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  • 1 University of Peradeniya Faculty of Agriculture Peradeniya Sri Lanka
  • 2 ETH Zentrum Institute of Plant Sciences Zurich Switzerland
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Smallholders in the tropics add different organic materials to their crops at different times, based on the availability of materials and labour. However, the time of application could have an effect on the establishment and early growth of crops, especially their root systems, which has not yet been clearly identified. This paper presents the results of a study conducted under greenhouse conditions using soils from a field treated with three organic materials at 4 or 2 weeks before or at the planting of maize seeds, corresponding to the times that tropical smallholders apply these materials. The organic materials used were leaves of Gliricidia sepium and Tithonia diversifolia or rice straw, incorporated at a rate equivalent to 6 Mt ha −1 . A control treatment where no organic matter was added was used for comparison. The impact of the treatments on soil properties at the planting of maize seed and detailed root analysis based on root lengths were carried out until the last growth stage (V4). The addition of organic matter improved the soil characteristics, and the impact of adding Gliricidia leaves was most pronounced when incorporated 2 weeks before planting. The benefits of leaves of Tithonia or rice straw on soil quality parameters were clearly evident when added 4 weeks before planting. Organic matter enhanced the root number, root length, root growth rate and branching indices. All the organic materials suppressed the growth of maize roots when applied at planting, suggesting the existence of allelopathic effects, which could result in poor growth. The most benefits in terms of root growth were observed with Tithonia .

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