Using Lime Sulfur In Gardens: When And How To Use Lime Sulfur

Using Lime Sulfur In Gardens: When And How To Use Lime Sulfur

By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer

Fungus happens. Even the most experienced and dedicated gardeners will experience fungal disease on plants at some point. Fungus can affect plants in any climate and hardiness zone because, like plants, certain fungal spores grow better in different climates. Even new disease resistant varieties can suffer from these issues. As gardeners, we can choose to spend a fortune on different chemicals that can have residual effects to treat different symptoms or we can use a natural based product that has been used by growers and breeders for hundreds of years. Continue reading to learn about using lime sulfur in gardens.

What is Lime Sulfur?

Lime sulfur is a mixture of calcium hydroxide and sulfur. In horticultural dormant sprays, lime sulfur is usually mixed with an oil, like mineral oil, to make it stick to plant surfaces. These horticultural oil sprays contain a high concentration of lime sulfur that is only safe to use on plants that are dormant, because the sulfur can burn leaf tissues.

Lime sulfur can also be mixed in much weaker concentration with water for use when plants have leafed out. Even in lower concentrations and diluted with water, it is important not to spray lime sulfur on plants during hot, sunny days, as the sulfur can cause sunscald on plants.

With warnings like this, you may wonder is lime sulfur safe? When used properly, lime sulfur is a safe and effective treatment of fungal diseases such as:

  • Powdery mildew
  • Anthracnose
  • Black spot
  • Blights
  • Black rot

As a horticultural dormant spray, lime sulfur is safe to use even on fruits that include:

  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Cherries

Lime sulfur is also used to treat fungal diseases of ornamental plants like:

  • Roses
  • Dogwoods
  • Ninebark
  • Phlox
  • Rudbeckia

Additionally, lime sulfur can be an effective treatment for certain pests.

How and to Use Lime Sulfur

Fungal disease spores can overwinter in cracks or fissures on plants or in soil and garden debris. For this reason, lime sulfur is used in high concentrates mixed with oil as a horticultural dormant spray. When to use lime sulfur this way is in late winter or early spring before the plant begins to leaf out. It is also a good idea to spray the soil around plants that have been previously infected or are prone to infection.

For perennials or plants that are showing new signs of fungal diseases, lime sulfur can be mixed with water and sprayed on plants anytime except for hot, sunny days. The mixing ratio is 1 tsp. per gallon (5 ml per 3.78 L) of water. Spray all surfaces of the plant thoroughly. Allow the mixture to sit on the plants for 15-20 minutes. Then thoroughly rinse the plants with just clear water.

Occasionally, you will notice the bottom portion of tree trunks covered with white latex paint. Sometimes, this contains a diluted mixture of lime sulfur.

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What is lime sulfur spray used for?

These horticultural oil sprays contain a high concentration of lime sulfur that is only safe to use on plants that are dormant because the sulfur can burn leaf tissues. When used properly, lime sulfur is a safe and effective treatment of fungal diseases such as: Powdery mildew.

what does lime Sulphur kill? Lime sulfur (calcium polysulfide) is a caustic material and after application it breaks down, releasing sulfur. It is very effective against diseases that overwinter on the host. Lime sulfur is also effective against many insect pests that overwinter on the plant.

Simply so, how do you use lime Sulphur?

DIRECTIONS FOR USE Lime Sulphur solution for fungus and mite problems on fruit trees and small fruit: when used in combination with dormant oil spray it is an excellent clean up spray for dormant fruit trees. Do not spray when foliage is wet, spray to point of run-off: cover completely.

How do you make lime Sulphur spray?

Mix the sulfur powder, lime and wood ashes in the 5-gallon container. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the boiling water, mixing carefully. Keep the brew boiling for at least 1 hour after all ingredients have dissolved.

