Background and aims: Below-ground grass competition limits woody establishment in savannas. N2-fixing legumes may, however, have a nutritional advantage over broad-leaved species. We hypothesised that broad-leaved non-legume savanna thicket species would be more severely constrained by grass competition for N and consequently respond more to N-fertilization than the legume, Acacia karroo. Methods: A. karroo and five non-legume thicket species (Maytenus senegalensis, M. heterophylla, Euclea divinorum, Ziziphus mucronata, Schotia brachypetala) were grown together in an irrigated competition experiment with clipped-, unclipped-grass and without grass with/without N-fertilizer. The biomass, foliar nutrient, δ13C and δ15N of grasses and woody species were determined. Results: Growth of both A. karroo and the non-legume species was equally sensitive (c. 90 % reduction) to both clipped- and unclipped-grass competition, regardless of N-fertilization. With grass competition, however, foliar [N] increased and δ15N decreased in response to N-fertilization. Grass biomass accumulation was also unchanged by fertilisation, despite increases in foliar [N] and decreases in δ15N. Conclusions: The N2-fixation capacity of A. karroo provided no growth advantage over non-legumes. The lack of responsiveness of biomass accumulation by both the woody species and the grasses to N-fertilization, despite evidence that plants accessed the N-fertilizer, indicates limitation by other nutrients. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.