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A two-year field experiment with a split-split plot design was conducted to investigate the effects of soil N(0, 120 and 240 kg N·ha−1) and foliar Zn applications at different growth stages (jointing, flowering, early grain filling, and late grain filling) on Zn translocation and utilization efficiency in winter wheat grown on potentially Zn-deficient soil. Our results showed that foliar Zn application at the early grain filling stage significantly increased the Zn concentration in the grain (by 82.9% compared to control) and the Zn utilization efficiency (by 49% compared to jointing). The Zn concentration in the straw consistently increased with the timing of the foliar Zn application and was highest at late grain filling. However, the timing of the Zn application had little effect on Zn uptake in the grain and straw. A high N supply significantly increased the Zn concentration in and uptake by grain and straw, but it had little effect on the efficiency of Zn utilization. Consequently, a foliar Zn application at early grain filling causes Zn to re-translocate into grain from vegetative tissues, resulting in highly nutritional wheat grain. Finally, these practices improved the efficiency of Zn utilization in winter wheat and led to Zn-enriched straw, which may contribute to Zn recycling if it is returned to the field. The results also indicated that N nutrition is a critical factor in both the concentration and translocation of Zn in wheat.

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