How to Make Your Own Lime Sulfur for Spraying Fruit Trees

Sulfur is the oldest known organic pesticide, used by the Greeks against wheat rusts. Sulfur cooked in water with lime or calcium hydroxide, lime sulfur is particularly useful as a dormant spray -- applied only to dormant woody shrubs or trees, not foliage. Chemical companies and agricultural extension services generally warn farmers and gardeners against making their own lime sulfur, because it is caustic and can burn. In recent memory, however, farmers always made their own, using formulas and procedures supplied by extension staff. This recipe makes lime sulfur in concentrated liquid form -- probably more than you need -- so collaborate with your neighbors.

Find an outdoor area where it will be safe to build a smelly open-air cooking fire lime sulfur smells like rotten eggs, which close neighbors may find objectionable. Place three blocks on each side of the fire area. Place the metal barrel or pan on top to make sure that the blocks will securely support it during cooking.

  • Sulfur is the oldest known organic pesticide, used by the Greeks against wheat rusts.
  • Chemical companies and agricultural extension services generally warn farmers and gardeners against making their own lime sulfur, because it is caustic and can burn.

Set aside the barrel and build a hot fire with kindling and firewood. Your wood supply needs to keep the fire going for more than 1 hour. Place the barrel on the blocks and pour the water into the barrel. Put the lid on and bring the water to a boil.

Put on all safety gear. Mix the sulfur powder, lime and wood ashes in the 5-gallon container. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the boiling water, mixing carefully. Keep the brew boiling for at least 1 hour after all ingredients have dissolved.

Check to see if the mixture is “cooked.” The concentrate should be clear amber or red-brown, with yellow sediment and some yellow surface scum. Keep boiling if needed. When it’s done, allow the concentrate to cool completely. Leave the lid on to keep dust, lint and insects out.

Filter the lime sulfur while decanting it into bottles. Cut a plastic bottle in half to use as a scoop. Put pantyhose over the small end of the funnel as a sieve, then place the funnel in the first bottle. Filter the liquid to eliminate impurities. Cap the bottle when it’s full. Continue with the rest of the bottles.

Use lime sulfur spray for different purposes. For fruit trees and grapes, its primary use is as winter dormant spray to control leaf curl, mites, scale and rust. The usual rate of application is 50 milliliters per liter of water, or about 7 ounces per gallon.

Always wear long sleeves and pants, protective boots, safety goggles and dust mask, to protect against lung damage and caustic burns.

Don’t use sulfur spray within one month of using dormant oil spray or you may kill your trees. Also avoid using sulfur sprays if temperatures are above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some plants don’t tolerate sulfur sprays, including all cucurbits, currants, gooseberries, raspberries and apricot trees.

Lime sulfur is specifically intended to control and reduce the spread of fungi such as apple scab, black knot and black spot. These fungi are dangerous to apple trees and if left untreated can result in stunted growth, lack of fruit production and even the death of the plant. An indirect consequence of using lime sulfur spray is a reduction in other pests including mites. Although lime sulfur spray is effective against these pests, many infestations will require an insecticide to cure the tree.

  • Gardeners use the lime sulfur spray by applying the substance onto the tree, specifically the leaves.
  • Although lime sulfur spray is effective against these pests, many infestations will require an insecticide to cure the tree.

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Home gardeners in Washington State haven’t been able to buy lime sulfur spray in recent years. Lime sulfur had been used for years to control fungi on roses, fruit trees and ornamentals.

There is a reason lime sulfur hasn’t been available. In early 2008, EPA questioned whether lime sulfur was so caustic that it should be reclassified as a restricted-use chemical. Only people with pesticide licenses can buy restricted-use products. This would be a problem for home gardeners they don’t have licenses.

In April 2008, Lilly-Miller voluntarily cancelled its Dormant Spray® registration with EPA. Bonide Products, Inc., which made a similar lime sulfur product, cancelled their registration at the same time.

EPA gives retailers up to a year to sell their shelf stock in these situations. Retailers continued selling home garden lime sulfur products until May 2009. WSDA continued to register these products, and PICOL continued to list these products, through December 2010.

The confusion happened in summer 2009, when Washington State gardeners couldn’t find lime-sulfur products on store shelves even when the products were registered.

Lime sulfur is a modified form of elemental sulfur.

