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)
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