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Skill Builder: Food Plot Primer

Learn about your soil and select plants carefully to attract deer and other wildlife.

By Russell A. Graves

For hunters and wildlife managers, food plots are all the rage. With an increased interest in wildlife management, private-land food plots are popping up everywhere. Popular with deer hunters, food plots provide a source of nutrition that deer corn from feeders cannot. Food plots aren't just for deer and deer hunters, though. When planted both in the spring and fall, food plots provide a year-round nutritional source for deer, turkeys and other wildlife.

Pick a Spot

"If you are hunting over a food plot, plant an area relatively smaller than forage plots and near bedding areas and travel corridors," says Rans Thomas, head wildlife biologist for Tecomate Wildlife Systems, a land management consulting company. "Plots planted just for forage should be three or more acres and located in the heart of your land tract."

When picking a location, find a spot that's relatively flat to curb erosion but one that isn't so flat that drainage is a problem. Besides topography, it helps to do a little scouting and find out where the animals you want to attract will likely be during the course of a normal day and plan your location accordingly.

Plant Smart

Plants are not created equal. In fact, plant varieties are developed and marketed according to growing season and planting zone. Since different plants grow best in different climates, it's best to research and determine which plant varieties work best in your part of Texas.

According to Thomas, planting food plots in a compatible soil type is an important consideration. "For perennial plots I look for moist, rich bottomland soils surrounded by large trees to shade the plots during the hot, dry summer months," Thomas advises. He says to plant food plots in soil types conducive to productive agricultural crops. Therefore, he looks for sites lean on sandy soils, preferring instead to plant in areas with loam and clay soils.

Tend the Soil

One of the most elemental practices to ensure a successful food plot is a soil test. Soil testing helps identify any nutritional deficiencies present and provides guidance on how to fertilize. Since dumping just any fertilizer blend on a crop is inefficient as well as potentially harmful, start with a soil test.

A basic soil test tells you the amount of the three key nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) present in the soil as well as the soil's pH and gives recommendations on fertilizer blends and how to remediate any deficiencies. More advanced soil tests give you a breakdown of the macronutrients present in the soil and the soil's organic matter.

You can buy do-it-yourself soil test kits, but an easier and more accurate way to test is to contact your local Texas AgriLife Extension agent for instructions on how to collect samples and where to send them. In a few days, you'll get a copy of your test results with instructions on how to fertilize and correct the pH in your food plot.

Thomas advises the would-be food plot farmer to do plenty of research. "All of the information you need for successful food plots is available either online or from local crop and forage specialists. Don't be fooled by a picture of a big buck on the front of the bag or a snazzy product name. The United States Department of Agriculture requires every bag of seed to have a contents list on the bag. So read the list to find out what's in the bag to see if it suits your needs."

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