Legumes in catch crop mixtures: Effects on nitrogen retention and availability, and leaching losses

J Environ Manage. 2019 Jun 1;239:324-332. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.03.077. Epub 2019 Mar 25.


Catch crop (CC) mixtures of non-legumes (nL) and legumes (L) have been promoted as a strategy to achieve two different goals: to decrease the risk of nitrate leaching and to enhance the nitrogen supply to the subsequent crop. To investigate if two-component mixtures of nL + L have advantages over pure nL stands experiments were carried out over a two year period (2013-2015) at two contrasting field sites in Denmark. Nitrogen (N) uptake by the CCs was measured by aboveground biomass sampling, and N leaching by ceramic suction cups. When grown in pure stands, white clover (Trifolium repens) on coarse sand and common vetch (Vicia sativa) on sandy loam were less effective at reducing N leaching than perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) and fodder radish (Raphanus sativus). When the proportion of the nL + L in mixtures was similar or favored the nL, leaching was not significantly different from the nL in the pure stand. However, during one of the years on the sandy loam L (vetch) almost outperformed nL (fodder radish), resulting in N leaching from nL + L similar to L. The yield of the following spring barley was only significantly different from the yield in the plots with previously bare soil in one of the years on the coarse sandy soil. It is concluded that in nL + L mixtures L can take over and thereby lower the effect of the CCs on N leaching while not necessarily enhancing the N supply for the subsequent crop.

Keywords: Catch crops; Legumes and non-legumes; N leaching; N uptake.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods
  • Biomass
  • Denmark
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Nitrogen / analysis
  • Nitrogen / pharmacology*
  • Seasons
  • Soil
  • Trifolium / drug effects
  • Trifolium / growth & development*


  • Nitrates
  • Soil
  • Nitrogen