Food plots can work quite well over much of the whitetail’s range. However, food plots for deer and other wildlife often do not live up to their full potential. This is because landowners or hunters attempt to take shortcuts, but cutting corners in anything rarely leads to success. One of the biggest mistakes hunters make is ignoring soil properties prior to planting a food plot. First and foremost, soil pH must be addressed. Soil pH is a measure of soil acidity based on a scale of 0 to 14, with “0” being the most acidic, “7” being neutral, and “14” being the most alkaline.
Deer hunters in the located in the Southeastern US do not have to worry about alkaline soils because most all of the soils are acidic. Now if you can think back to junior high science, the pH scale works on a 10 factor. What I mean by that is that a pH of “6” is 10 times more acidic than 7, and a pH of “5” is 100 times more acidic. So, what does this mean for you; and by the way, I thought we were talking about food plots? It means that deer food plots can be impacted greatly by small variations in pH.
The problem in the Southeastern US, including East Texas, is that acidic soils can cause a whole host of problems for food plots that equal poor production and wasted money for you. Acidic soil below the mid to lower “6s” can inhibit the growth of rhizobium bacteria that are actually beneficial to your plot. Rhizobial bacteria are nitrogen fixers most commonly found on legumes that can actually pull “free” (and I mean loose particles and free $$$) nitrogen out of the atmosphere and fix them into the soil of your summer or winter food plots. That is a good thing. Acidic elements in the soil can also bond so tightly to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that they prevent their uptake and usage by the very plants you are trying to establish.
So, how do we find out what is going on with your soil? It is as simple as taking a soil test from your food plots and getting them tested. Some of your local extension services, local universities and many places on-line can provide the test for $10 to $15 per sample. To perform the soil test for your food plot, scrape off the grass and leaves from a small area and take a thin slice of the soil profile four to six inches deep.
Take several samples from your plot (more for bigger plots) and mix them together to create a uniform sample. Bag up about two cups and label the plot name. Do this for as many plots as needed. When you submit your samples to be tested, be sure to indicate that they are for food plots and indicate what you intend to plant in the plot. When you get the results back, check out this article about planting and food plot size for deer and other wildlife species.