In the current issue of the Annapolis Horticulture Society’s ( newsletter, guru horticulturist and gardening columnist Dr. Francis Gouin’s epistle on soils, the second part in a series, continues. He reports this irony regarding the consequence of cleaner air causing a greater need for (chemical?) soil amendments.

The conundrum: 

Sulfur has become deficient in some soils and that can be diagnosed from the S3 test. Because sulfur is no longer a contaminant in fertilizers, our air is becoming cleaner and sulfur deficiency symptoms are becoming more common. In the good old days, sulfur dioxide was a major air pollutant which helped in maintaining adequate levels of sulfur in our soils. Our fertilizers have become more concentrated and less contaminated with sulfate compounds such as super-phosphate, ammonium sulfate and potassium sulfate. These sources have been replaced with ammonium phosphate, potassium nitrate, and others. With increased emphasis on cleaner air, we have less sulfur-polluted rains and atmospheric sulfur-laden dust falling on our land. It will eventually become necessary to blend sulfur in the fertilizer bag or we will have to apply it separately (from UNDERSTANDING SOIL TEST REPORTS – PART II, by Francis R. Gouin, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, AHS Newsletter, September 2012, #138).

I must admit it reminds me of the political debates ongoing in the Presidential contest where parties try to distinguish themselves by not agreeing on anything and seeing all candidates and their supporters as wearing either black or white hats. Is carbon dioxide a pollutant or a life-supporting chemical? Your answer may be determined by your political persuasion.

In the plant world, there is care not to be politically incorrect and refer to a native plant that is a garden thug as “invasive.” To be respectful, one refers to it as “opportunistic.”

Ultimately, in our maturity we must accept that life is wondrously complex and often ironic. It gives  me a Cheshire Cat grin to watch the angst among those who see no option but to choose sides and cut off their noses to spite their faces. 

by Ellie Altman
Executive Director




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