The phosphorus status of 58 soil samples representing 15 soil series and four soil Orders (Ultisol, Entisol, Alfisol and Oxisol) in the major coconut-growing regions of Sri Lanka was evaluated by determining the available P extracted by the methods of Olsen, Bray & Kurtz No. 1, Bray & Kurtz No. 2 and NH4OAc (pH 4·8) and the various P forms. Total P in the soils ranged from 37 to 338 mg/kg with organic P and active P constituting only about 20 and 50% of the total P respectively. In general the sandy soils of the Entisols and Oxisols had lower total and organic P but higher active and available P than the rest. The relative abundance of the various inorganic P forms was generally in the decreasing order of inactive P, Fe-P, Al-P and Ca-P. Al-P and Ca-P were positively correlated with percentage sand and negatively correlated with percentage silt and percentage clay whereas total P and organic P had the opposite trend. Available P extracted by the four methods was very low in almost all soils except some of the sandy soils (Entisols) which had marginal to moderate P contents. They were positively correlated with Al-P, Ca-P, percentage sand and negatively correlated with percentages of silt, clay and organic carbon.
Phosphorus concentrations (0·074–0·116%) in the 14th leaf of coconut at the soil sites were all lower than the critical leaf-P concentration (0·120%). Leaf-P correlations with Bray & Kurtz No. 2-P and NH40Ac-P were significant (P < 0·05) and with Al-P and Ca-P were close to significant.
The study revealed that the coconut-growing soils of Sri Lanka were deficient in total as well as the active and available forms of P except perhaps some of the sandy soils of the Entisol. This was confirmed by coconut leaf P analysis.