Use of sulphur in bareroot pine and hardwood nurseries: Sulphur in nurseries

Use of sulphur in bareroot pine and hardwood nurseries

Sulphur in nurseries


  • David B. South School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, AL



Nutrition, Foliar analysis, soil testing, hidden hunger


During the 20th century, managers at sandy nurseries utilized sulphur (S) to lower soil pH and mitigate the risk of iron deficiency. During that time, however, applying S as a fertilizer was a rare event. At many nurseries, S in rain and irrigation water was sufficient to avoid visual deficiency symptoms. The S status of soil and foliage was typically unknown, and many researchers did not test for S due to the additional cost. Consequently, S became the most neglected macronutrient. While a few nursery trials demonstrated that elemental S reduced damping-off and increased height growth, a majority showed no benefit after applying S at rates lower than 100 kg ha-1.  Even so, by 1980, S-deficiencies occurred at bareroot nurseries in Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, the United Kingdom, and likely in North Dakota and New York. The risk of a deficiency increases when N-only fertilizers are applied to seedbeds. Due to research, experience and the precautionary principle, several managers transitioned to using ammonium sulfate instead of, less expensive, N-only nitrogen fertilizers. After soil tests became affordable, managers began to ask questions about the need to apply S to seedbeds. Only a few hydroponic trials with small pine seedlings have been used to estimate “threshold” or “critical values” for foliar S.  Since an initial 1,500 μg g-1 S value is “unreliable” for pine seedlings, some authors lowered the value to 1,100 μg g-1 and even as low as 500 μg g-1 S. Others ignore all estimates based on total S concentrations and, instead, monitor only foliar SO4 levels.


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Author Biography

David B. South, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, AL

Emeritus Professor


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2023-07-04 — Updated on 2023-07-14


How to Cite

South, David B. “Use of Sulphur in Bareroot Pine and Hardwood Nurseries: Sulphur in Nurseries ”. REFORESTA, no. 15 (July 14, 2023): 12–48. Accessed March 1, 2024.



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