What is the difference between sulphates and chelates?

Trace elementsIn order to be able to grow well, all crops need proper and sufficient nutrients. Plants need more of certain food elements plants than of others. 
The elements that the plant needs most, are the main elements, also known as macro nutrients: nitrogen, phosphor, potassium, calcium, sulphur, oxygen, hydrogen and magnesium. But the plant will neither be able to survive without the elements it needs less of, the trace elements. In this article our fertilizer specialist will explain about trace elements and the ways they can be administered.

What are trace elements?

Trace elements, also known as micro nutrients are nutrients that the plant needs less of for stable growth. Boron, molybdenum, manganese, copper, zinc, and iron are trace elements, each with their own individual function. Please find a brief overview below. The effects of the different trace elements on the crop: 
  • Boron
    Influences different metabolic processes of the plant. Is also used as an element of cell walls and of various enzymes that control the cell format.
    Finally, boron stimulates the development of shoots in the plant. 

  • Molybdene
    Molybdene is part of enzymes that convert nitrate into an element for different proteins needed by the plant. 

  • Manganese
    Without manganese the photosynthesis will become more difficult. It is also the element for enzymes and lignin. Thanks to the substance lignin, the firmness of the cell walls in the plant is increased.

  • Copper
    Photosynthesis can not be optimal without the presence of copper. Additionally, the element is required for the formation of different significant vitamins, while it contributes to the lignification of plants. 

  • Zinc
    Zinc is used by the crop as an element for enzymes as well as for the creation of the plant hormone auxin.

  • Iron
    Iron is indispensable for photosynthesis, because it takes care of the creation of chloroplast. In addition, it is also a very important nutrient for the development of shoots in the roots. Due to the instability of the element iron, it is recommended to always administer it to the plant in chelated form.  
Applying regular sampling, timely control can be realized to prevent shortage or excess of one of the elements.

Administering trace elements to the plant.

As previously mentioned, trace elements can be administered to the plant in different ways. How you do this entirely depends on the crop's demands. Trace elements can be supplied to the plant, for example in a trace mix. Here is a recipe, made of a mix of different trace minerals, often tailored to a specific cultivation or type of crop. The trace elements in such fertilizers can be present as chelate or sulphur. 

Additionally, in case of a more targeted dosage of trace minerals, separate administering of the required element could be possible, using sulphates and chelates. But what is the exact difference between those two? 


In fact a sulphate simply consists of oxidized sulphur, which can be absorbed by the roots of a plant. A trace element in sulphur-form means that an element was linked to this oxidized form of sulphur. A sulphate is immobile, this means that it can not easily spread through the plant. In the soil on the other hand, sulphate is very mobile, so ending up in the right place, it can quickly reach the roots. When using sulphates, the fact that it quickly leaches out must always be taken into account.


A chelate can be considered as the claw that firmly holds on to the nutrient. The chelate ensure that the element is being held on to longer, so that it does not precipitate when it is being dissolved into the fertilizer solution. Non precipitation of a chelated trace element depends on the type of chelate and thus the stability. Finally, a chelated trace element is also more mobile in the plant, ensuring a spread uptake of the element. 

Nutrients are relocated inside the plant because of evaporation. As it is less warm during winter, less evaporation will take place in the plant, making the relocation of elements a bit more difficult. For that reason it is wise to always use chelates in winter.

Difference between sulphates and chelates

So, trace elements can be administered to the plant as sulphate or chelate. The main difference between the two is the stability in case of different pH values in the root environment or the soil/the substrate. 

Sulfates have a significantly lower stability than chelates. This serves to have an element available throughout the band width. Chelates are stronger and more pure which makes the suitable to be used as fertilizer. However, as a result of this pure quality they are more expensive than sulphates. Sulphates can well be used to increase the pH value in the roots or the soil/substrate, but also to combat fungi and moss. Due to the lower price of sulphates they are more popular than chelates. 

Whether it is sensible to choose a chelated trace element or a sulphated trace element, as such entirely depends on the application. When fertilization is concerned, also both options can be chosen. 

Specialists trace elements


Do you have any questions about sulphates, chelates or trace elements in general? Or would you like customized advice? Then contact one of our crop protection specialists, or submit your question via form below. We will contact you as soon as possible – even within 24 hours on work days.
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