The nitrogen (N) requirement for paddy rice cultivated in Bangladesh amounts to approximately 80 kg N ha−1. Lack of knowledge on N mineralization from soil organic matter leads farmers to meet this N requirement exclusively by costly mineral fertilizers, which have typically an efficiency of less than 40%. We assessed to what extent routinely analysed soil properties (N and carbon (C), texture, pH, extractable iron (Fe), aluminium (Al) and manganese (Mn), soil mineralogy and length of the annual inundation period) are able to predict net aerobic and anaerobic N mineralization in paddy soils. Both soil N and C correlated positively with the aerobic but not with the anaerobic N mineralization rate. Instead, relative anaerobic N mineralization showed a significant negative correlation with soil N content. We observed no significant influence of clay mineralogy on soil N mineralization. Aerobic but not anaerobic N mineralization increased with length of the annual inundation period while the proportion of the soil N that was mineralized during 120 days decreased. The large clay content of fields that are inundated for 9–10 months annually explains the co-occurrence of large soil N contents and relatively small N mineralization rates in these fields. However, variation in texture did not explain variation in N mineralization of soils with inundation periods of 3–8 months. Instead, the anaerobic N mineralization correlated positively with Na pyrophosphate-extractable Fe and negatively with pH (both at P < 0.01). Thus, pH and Fe content, rather than soil N content, clay mineralogy or texture, explained the substantial variation in anaerobic N mineralization of paddy soils in Bangladesh inundated for 3–8 months. It is not known if these relationships between net evolution of ammonium in soil and pH and Fe content are causal or indirect. Elucidation of these mechanisms would greatly further our comprehension of the biochemistry of the young ‘floodplain soils' with relatively low content of pedogenic oxides throughout southeast Asia.