Chemigation with Micronized Sulfur Rapidly Reduces Soil pH in a New Planting of Northern Highbush Blueberry

in HortScience

Northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) is adapted to acidic soil conditions and often grows poorly when soil pH is greater than 5.5. When soil pH is high, growers will usually mix prilled elemental sulfur (So) into the soil before planting (converted to sulfuric acid by soil bacteria) and, if needed, inject acid into the irrigation water after planting. These practices are effective but often expensive, time consuming, and, in the case of acid, potentially hazardous. Here, we examined the potential of applying micronized So by chemigation through a drip system as an alternative to reduce soil pH in a new planting of ‘Duke’ blueberry. The planting was located in western Oregon and established on raised beds mulched with sawdust in Oct. 2010. The So product was mixed with water and injected weekly for a period of ≈2 months before planting and again for period of ≈2 months in late summer of the second year after planting (to assess its value for reducing soil pH once the field was established), at a total rate of 0, 50, 100, and 150 kg·ha−1 So on both occasions. Each treatment was compared with the conventional practice of incorporating prilled So into the soil before planting (two applications of 750 kg·ha−1 So each in July and Oct. 2010). Within a month of the first application of So, chemigation reduced soil pH (0–10 cm depth) from an average of 6.6 with no So to 6.1 with 50 kg·ha−1 So and 5.8 with 100 or 150 kg·ha−1 So. However, the reductions in pH were short term, and by May of the following year (2011), soil pH averaged 6.7, 6.5, 6.2, and 6.1 with each increasing rate of So chemigation, respectively. Soil pH in the conventional treatment, in comparison, averaged 6.6 a month after the first application and 6.3 by the following May. In July 2012, soil pH ranged from an average of 6.4 with no So to 6.2 with 150 kg·ha−1 So and 5.5 with prilled So. Soil pH declined to as low as 5.9 following postplanting So chemigation and, at lower depths (10–30 cm), was similar between the treatment chemigated with 150 kg·ha−1 So and the conventional treatment. None of the treatments had any effect on winter pruning weight in year 1 or on yield, berry weight, or total dry weight of the plants in year 2. Concentration of P, K, Ca, Mg, S, and Mn in the leaves, on the other hand, was lower with So chemigation than with prilled So during the first year after planting, whereas concentration of N, P, and S in the leaves were lower with So chemigation during the second year. The findings indicate that So chemigation can be used to quickly reduce soil pH after planting and therefore may be a useful practice to correct high pH problems in established northern highbush blueberry fields; however, it was less effective and more time consuming than applying prilled So before planting.

Contributor Notes

We thank A. Shireman and W. Fummerton for technical assistance and acknowledge financial support from the Oregon Blueberry Commission. Mention of trademark, proprietary product, or vendor does not constitute a guarantee or warranty of the product by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and does not imply its approval to the exclusion of other products or vendors that also may be suitable.

Graduate student.

Corresponding author. E-mail: david.bryla@ars.usda.gov.

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    Temperature (air and soil; lines) and precipitation (bars) in a new planting of ‘Duke’ blueberry that was either chemigated or treated conventionally with elemental sulfur (So). Hashed bars with a “C” indicate the dates on which So was applied by chemigation; white bars with a “P” indicate the dates on which prilled So was applied conventionally; the gray bar with a “T” indicates the date on which the plants were transplanted (planted in the field); and black bars with an “S” indicate the dates on which soil was sampled and analyzed for pH and EC. Data were obtained from a local Pacific Northwest Cooperative Agricultural Weather Network AgriMet weather station (http://usbr.gov/pn/agrimet).

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    Soil pH during (Aug. 2010; •) and at ≈7 months after (May 2010; ○) either chemigation or conventional applications of elemental sulfur (So) in a new planting of ‘Duke’ blueberry. The dates of So application are illustrated in Fig. 1. Soil was sampled near a drip emitter at a depth of 0–10 cm. Error bars indicate ±1 se (n = 5). The response of soil pH to the rate of So chemigation was fit using quadratic polynomials [Aug. 2010: y = 4.18E−05x2 – 0.0119x + 6.5887 (r2 = 0.9564, P < 0.0001); May 2011: y = 7.40E−06x2 – 0.0052x + 6.7097 (r2 = 0.7936, P < 0.0001)].

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    Soil pH in relation to soil depth and distance from a drip emitter following chemigation or conventional applications of elemental sulfur (So) in a new planting of ‘Duke’ blueberry. Soil was sampled in (A, C) July and (B, D) October during the (A, B) first and (C, D) second year after planting (2011–12). The dates of So application are illustrated in Fig. 1; note that So was reapplied to the chemigated treatments before the last sampling date in 2012.

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