Nutrient Highlights: Sulfur

Growing plants is a skill that brings a lot of joy and excitement. But it takes more that sticking your thumb in a bucket of green paint. Studying all of the different aspects and cycles plants use to thrive unlocks plants’ hidden world that leads to growth. Here we look into the use of sulfur in plant growth.

Sulfur is a secondary macronutrient. This means sulfur is critical to a plants success but is not needed in as much quantities as the primary macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). Other secondary macronutrients include calcium and magnesium.

Sulfur comes in two forms, sulfides and sulfates. Sulfate is taken up by plant roots and converted into sulfide in the shoot of the plant. Once it is converted, sulfide is broken down to form essential proteins for the plant cells.

Sulfides that exist outside of the plant often give the rotten egg smell that many people have experienced. Bacteria in an area deprived of oxygen convert sulfur into sulfur gas, which gives the unpleasant smell. So the when’s and where’s of the different forms of sulfur is vital to pleasant smelling, prosperous growth.

Humans need sulfur in their diet too. But can only do so by eating plants. This just goes to show how important this process is.

Contact your local extension office to have a soil analysis done on your plot. This will tell you the level of sulfur in the soil and whether you need to add or reduce the sulfur in the soil. Plants are really good at taking up sulfur, so reducing the sulfur level is a matter of growing and waiting.

There are a few additives you can amend your soil with to increase the availability of sulfur in your field. Naturally, sulfur is added when vegetables scrapes, grass clippings, and other green manures break down in the field.

Epsom salt consists of magnesium and sulfur and is a great additive when trying to raise either of these secondary macronutrients. Potassium sulfate is another helpful tool to raise sulfur levels. Lowering the pH by adding gypsum will also add sulfur into the soil.

Growing plants is a never ending study of how plants work. Each little lesson that we learn stacks on top of each other to make a solid understanding of growing. No matter how much knowledge you have about plants, it is important to keep learning, growing, and practicing these principles. Stay tuned for more nutrient highlights and information of the wonderful world of growing plants!


Photos: Simon Schlegl


PrintBy Jake Frazier

Jake Frazier is an outdoor enthusiast and the owner of Residential Ecology, a sustainable ecological resource management company. He uses existing natural systems to improve the quality of life for both humans and the Earth. Jake is interested in permaculture, living systems and exploring. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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