Sulphur can only be taken up by plants from the soil solution as sulphate. As with readily-available nitrate, it can be liable to loss through leaching.
Spring application of sulphate fertilizer is therefore recommended so that the plant can take it up during the period of active growth, as with nitrate. Sulphur is required together with nitrogen for the formation of proteins and uptake timings are similar.
How Sulfur Deficiencies in Plants Occur
While sulphate fertilizer is immediately available to the crop, applications of elemental sulphur must be converted to sulphate by bacterial activity in the soil before it becomes available. The time taken for this oxidation is unpredictable and may take many months, so the sulphate required by the crop may not be available when needed. Sulphur is required for many growth functions in plants — like nitrogen it is principally an essential constituent of protein. There is therefore a close relationship between the quantities of nitrogen and sulphur in crops, with most taking up about 1kg of sulphur 2.
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Brassica crops, such as oilseed rape, cabbage and kale, require much more sulphate. They need extra sulphur for the production of glucosinolates, which are used within the plants as a defense mechanism. Once taken up, unlike nitrogen, sulphur does not move against the transpiration stream and cannot be taken from older leaves, for example, to support new growth. So a sufficient and continuous supply is needed in the soil to satisfy all the needs of the growing crop.
SULPHUR CONTENT OF PLANTS
Signs of deficiency include the yellowing of young leaves or new growth. By contrast, yellowing from nitrogen deficiency affects the older leaves first. Sulphur-deficient oilseed rape can also have purpling and upward cupping of young leaves, delayed and prolonged flowering, pale-colored flowers, and fewer, smaller pods. The risk of sulphur deficiency can increase in countries where levels of atmospheric sulphur - from air pollution through fossil fuel combustion - decline.
In many crops, its amount in the plant is similar to phosphorus. However, even in high organic matter soils, often, the breakdown of the organic matter and the mineralization process are not rapid enough to meet the sulfur requirement of the crop. When this occurs, fertilizers or amendments containing sulfur have to be applied.
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Sulfur is immobile in plants and does not readily translocated from older leaves to young leaves. Therefore, sulfur deficiency first appears on younger leaves. Sulfur deficiency symptoms show up as light green to yellowish color. Deficient plants are small and their growth is retarded. Symptoms may vary between plant species.
For example, in corn, sulfur deficiency shows up as interveinal chlorosis; in wheat, the whole plant becomes pale while the younger leaves are more chlorotic; in potatoes, spotting of leaves might occur.
Most of the sulfur in soils is found soil in organic matter. However, it is not available to plants in this form. In order to become available to plants, the sulfur must be first released from the organic matter and go through mineralization process. The mineralization process is a result of microbial activity. In this process sulfur is converted to the sulfate form SO , which is readily available to plants. Immobilization of sulfur is the opposite process in which available sulfate is converted back into the organic form.
Plant analysis is the best way to estimate sulfur sufficiency. Combining the plant analysis with soil test result will give the best indication on if and how much sulfur should be applied. Many times, soil test alone is not reliable enough. Soil tests are valuable only if a correlation was found between the sulfur test level and the crop response to application of fertilizer.
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Because sulfur leaches readily, the top soil might test low in sulfur, while subsoil samples will show higher levels of available sulfur.