Aims: The purpose of this study was to test the hypotheses that soil nutrient patchiness can differentially benefit the decomposition of root and shoot litters and that this facilitation depends on plant genotypes. Methods: We grew 15 cultivars (i. e. genotypes) of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) under uniform and patchy soil nutrients, and contrasted their biomass and the subsequent mass, carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) dynamics of their root and shoot litters. Results: Under equal amounts of nutrients, patchy distribution increased root biomass and had no effects on shoot biomass and C:N ratios of roots and shoots. Roots and shoots decomposed more rapidly in patchy nutrients than in uniform nutrients, and reductions in root and shoot C:N ratios with decomposition were greater in patchy nutrients than uniform nutrients. Soil nutrient patchiness facilitated shoot decomposition more than root decomposition. The changes in C:N ratios with decomposition were correlated with initial C:N ratios of litter, regardless of roots or shoots. Litter potential yield, quality and decomposition were also affected by T. aestivum cultivars and their interactions with nutrient patchiness. Conclusions: Soil nutrient patchiness can enhance C and N cycling and this effect depends strongly on genotypes of T. aestivum. Soil nutrient heterogeneity in plant communities also can enhance diversity in litter decomposition and associated biochemical and biological dynamics in the soil. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.