Phenolic acids (caffeic, CAF; protocatechuic, PCA; p-coumaric, COU; and vanillic, VAN), catechol (CAT), poly-galacturonic acid (PGA), and citric acid (CIT) were compared for their effectiveness in phosphorus (P) mobilization in three soils differing in chemical properties. The addition of organic ligands at 100 mu mol g(-1) soil increased the concentrations of resin P (P-r), water-extractable P (P-w), and bicarbonate-extractable inorganic P (P-bi), thus improving the phosphorus availability. The magnitude of P mobilization in the calcareous soil can be expressed in the following order: CAF > CAT > PCA = CIT > VAN > COU > PGA, which was consistent with the number of phenolic hydroxyl groups they contained and the position of carboxyl on the benzoic ring. In the two acid soils tested, the order of P mobilization was CIT > CAT > PCA > CAF after 24 h incubation, and CIT > PCA > CAF > CAT after a 14 d incubation. The mobilized P originated partly from the organic P fractions, which could be extracted by 0.5 M NaHCO3. In addition, P-r decreased and P-w increased during incubation. The exceptions were that the CAF treatment increased P, and the CIT treatment did not affect P-w. Calcium extraction from the soils after a 1 d or 14 d incubation could not fully account for the P mobilization. The results suggest that the inorganic P dissolution by the organic ligands was not the only mechanism of P mobilization in the calcareous soil, while in acid soils the chelation of metal cations by organic ligands is likely an important factor in P mobilization.