In 2013, Lilly-Miller registered a new home garden product with lime sulfur: Polysul®. Another company, Voluntary Purchasing Group (VPG) also registered a lime-sulfur product but it’s both a home garden and commercial use. Recommending these products requires a Washington State pesticide license. So WSU Master Gardeners cannot recommend the VPG product.

It isn’t known if stores in Washington State sell either product. Home gardeners who bought and still had earlier lime sulfur products can use them until gone.

Home gardeners may have trouble finding lime sulfur products. Master Gardeners can recommend lime sulfur products as one of several management options if and when suggested by WSU Hortsense.

WSU Hortsense fact sheets ( on pest management.

Federal Register web page for Dormant Spray® voluntary cancellation (pgs. 2 and page 9).

PICOL (Pesticide Information Center Online) database for a list of WSDA-registered labels:

Dr. Catherine Daniels
Washington State Pest Management Resource Service
office: (253) 445-4611
January 23, 2014

30 comments on “Lime-sulfur Spray Availability for Home Gardeners”

Bob said on March 27, 2015:

Order lime sulfur pet dip from Amazon. It is about 5X the concentrate of garden solutions.

Catherine Daniels said on March 30, 2015:

Please don’t order pet dip. We only recommend pesticides registered for the use to which we put them. The first reason is because it’s illegal to use pesticides on a crop or site not listed on the label. The second reason is that the normal warning language: signal word, personal protective gear, restricted entry period, etc. are not listed in the same way on this pet dip as it would be on a gardening product. The danger to the applicator and the environment is much greater when people use non-labeled products.

Andrea Frank said on January 4, 2020:

It’s true, we are legally required to use pesticides only in the manor described on the label. That said, it is amazing we can use lime sulfur on our pets and horses, but not on our trees and shrubs. I miss this product. So many other products produce super-fungi, resistant strains of blight.

Hedge said on June 13, 2015:

We have entirely too much tolerance for stupid people in this country and it is inevitably going to doom the republic. Because a Japanese suicide cult decided to use cleaning products to realize their dream horticulturalists will be denied an effective product in use for over 100 years. It is that simple.

Professionals, like you Dr. Daniels, should collectively oppose the EPA when they do this sort of intrusive meddling rather than rolling over and scolding those who would seek solutions. The lack of common sense is invariably at the government level, not at the interested individual level.

For those interested, make your own lime/sulfur solution. It is neither complicated nor overly dangerous but surely take appropriate cautions.

Catherine Daniels said on June 15, 2015:

I understand your frustration over the difficulty in obtaining lime sulfur products. That sentiment has been expressed many, many times by our readers, so you are certainly not alone there. That being said, it might be helpful for readers if I explain what my job duties are, in order to avoid any confusion about what I should “do”.

One of my WSU job duties is to help people understand pesticide laws and regulations. Another duty is to provide EPA with data on pesticide use during their reviews. I’m a strong advocate of using data to make informed decisions and try my best to provide EPA with data that demonstrates the benefits, as well as the risks, of using individual active ingredients.

In the case of lime sulfur, EPA did not make their risk decision based on suicides. Their decision is based on irreversible eye damage risk, which is a physical characteristic of the active ingredient. It is also factual that people who use pesticides but don’t have an applicator’s license are much more likely to use products incorrectly or harm themselves and/or others.

Whether I agree or not with EPA, my job is not to “oppose” them but I do have a job responsibility to remind pesticide users of pesticide law. Users then make personal decisions on whether or not to follow those reminders based on the facts of the case.

Hedge said on June 16, 2015:

By this reasoning, all ‘unlicensed’ gardening should be outright banned. You know…because ‘data’ and ‘factuals.’

Wayne DeBord said on July 6, 2016:

Then don’t spray it in your eyes!! I wish the powers that be, including academics, would quit treating us like irresponsible children. I understand your legal and liability duties, Dr. Daniels, but let’s talk facts and science, not incompetence and politics.

