The duration of the residual effect of sesbania (Sesbania sesban) fallow on subsequent crops will determine the interval at which sesbania must be grown to replenish N in a planted fallow–crop rotation cycle. An experiment was conducted from 1995 to 1998 (seven cropping seasons) on two farms in western Kenya, an area subject to a bimodal annual rainfall pattern. The aim was to compare the effect of a single-season sesbania fallow with continuous annual cropping with and without phosphorus fertilizer, on a P-deficient soil. Phosphorus was applied at a rate of 500 kg ha−1 in a single application to meet the phosphorus needs of subsequent crops for the next five to ten years. Sesbania was established simultaneously with maize by direct seeding in the first rainy season of 1995 and allowed to grow as a pure fallow through the second rainy season. Following the harvest of this fallow crop, sole maize in the first post-fallow season and maize-bean intercrops in the subsequent four seasons were grown with and without nitrogen at a rate of 100 kg ha−1. Added phosphorus on average increased maize yields by 3.7 times over the control, indicating that phosphorus fertilizer is essential for good yields. The amount of phosphorus recycled by sesbania fallow was inadequate to meet the crop needs in P-deficient soils. While continuously cropped maize in the presence of phosphorus responded to nitrogen in all seasons, the crop following sesbania responded only from the third season. In the first post-fallow season, sesbania increased maize grain yields over continuous maize by 1.4 t ha−1 with phosphorus fertilizer and by 1.3 t ha−1 without phosphorus fertilizer. The residual effect of sesbania with phosphorus fertilizer lasted for two seasons, while without phosphorus it lasted for only one. In these Kenyan highlands, farmers who can afford fertilizer should buy phosphorus fertilizer and rely for nitrogen on planted fallow with species such as sesbania grown for one season every two years. For farmers who cannot afford fertilizer, one-season fallow every year may be more attractive because of labour savings and the firewood produced by sesbania.