Overcome food plot site hurdles

Poor soil can be improved enough to make great food plots for wildlife. (Picture by Jeff Burleson)

Deer and other wildlife spend their days fending for themselves, finding enough nutrition to maintain their body physique. From nuts, berries, and fresh grassy shoots to forbs and tasty tubers buried just below the ground surface, wildlife make a living in God’s green pastures.

Natural food sources are generally enough to support native populations of wildlife. But these animals will never turn their back on a bonus food source, especially one right in their back door. Food plots always have a place on hunting properties, but the site isn’t always perfect.

Farmers have learned what areas can grow crops well and what areas are better left for timber rotations. Landowners can still plant food plots on available open ground, even if they are small and irregular in shape. But quite often, the areas available for food plots aren’t the most fertile sites, nor do they have the most ideal conditions available to grow lush and hearty crops. Luckily, deer and other wildlife aren’t too picky, and a wide variety of seed choices can be used that can flourish in not-so-ideal conditions.

Bump up the pH

The most common bump in the road for new or existing food plot sites is a deficient pH or soils that contain a low pH. Luckily, pH levels can be altered with lime applications with adequate time. However, some of the common food plot seed mixes will flourish in a wide range of pH values, even though they grow the best in slightly acidic to neutral pH soils.

While some food plot seeds can withstand lower pH values, the greatest issue in an acidic environment is the insolubility of common fertilizers needed by the growing plants. The nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will bind with other elements when added to the soil that form compounds insoluble to the plants. Adding fertilizers to soils that are too acidic is essentially a waste of time since they are insoluble and just unusable by the target plants.

In acidic soils, landowners can plant lablab, wheat, rye, oats, winter peas, and cowpeas, as well as some others.

Other poor food plot sites can come in different flavors, but soil drainage/wetness and actual soil type can also cause difficulty when planning and planting food plots.

The best sites are not too wet, not too dry, and contain loamy soils that slowly percolate and contain a full mixture of silt, sand, clay, and organics. But it always seems like the available food plot soils are either super, well drained sand void of organic coatings, or dense clay soils that hold water even after just a light shower.

What to plant

(Picture by Jeff Burleson)

These types of sites that are leaning toward one extreme should be avoided. They can be problematic for planting. Well drained, sandy soils are the toughest soils to work in. They dry out quickly, and a lot of the supplemental nutrients tend to leach through the soils rapidly. Poorly-drained soils with a high clay content will hold water efficiently, but can be ripped. And shallow drainages can be added to keep the soil moist but prevent any prolonged saturation.

The best food plot varieties to plant in dry, sandy conditions are generally red clover, subterranean clover, winter peas, all cereal grains (rye, oats, triticale, and wheat), and chicory. Lablab can also be very drought resistant and can flourish in sandy conditions after it gets established.

The wetter sites that contain soils heavy-to-clay can be planted in white clover, alsike clover, ball clover, and buckwheat. These plants will grow good on moist, loamy sites, but shallow drainages should be placed so the water doesn’t pond on the site for long durations. Such conditions will drown any of these plants.

Planting season is almost here, and it is never too early to prepare for it. Find the best sites for the best results, but if sites are limited to the less-than-ideal places, food plots can still be a good option. Deer will be happy if it’s a bumper crop or poor crop. Any supplemental food can be a bonus, and it may be just enough to bring in those big bucks at the right time.

Don’t sweat it if it ain’t perfect:

Adding any food plot, as long as it produces anything at all, is a bonus to deer and other wildlife. Make the best food plot you can, but remember that even a poor one may be enough to attract a range of deer, even a once-in-a-lifetime buck.

About Jeff Burleson 1312 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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