Catherine H Daniels said on July 7, 2016:

Yes, I agree: don’t spray it in your eyes. However, facts, science, human incompetence and politics all play a role in regulators creating regulations and academics making recommendations. These issues all have to be included – as a conscious decision – in order to sufficiently protect people and the environment.
Wikipedia defines politics as “the process of making uniform decisions applying to all members of a group”. I like that definition because it also gets to the issue of fairness…in other words, not giving preferential treatment to one person from a group but not another from the same group. It’s a given that people on the top of any preference list like that feeling, and people on the bottom of any preference list hate that feeling. The issue of fairness is a personal outlook as well as a professional one. So, politics, using this definition, should always be part of treating everybody equally.
I agree there are competent, responsible people out there as well as incompetent and irresponsible people, as well as a spectrum of people in between those two extremes. However, unless I have the chance to talk with a person for at least a few minutes, it’s next to impossible to tell where on the spectrum they probably fall so I can specifically tailor my recommendations. Hence, written recommendations have to apply to an entire group. The same is true in making regulations.
Let’s consider an example: if any regulation or written recommendation started with this statement if you are smart, you can do XYZ, but if you’re dumb, don’t try this at home, what would you predict would happen? It’s a fact that humans routinely assess themselves at a higher competency level than they actually have. On the practical level – how would that be enforced? It’s a top-of-the-mind approach to avoid setting regulations that can’t be enforced or making recommendations that can’t be followed.
Lastly, one of the responsibilities of regulators, and of academics, is to evaluate the complete range of situations, not just the level of training or proficiency of all applicators. Not all bad outcomes start from irresponsibility either – some of them come from accidents such as a hose bursting, a misstep on a ladder, or a hidden gopher hole next to the application site. Any one of those situations could cause a “smart” applicator to bobble the spray wand so that the spray hit them, or a bystander, directly in the face. Do we spend time making up possible scenarios so we can cover every conceivable situation? No, we use reports of actual situations. Those are the facts.

Andrea Frank said on January 4, 2020:

Didn’t product labels explicitly require eye protection? I mean, I get it. I wore full gear, head to toe PPE, when applying LS. How hard is it to understand? Meanwhile, I have watched evolution happen in my own greenhouses with fungi that were not treated effectively. This means more products, with potentially bigger environmental concerns being used. Very frustrating.

Kathy said on June 17, 2015:

The cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization has announced that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, is probably carcinogenic to humans. But it’s OK to use it. Millions of people are at risk of getting in a car accident from driving. Driving should be banned. Hortnonsense recommends: Chlorothalonil, a Group B2 “probable human carcinogen”, based on observations of cancers and tumors of the kidneys and forestomachs in laboratory animals fed diets containing chlorothalonil.

Chlorothalonil was found to be an important actor in the decline of the honey bee population, by making the bees more vulnerable to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae.
Chlorothalonil is highly toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates.
BAYER makes Chlorothalonil. Bayer has a crimes against humanity record a mile long. Just look up Bayer lawsuits and Bayer pollution.

Catherine H Daniels said on June 18, 2015:

The purpose of the Gardening page blog is to provide peer-reviewed, science-based information on specific topics. As such, we encourage comments. However, in order to make discussion relevant, we encourage comments pertinent to the post to which you are responding.

This blog topic is lime sulfur- not glyphosate, chorothalonil, Bayer, Monsanto or honey bees. There are more appropriate places to post your comments- and stimulate discussion on these particular topics- one is GMO Skepti-Forum ( and the other is Food and Farm Discussion Lab (

Tim D. Seaman said on March 11, 2016:

I see all sorts of information about the unavailability of Lime-Sulphur. What I have NOT seen is a WSU recommendation for an alternate fungicide. Please help us with our Dormant and Delayed Dormant spraying needs. Otherwise, it is to the Pet Dips as an alternative.

Catherine H Daniels said on March 14, 2016:

There are only a few problems when a dormant fungicide application is useful, and we thought we had all of them covered in Hortsense . However, if we have missed a specific problem, please contact me at [email protected] and let me know the host/pest issue. Thanks.

Tim Brady said on March 17, 2016:

I am wanting that information too.

