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2/16/16 – From the Ground Up: The Importance of Soils in Your Food Plots

by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

SPRING IS THE TIME FOR SUPPLEMENTAL FEEDING but, before I jump right into talking about warm season forages, let me double back and start with the importance of the soil. The success of a food plot starts with the soil. Without knowing how acidic the soil is, or which elements it is lacking, it is almost impossible to properly prepare your food plots or provide adequate nutrients for the wildlife visiting those plots. Because we all live in the Southeast, it is safe to say that the majority of our soils are highly weathered due to hot temperatures and heavy rainfall. The native vegetation that does grow on this raggedy old soil lacks many nutrients that wildlife need to survive, therefor food plots must make up for this deficit. This is where a soil test comes in handy. A soil test can tell you the pH of your soil (power of hydrogen, for those of you wondering what those initials mean), how much lime to use, which elements are low, and countless other facts.

As previously mentioned, our soil is highly weathered. Subtropical areas are notorious for severe effects of weathering. This erosion process has moved nutrients and clay out of the root zone, producing non-fertile, highly acidic soil. This is where lime comes in. Lime is a material made of calcium that binds to the hydrogen in the soil and reduces the acidity in the soil. This is important because plants cannot use forms of elements that are in acidic range (below a pH of 6.0). The lime raises the pH of the soil to a usable level, thus creating mineral reactions which are now in “plant ready” form. The desired pH level is 6.5, but you can give or take a little bit and still be in the clear. With the soil becoming less acidic, more elements are available for plant use, and your food plot is producing nutrients that are very important to wildlife. Calcium and phosphorous are very crucial elements. Yes, Ca and P contribute to plant growth but they are two of the most important elements to wildlife, especially does, fawns, and bucks. Calcium is a necessity for lactating does. Without calcium, they will not produce quality milk for their young. On the other hand, bucks need high amounts of P for antler growth. These elements may be present in native vegetation, but in minuscule amounts. Without supplementing these elements via food plots, the deer would not survive this spring. A thorough soil test will evaluate the amount of lime needed to produce these elements in plant ready form and allow you to grow healthier deer.

I wanted to quickly reiterate how important soil is because spring time is also the most important time for protein and a time for does and fawns to get a jumpstart on winter. Although you want your food plots to contribute to plant and animal growth, you also want your food plots to be able to produce high levels of protein to keep the deer herd healthy. Do not wait any longer if you are thinking about sending in a soil test. Now is the time to analyze your soil and decide how much lime is needed, when the lime needs to be spread, and how you can provide the utmost nutrition to your wildlife population this spring!  I cannot stress enough how important it is to supplemental feed. What you do in the spring will contribute to what you see in the fall.

**I have attached a map of general soils in Alabama. If you are interested, you can further research the composition of that soil and its history (photo credit: alabamamaps.ua.edu)

 

By: Meaghan English

My name is Meaghan English, a wildlife specialist with TrueSouth. I graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Management and I have grown up with a passion for hunting. I knew from an early age that I was not only interested in the harvesting of wildlife, but I was also very interested in their biology and management. I decided that I not only wanted to be a wildlife enthusiast, I want to be an educated wildlife specialist. I will be using that grand education as a member of the TrueSouth team contributing wildlife blog articles!

My first hunting memory flashes back to when I was six or seven years old. Like any other Saturday during deer season, my dad had told my mom to get me ready because we were going hunting. Of course I was ecstatic! I was not ecstatic about the hair bow my mom made me wear with my camouflage (she wanted everyone to know I was in fact a fashionable girl). The entire way to Perdue Hill, Alabama, my dad told me that today would be the first day I would actually shoot my first deer and I knew I was ready. We pulled up to the camp, unloaded, and fed all the “camp cats”. Before we headed to our stand, I had spotted three kittens that I simply could not leave behind so I stuffed them in my jacket. After walking what seemed like five miles, we finally made it to the “Pressbox stand” (with my smuggled kittens) and sat down. Dad continuously pestered me to be quiet, but I wasn’t that worried about shooting a deer, I had kittens! Eventually, the sun began to sink behind the trees and a spike (without olfactory senses) entered the field. When it was safe to quietly move, dad handed me the gun and I handed him my three kittens. I slowly pulled the gun up and placed my cheek against the stock. Dad told me to breathe slowly and pull the trigger when I was ready. Sure enough, I pulled the trigger and the spike hit the ground. We high-fived, exchanged kittens again, and climbed down to see the kill. It certainly was not a wall hanger, but a huge chapter in my life was started that night. My dad and I still hunt together to this day and we practice quality deer management at all times.

My ultimate goal is to provide clients with a survey of flora and fauna that currently inhabit a specific tract of land and, if desired, how to properly manage that land for the species that are found there. All feedback is greatly appreciated and I look forward to working with you!

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