Planting food plots is one of the most popular wildlife management practices among landowners looking to enhance wildlife habitat; and understandably so. Research shows that quality food plots can provide more than 10 times the amount of digestible energy and protein than that of naturally regenerated forests. While food plots do not replace other habitat management practices, they greatly bolster them. Not only do food plots provide nutritional benefits to area wildlife, they can also help turn what would be an average hunting season into an exceptional one!
Now, before you head out to your local farm & garden store to stock up on seed and fertilizer, there are several preparations you should make — prior to planting — to ensure the growth and success of your food plots.
Have Your Soil Tested
Soil fertility is the single-most important factor in growing successful food plots, and just because soil looks fertile does not mean it’s fertile. A simple, inexpensive soil test will give you a break-down of the nutrients in your soil, providing you with a formula for adding just the right amount of fertilizer and lime.
Understand Your Soil pH
Food plots thrive in soil with a neutral pH, so understanding how to achieve the proper pH level is essential to the health of the plants. Soil “pH” is a measure of the soil’s acidity based on a 0-14 point scale, with 7 being neutral. Values below 7.0 represent acidic soil and those above 7.0 indicate alkaline soil. For more acidic soil, more lime is needed. Generally, a pH level of 6.5-7.0 is ideal for producing hearty food plots.
Know Your N-P-K
When looking at a bag of fertilizer, you’ll notice 3 numbers listed prominently on the package (usually on the front). These numbers represent the percentage of nutrients found in the fertilizer — the N-P-K: (N) Nitrogen (largely responsible for the growth of leaves on the plant), (P) Phosphorus (largely responsible for root growth and flower and fruit development), (K) Potassium (a nutrient that helps the overall functions of the plant perform correctly). A common type of all-purpose fertilizer is referred to as 10-10-10. This is a balanced blend of equal portions of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium — 10% of each. It’s important to remember that these percentages are based on 100 pounds of fertilizer, regardless of the size of the bag. So if the numbers on the fertilizer are 10-10-10, you can divide 100 by 10 and this will tell you that you need 10 pounds of the fertilizer to add 1 pound of the nutrient to the soil. The required level of each nutrient varies depending on the crop and soil characteristics. Again, a soil test will provide you with this valuable information.
With a little preparation your food plots will flourish, attracting whitetail deer and other wildlife to your neck of the woods!