Plant genotypes differ in P efficiency, i.e. their capacity to grow in soil with low P availability. Plant properties such as root and root hair length, release of P mineralising and mobilising compounds by the roots and P requirement for optimal growth are known to influence P efficiency. In order to improve the understanding of the role of rhizosphere properties in plant P uptake, we grew three Poaceae genotypes [two wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) genotypes (the P-efficient Goldmark and the P-inefficient Janz), and the Australian native grass Austrostipa densiflora L.] to maturity in an acidic loamy sand with low P availability. Addition of 120 mg P as FePO4 kg(-1) (P120) improved the growth of all three genotypes. In both P0 and P120, growth and P uptake were smaller in Janz than in Goldmark. During the vegetative phase, growth and P uptake of Austrostipa were smaller than in Goldmark in P0 but greater in P120. These differences can be explained by plant properties such as root growth, specific P uptake, mobilisation of inorganic and organic P by root exudates and P utilisation efficiency. In P120, P availability in the rhizosphere was least in Janz and greatest in Austrostipa. Microbial biomass P in the rhizosphere was least in Janz. Acid phosphatase activity was greatest in the rhizosphere of Austrostipa and least in Janz. Plant growth and P uptake were positively correlated with microbial P, acid phosphatase activity and resin P in the rhizosphere, suggesting that microorganisms contribute to uptake of P by plants in this soil. Microbial community composition in the rhizosphere [analysed by fatty acid methylester (FAME) analysis and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)] differed among genotypes, changed during plant development and was affected by P addition to the soil. Genotype-specific microbial community composition in the rhizosphere may have contributed to the observed differential capacity of plants to grow at low P availability.