Linkages between forest dynamics and ecosystem processes are poorly understood and this limits our ability to adequately estimate future changes in forest ecosystems due to human-induced global change. In particular at the single tree level, our understanding of temporal and spatial changes of belowground properties during forest succession is limited. Thus, our aim was to test whether we find a spatial and temporal gradient in nutrient availability and an associated shift in microbial community structure with increasing distance and age of single trees. We found that inorganic nitrogen (NO3-,NH4+) was less available below the crown of single trees, while soluble organic carbon (DOC) was much more abundant, in particular in the inner zone of influence, i.e. close to the stem. The fungal:bacterial PLFA ratio was greater while microbial biomass carbon (MicC) was lower below the tree crown, indicating a strong influence of trees on spatial patterns of microbial biomass and community structure. Moreover, the positive correlation between MicC and total extractable N, and the negative correlation between fungal:bacterial biomass and δ15N, suggested that the microbial biomass was N limited below the tree crown and as a consequence nutrient cycling was presumably decelerated compared to open conditions. We also found a temporal pattern of increasing surface soil C and N content with increasing tree age (up to 250 years), underlining the significant role of single trees in creating spatial and temporal heterogeneity in forests. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.