NEK pool. Whereas in soil WC, release of K from this pool was very low, with the readily exchangeable K pool being the main source for plant uptake. Soil pH, CEC, CaCO3, organic matter, clay content, available K, slow available K and total K were all measured by conventional methods (Lu, 1999).

Fig. 1. Effect of NaCl in extracting solution on K extracted from four soils.

Extraction of soil K with NaBPh4 method under various conditions
The general procedure of NaBPh4 method used for extracting soil K was similar to that described by Cox et al. (1999). Varying concentrations of NaCl and NaBPh4 concentrations in extracting solution (NaBPh4 + NaCl + 0.01 M EDTA) were selected after shaking at 200 rpm for specific periods; 25 mL of quenching solution (0.5 M NH4Cl + 0.14 M CuCl2) was added to stop the extraction. Three replicates were taken for all soil extraction tests.

Establish different K status in soils and evaluation of soil K availability to ryegrass
KCl was applied to each type of soil at rates of 0, 100, 200, 300 and 400 mg K kg-1 to obtain soils with different K status. Each pot contained 5.00 kg of soil and each treatment had four replicates. A pre-cropping of rice was initiated to allow equilibration of fertilizer K with native K in the soil under the wet-dry courses during the rice season.

After the rice season, 50 g of soil was sampled from each pot for soil K test. Soil available K was measured by NH4OAc method and the modified NaBPh4 method (0.2 M NaBPh4 + 0.01 M EDTA) with different extracting period (30, 60 and 120 min). The remaining soil was used for sequential cropping of perennial ryegrass in which adequate water was supplied together with all required mineral nutrients other than K. The ryegrass was harvested at eight-week intervals, and a total of eight crops of ryegrass were taken. Dry matter (DM) yield and K uptake (in the above ground parts) by each crop of the ryegrass were determined.

Analysis
K concentration in solution was measured with a flame photometer using an internal standard procedure employing 3 mM lithium chloride. The differences among means was statistically evaluated with SAS 6.12, using analyses of variance (ANOVA) taking P value <0.05 as significant.

Fig. 1. Effect of NaCl in extracting solution on K extracted from four soils.
Fig. 1. Effect of NaCl in extracting solution on K extracted from four soils with a 30 min extraction (a -0.01 M NaBPh4; b- 0.2 M NaBPh4 ). Vertical bars represent standard deviation (n=3), the same as below.

Results and Discussion
Amount of soil K extracted by NaBPh4 method under different extracting conditions
It has been reported that the K extracted from K-bearing minerals by NaBPh4 method was significantly affected by the presence of Na in extraction solution (Scott et al., 1960; Smith and Scott, 1966), and a combination of 1.7 M NaCl with 0.2 M NaBPh4 was frequently used by many researchers (Cox et al., 1996, 1999; Schindler et al., 2002; Fernandez et al., 2008). However, the detailed effect of NaCl concentration on K release from different soils is still unknown. Increasing NaCl concentration in the extracting solution significantly increased the K extracted from soils; the effect being related to soil type and also to NaBPh4 concentration (Fig. 1). At the lower NaBPh4 concentration (0.01 M), the amount of K extracted increased linearly as the NaCl concentration increased from 0 to 3.0 M (Fig. 1a). With the higher NaBPh4 concentration (0.2 M), the positive effect of NaCl on K release from three of the four soils reached a maximum at 2.0 M (Fig. 1b). These findings indicate that the KEP of the NaBPh4 method was greatly increased by increased concentration of NaCl, and raised by a higher concentration of NaBPh4 in the extracting solution. To retain KEP lower in the NaBPh4 method, omission of NaCl from the extracting solution is suggested.

Fig 2. Effect of NaBPh<sub>4</sub> concentration and extraction period on K extracted with the NaBPh<sub>4</sub> method in the absence of NaCl from four soils.
Fig 2. Effect of NaBPh<sub>4</sub> concentration and extraction period on K extracted with the NaBPh<sub>4</sub> method in the absence of NaCl from four soils.
Fig 2. Effect of NaBPh4 concentration and extraction period on K extracted with the NaBPh4 method in the absence of NaCl from four soils.

In the absence of NaCl, the K extracted from soils did not differ significantly between the two lower concentrations of NaBPh4 (0.001 and 0.003 M) even though the extracting period increased up to 30 min (Fig. 2), reflecting the lowest KEP in this method. Soil K extracted by the NaBPh4 method, with lowest KEP, was compared with the conventional NH4OAc method using a single or a total of three successive extractions (Fig. 3). The relatively similar amount of K extracted by both methods indicates that the NaBPh4 method with lowest KEP is only capable of extracting soluble and exchangeable K in soils. As NaBPh4 concentration increased to 0.03 and 0.2 M, the K extracted from soils was increased gradually, but the effect differed among soils (Fig. 2). In the absence of NaCl, to extract a small portion of NEK from soils, as based on the data in Fig. 2, 0.2 M NaBPh4 is recommended for evaluation of soil available K to plants.