Gil Schieber said on May 17, 2016:

And still wanting an organic fungicide for Venturia inaequalis, Apple scab. My local supplier has 20 gallons of lime-sulfur, and of my 2000 trees, I will go though 5 to 7 gallons every year.
I will buy all of them today. And of the note of making it….I want to be responsible and make my own. And I do wear googles here at Skipley Farm

Catherine H Daniels said on May 17, 2016:

Please bear with me while I answer your multi-part comment one part at a time. While each state department of agriculture, or the equivalent agency which enforces pesticide laws at the state level, may have slightly different definitions of “home garden” and “commercial” uses, I believe they would all agree that 2,000 trees would fall under “commercial” use. That use is broadly defined as “sell, barter or trade”. Your fruit production would be more than a single family could eat, even using all kinds of available fruit preservation techniques. Whether you sell the fruit to a packing house, or through a roadside stand, or processed products made from the fruit, you have a commercial operation. That means that you SHOULD be using commercial lime-sulfur products on your trees. To my knowledge, lime-sulfur products are still classified as general use, meaning you don’t have to have a pesticide license in order to buy or use the product. On a personal note, I’m very glad to hear you use goggles, and hopefully other PPE, to safeguard your health while mixing/applying the product.
If kept from freezing, in a dry and locked storage area, the 20 gallons should last fine over the course of several years. Material safety data sheets indicate it won’t degrade if left concentrated.
Making your own lime-sulfur would be an option only if you had a strictly home-garden situation, and you were the only one who ate the fruit (fresh or processed), and there were no untoward environmental consequences. EPA allows “home remedies” only within this very narrow set of boundaries. From what I can tell from your comment, this is not the case so you would be risking quite a lot for no real gain…I say this because you have commercial sources of lime-sulfur available to you. The most responsible action, in this case, would be to use a registered product.

Alice said on June 13, 2016:

I have redberry mites causing uneven ripening of my blackberries. Lime sulfur as a dormant spray is recommended by UC Davis extension service for control. What is the safest alternative you can recommend?

Catherine H Daniels said on June 13, 2016:

My first suggestion is to verify your pest diagnosis. In some cases, sunburn can cause uneven ripening. Master gardeners can help with diagnosis. If you live in WA, here is the contact page:
If you live in another part of the country, just web search on extension master gardener and include your land grant university name.

As far as pesticide recommendations, please look at the PNW Insect Mgmt Handbook at, under HOME USE. Superior oils and sulfur products should be available at your local garden center. Make sure the products you purchase list blackberry specifically, or list the generic term “cane berry”.

Jim Lebo said on March 20, 2017:

Catherine, if you are still there, thank you for your advice and tolerance. These, and other posts I have seen, seem to always degrade so quickly.

Tim Brown said on March 3, 2018:

I saw some limited data that a product called sulforix was able to kill overwintering powdery mildew. I have a small vineyard with a lot of wood where powdery mildew has gained a foothold to overwinter. I would love to find ways to treat this issue during the clear and dry ‘full moons’ of mid spring, before it is warm enough for new tissue growth. Besides sulforix, are there other products that could reduce this disease pressure, and lessen the amount of remedial treatment after bud break?

Catherine H Daniels said on March 5, 2018:

Tim, if you have a home garden vineyard, then Hortsense fact sheets are helpful. Here is the URL for the grape/powdery mildew one: . If you sell your grapes or any product made from them, then the 2018 commercial guide will be helpful (including contacts for disease experts). Here is that URL: . Since I am only licensed within WA state to recommend pesticides, you should check with your local Master Gardeners or cooperative extension office for recommendations in other states. Hope this helps.

Terry said on December 7, 2018:

I had 7 apple trees growing against a fence in trained in an oblique cordon. For years, beginning in 1985 I was doing a combination horticultural oil and lime sulfur (calcium polysulfides) spray. The first application was in early November to force the trees and loganberries into dropping their leafs, then around Christmas and the final around valentines day depending on bud development. When I couldn’t find any lime sulfur I stopped spraying. Since then I lost 4 of the 7 apple trees to woolly aphids that over winter in the ground and then would travel up the tree under the bark in the spring.
With the warmer winters I need to force the trees and cane berries into dormancy.
Copper Fungicide (Liquid-Cop) has basically replaced lime sulfur but there isn’t anything on the label that mention combined spray with oil.
Is there any sulfur still available to the residential home gardener or another product that will achieve the same leaf drop results?

