Understanding Fertilizer Applications for Food Plots


Food plots serve to establish secure and enduring habitats for wildlife. Whether a landowner is looking to increase the quality of the food offered for wildlife and better hunting or to increase the value of the land, food plots play a critical role.

When planning and establishing your food plot, don’t miss out on one key strategy: Fertilizer application.

How important is fertilizer in food plots?

Fertilizer is, quite literally, the lifeblood of any successful food plot. It acts as a catalyst for food production by infusing essential nutrients into the soil and bolstering the vitality of the land. For rural landowners to create not just visually stunning landscapes but also thriving ecosystems that support wildlife, fertilizer application becomes even more essential.

Fertilizer works to bridge the gap between the native soil’s nutrient content and the optimal levels required for specific plant productivity. In short, healthier soil means healthier plants – and healthier animals.


Adam Keith from Land and Legacy asserts in this LandBeat video that one of the biggest mistakes people make when establishing a food plot is neglecting to add the right nutrients to the soil to set their food plot up for success.

How can I optimize and enhance fertilizer application for success?

On the Whitetail Properties LandBeat video series, DeerGro owner Stephen Smith discusses how to get to know your soil and how PlotStart can work in conjunction with other food plot soil amendments. Here are a few additional tips for ensuring your food plot’s success for years to come.

Tip #1: Test your soil.

Begin with a comprehensive analysis of your soil’s nutrient content, allowing you to tailor your fertilizer application to address specific deficiencies. We highly recommend sending your soil samples for testing to a trusted lab for professional analysis. Whitetail Institute provides a very comprehensive test kit and process for submitting your soil sample for thorough analysis that will tell you exactly what your soil needs. Co-Founder of Whitetail Properties Co-Founder, Paul Sawyer, shares a step-by-step process for testing your soil in this LandBeat video.

Tip #2: Choose the right fertilizers.

Base your choice on your soil test results, and select a fertilizer formulation that aligns with the identified nutrient needs of your food plot and the forage you wish to plant. Fertilizers are typically labeled with three numbers representing the percentages of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) they contain. Based on the pH of the soil you intend to plant, the levels and ratios for NPK will vary. Select the right ratio for the best plant growth and results according to your results and recommendations.


Tip #3: Research the best types of fertilizer for your region and soil.

Fertilizer comes in both liquid and granular form, and each has its own advantages. Granular fertilizers are ideal for well-draining soils in areas with relatively low rainfall because they release nutrients slowly over time. Granular types of fertilizer are also easier to store and handle. Liquid fertilizers are excellent for regions with heavy or compacted soils, as they penetrate the soil more effectively and deliver nutrients directly to plant roots.

Tip #4: Plan your fertilizer application with timing in mind.

Give your fertilizer time to work by fertilizing before planting to ensure nutrients are readily available to seeds and young plants. Consider mid-season fertilization to sustain plant growth and time your application to support vegetative growth.


Which fertilizer strategy should I use for different pH levels and soil types?

The relationship between fertilizer types and rates, pH levels, and soil types is a delicate interplay that influences the health of your food plot. Your strategy will also depend on the types of plants you plan to offer wildlife for forage and which plants will provide shelter or cover.

For most food plot species, aim to amend your soil toward a pH between 6 and 7. Add lime to raise the pH and improve nutrient accessibility, or add elemental sulfur if your pH is too high. Professor and wildlife biologist, Dr. Craig Harper, shares each of the considerations to make when establishing your food plot in this LandBeat video.

When your soil lacks specific nutrients, there are a few steps you can take to remedy your soil and prepare it for optimal growth. Consulting with your local NRCS office or an expert resource like Whitetail Insititute will help you select the right type and amount of fertilizer to achieve better yields for wildlife.

For Sandy Soil:

In addition to working in 3-4 inches of compost or organic matter annually, and planting nutrient-generative cover crops like clover, wheat, and alfalfa, apply a slow-release and balanced all-purpose, non-soluble fertilizer.

For Clay Soil:

Apply fertilizer with low nitrogen and a higher level of phosphorus and potassium; gypsum and limestone can also improve the structure of the soil. Phosphorus works to aid in root development, a must for dense clay soil.


For Loam Soil:

With its balanced structure, loam soil does best with a well-balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Continue to monitor the pH levels and soil structure throughout the growing season to maximize your food plot’s tonnage.

For Acidic Soil:

In addition to lime to control pH, consider adding fertilizer with micronutrients such as iron and zinc, which can mitigate nutrient deficiencies caused by low pH.

For Alkaline Soil:

Because plants growing in alkaline soil might struggle to access certain nutrients due to reduced solubility, in addition to elemental sulfur, apply a fertilizer with a balanced nutrient profile and include micronutrients.

Creating successful food plots takes patience and practice. It also hinges on understanding the pivotal role of fertilizer and its intricate relationship with soil types, pH levels, and plant choices. Our digital series, LandBeat, offers comprehensive videos on maximizing your food plot production and health: Take a look at the Food Plots for Better Deer Hunting playlist.

By tailoring fertilizer rates and applications and incorporating the insights from comprehensive soil testing, landowners can unlock the full potential of their properties. As food plots thrive, so do the ecosystems they support, attracting diverse wildlife and enriching the rural landscape in ways that resonate far beyond the boundaries of a single parcel of land.

For those looking to find the perfect hunting farm for sale, contact your local Whitetail Properties Land Specialist or visit our website to discover properties for sale today.

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