Fig 3. A comparison of K extracted from four soils.
Fig 3. A comparison of K extracted from four soils by the NaBPh4
method (at two NaBPh4 concentrations with lowest KEP) and the
NH4OAc method (with either a single extraction or with three
successive extractions).

Evaluating soil K availability to ryegrass
The correlation coefficient indicating the linear relationship between soil K removed by the eight sequential crops of ryegrass, and K extracted by NH4OAc and NaBPh4 methods, are shown in Table 2. The results indicate that the NH4OAc method was not suitable for evaluation of K availability to ryegrass in soils used in the current study. By contrast both 60- and 120-min NaBPh4 method are suitable and much better than the NH4OAc method in estimating soil K availability in the eight sequential crops of ryegrass.

Fig. 1. Effect of NaCl in extracting solution on K extracted from four soils.

The data in Fig. 4 clearly show the difference between NH4OAc and NaBPh4 60-min methods in their ability to predict K availability to the first and eighth crops of ryegrass in different soils. For each soil type, a reasonably linear correlation between NH4OAc extractable-K (AK) and K removed by the first or eighth crop of ryegrass is indicated by the linearly assembled points in Fig. 4a, 4c. When considering the four soil types, together however, the points are scattered on the plot (Fig. 4a, 4c) which relates to the different K buffering capacities of the soils tested.

The soil LY has a very high K buffering capacity, which "fixes" most of the K added and with low levels of AK in the soil samples (Fig. 4a). The K removed by eight crops of ryegrass (245-438 mg kg-1; Fig. 4c) was much higher than the AK values (39-63 mg kg-1; Fig. 4c) indicating that the NEK contributed to most of ryegrass K uptake which was not evaluated by the NH4OAc method, thus accounting for the line scattered upward in Fig. 4a, 4c.

For the soil WC, the K removed by the ryegrass is close to the AK in the soil (Fig. 4c), which suggests that almost no NEK contributed to ryegrass K uptake, and this is similarly so for the line scattered downward in Fig. 4c. The results suggest that the NH4OAc method was only suitable for evaluating K availability in soils of the same soil type or with similar K buffering capacities, but not in soils in which K buffer capacity varies and in which NEK contributes to varying extent to plant K uptake.

In Fig. 4b, 4d, the reasonably close assemblage of scattered points along a line of the plots for both crops of ryegrass is indicative of the suitability of the modified NaBPh4 method in evaluating the availability of K of the soils to the ryegrass crop. These findings confirm the NaBPh4-60 min method with modified KEP for evaluating K availability allowed the inclusion of that proportion of NEK which is actually available to plants in addition to water soluble and readily exchangeable AK.

Fig 2. Effect of NaBPh4 concentration and extraction period on K extracted with the NaBPh4 method in the absence of NaCl from four soils.
Fig 4. Comparing K removed by first crop of ryegrass and K extracted by conventional NH4OAc and modified NaBPh4 methods from four soils
(a - NH4OAc method; b - modified NaBPh4 method).
click to enlarge

Conclusion
The amount of soil K extracted by the NaBPh4 method is largely dependent on KEP of the method, which is determined by components of the extracting solution and extracting period. Increasing NaCl concentration in the extracting solution has the greatest effect in increasing the KEP, followed by increasing NaBPh4 concentration, and by length of extracting period. At the lowest KEP, the NaBPh4 method can only extract water soluble and exchangeable K from soils. Modifying the KEP, by increasing the concentration of NaBPh4 in the absence of NaCl and raising the extracting period to 60- or 120-min allowed an estimation of soil K availibility, which was much more accurate than the NH4OAc method as assessed by K uptake of eight sequential crops of ryegrass. The latter method was only suitable for evaluating K availability in soils of the same soil type or with similar K buffering capacities, but not for soils in which K buffer capacity varies and in which NEK contributes, to a varying extent, to plant K uptake.

Rice grown in pots to allow equilibration of fertilizer K with native K in the soil under the wet-dry courses during the rice season. Photo by H.Y. Wang.
Rice grown in pots to allow equilibration of fertilizer K with native K in the soil under the wet-dry courses during the rice season.
Photo by H.Y. Wang.

Acknowledgements
The study was financially supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (2007CB109301), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (40971176), and IPI China project.

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The paper "Potassium Extracting Power: A Key Factor in Determining the Efficiency of the Sodium Tetraphenylboron Method in the Evaluation of Plant Available Soil K as Assessed by Sequential Ryegrass Cropping" is also available in: Regional Activities/China