Background and Aims The response of forest ecosystems to continuous nitrogen (N) deposition is still uncertain. We investigated imports and exports of dissolved N from mull-type organic layers to identify the controls of N leaching in Central European beech forests under continuous N deposition. Methods Dissolved N fluxes with through fall and through mull-type organic layers (litter leachate) were measured continuously in 12 beech forests on calcareous soil in two regions in Germany over three consecutive growing seasons. Results Mean growing season net (i.e. litter leachate – throughfall flux) fluxes of total dissolved N (TDN) from the organic layer were low (2.3 ± 5.6 kg ha⁻¹) but varied widely from 12.9 kg ha⁻¹ to–8.3kgha⁻¹. The small increase of dissolved N fluxes during the water passage through mull-type organic layers suggested that high turnover rates coincided with high microbial N assimilation and plant N uptake. Stand basal area had a positive feedback on N fluxes by providing litter for soil organic matter formation. Plant diversity, especially herb diversity, reduced dissolved N fluxes. Soil fauna biomass increased NO−3 -N fluxes with litter leachate by stimulating mineralization. Microbial biomass measures were not related to dissolved N fluxes. Conclusions Our results show that dissolved N exports from organic layers contain significant amounts of throughfall-derived N (mainly NO−3 -N) that flushes through the organic layer but also highlight that N leaching from organic layers is driven by the complex interplay of plants, animals and microbes. Furthermore, diverse understories reduce N leaching from Central European beech forests.