Ion exchange resin capsules provide a possible alternative to conventional soil testing procedures. Previous studies with semi-arid, low fertility soils observed poor relationships with poorly mobile nutrients such as phosphorus (P). We propose that placement depth may improve those relationships. Our objective was to (1) determine if placement depth could improve resin capsule estimation of the bioavailability of nitrogen (N), P, and sulfur (S) and (2) to determine if resin capsules can effectively estimate S availability in semi-arid, low fertility soils. Field sites were established in Rush and Skull Valleys, Utah on loam and sandy loam soils, respectively. Fertilizer was surface applied as ammonium sulfate and triple superphosphate with six N, P and S treatments (0, 5.5, 11, 22, 44 and 88 kg ha-1 of N and P2O5 and 0, 7, 14, 28, 56 and 112 kg ha-1 of S). Thirty 4.0-m2 plots were established at each field location. Resin capsules were placed three per plot at 0–5, 5–10, and 10–15 cm deep in the soil and soil samples taken at respective depths. The capsules were removed and replaced after approximately 90 d. Final removal and soil sampling occurred approximately 240 d later. For the second study, fertilizer was surface applied as ammonium sulfate with six S treatments (0, 7, 14, 28, 56 and 112 kg ha-1 of S) with one resin capsule placed in each 4.0-m2 plot at a depth of 5 cm in the soil. Resin capsules were removed and replaced approximately every 90 d for a total of four samplings. Soil samples were taken with every resin capsules install and removal. In the first study, bicarbonate extractable P was significantly related to P application at all depths and times except the two lowest depths at the time of final sampling, and resin capsule P was only related to P application 398 days after application in the 0–5 and 5–10 cm depths. However, this is an improvement in estimates of bioavailability compared to a single placement depth. The 5–10 cm depth was the best for placement for determination of NH4-N, and resin capsules improved upon soil test estimates. For NO3-N, depth was not important, but resin capsules had a stronger relationship with N applied than the soil test 398 d after application. In addition, both resin capsules and the S soil test were related to S applied, but resin capsules were more able to pick up S cycling through the system. In the second study resin capsules and conventional soil tests were both effective in distinguishing between fertilizer rates, though only the conventional soil test was related to S applied at the last sampling (366 d after fertilizer application). Overall resin capsules were effective at reflecting application rates, and may be a good tool to estimate nutrient bioavailability. Correlation with plant uptake is required to determine if soil tests or resin capsules were a better estimate of bioavailable nutrients.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





adsorption, desert soil, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, plant available nutrients, resin capsule