Daniels, Catherine Hollinger said on December 10, 2018:

Let me address each question separately:
1. “Is there any sulfur still available to the home gardener?” Sulfur and lime sulfur are two different chemicals that do not act interchangeably. Yes, there are still sulfur products registered for home garden use. You would have to check your local stores to see if they are marketed in your area. To my knowledge, there are no lime sulfur products still marketed to home gardeners anywhere in the US.

2. “Is there …any other product that will achieve the same leaf drop results and can be combined with oil?” Legally speaking, the action of spraying to achieve leaf drop defines that material as a pesticide. Because I don’t have a CDPR pesticide license, I can’t advise you on what to spray in California. You should contact your local county extension office and ask them for local recommendations, especially which materials are allowable for non-license holder use. If there are none, you may have to hire someone with a license to make applications to your trees.

For background on woolly aphid behavior in the PNW, please see this link:

Clayton Forsmann said on March 24, 2019:

Can Copper Fungicide (Liquid-Cop) be combined/mixed with horticultural oil spray so as to be applied at the same time, using the recommended rates for each product?

Catherine Hollinger Daniels said on March 25, 2019:

Without looking at the two labels you have in mind I can only answer in general terms. If you want to tank mix products, and any one of those product labels forbids tank mixing, the answer is ‘no’. The application timing of both labels has to fit for the answer to be ‘yes’. For example, if one says fall application and the other says spring application, you can’t legally apply them as a tank mix because one of them will be outside label timing limits. No knowing which crop you have in mind to treat, I could only search for general data. Grapes, for example, have problems if you tank mix copper and oil and spray the fruit. The first step in testing an unknown tank mix, if there are no prohibitions and timing matches, is to run a jar test. Mix up a small amount in a jar, then let it sit for 30 minutes. If it clumps, gels, falls out of solution, etc. then the mix is likely to clog your sprayer and you’ll get uneven spray patterns. Next step, if the solution is still a solution, is to spray a small area on your plant and then look for phytotoxicity symptoms several days afterwards.

Jane Babin said on July 10, 2019:

Dr. Daniels, Thank you for your thorough explanations of the regulatory scheme via labeling of pesticides and fungicides and your candor in discussing what you can and cannot advise on this forum. My read on this is that EPA questioning whether lime sulfur was safe for home garden use began during a time of more paternalistic and protectionist Presidential policy. Given that the current administration favors reduction in regulation, particularly at the EPA, do you think the timing might be right for home gardeners and home gardening advocates to revisit the labeling and sale of lime sulfur to home gardeners?

Daniels, Catherine Hollinger said on July 17, 2019:

EPA has a formal comment process they use to solicit public input on potential registration decisions. According to their published review schedule ( ),they were scheduled to develop a draft risk assessment for lime sulfur in April – June 2019. When EPA is ready to release the draft and request comment, that would be the time to provide input, at the following URL: Just search on lime sulfur.

North shore said on July 13, 2020:

Joe said on February 15, 2021:

Dr. Daniels, Thank you for your professionalism and fact based answers. It serves no purpose to go down the path of opinion when it comes to potentially hazardous chemicals. I’m simply a home orchardist, but I like to stay informed on best practices. Although I always wear safety glasses when spraying, I was not aware of the risk to vision with lime sulfer. Knowing that, for my situation, I’m not pursuing this product and believe I can obtain quality results with other products. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

Jafar said on February 27, 2021:

I happened upon this thread because of a Google search. I’m trying to control pear blister mites on an 8 foot tall european pear tree that had them pretty bad last season. Recommendations I’ve seen seem to suggest lime sulfur mixed with horticultural oil before the tree comes out of dormancy. I live in SW Washington State. What is a better alternative? I have a few dozen other of a variety of other temperate fruit trees so I may spray some of the other trees at the same time if appropriate

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