At Midwest Monster, I get to meet and talk to wildlife property managers from all over the Midwest. At trade shows and other events, there are a few questions that come up often and that I'm sure others can benefit from reading.
Here's the Spring 2018 Edition of Midwest Monster's Food Plot FAQs.
Q: What are my options for food plot crops that will grow in partial shade?
A: "Partial" is the key word here. Speaking from a northern state perspective, no plants that I consider to have the nutritional value and deer attraction to be considered food plot crops will grow in fully-canopied "dark shade".
If you have areas of dappled shade or situations like trails or shooting lanes that receive strong sunlight for at least part of the day, there are some options:
White clovers - Members of the white clover family are shade-tolerant to an extent and are probably your best candidate for trails, field roads, partially canopied shooting lanes and other "traffic areas" that get walked or occasionally driven on.
Turnips - Because of their larger leaves, turnips can withstand partial shade and still produce quality roots that the deer love. Turnips won't take well to being walked or driven on, so they are best put to use in non-traffic areas like shaded plot edges or open shooting lanes that get a significant amount of sun, but no vehicle or heavy trail traffic.
Q: I have sandy soil. What can I plant?
A: "Sandy soil" does not have an exact meaning. Sand is a component in many soil types, so I need to answer your question with a question: What is the percentage of sand in your soil according to a professionally analyzed soil sample?
All soil sits on a spectrum with regard to sand as a percentage of the overall composition. The key to what you can and can't grow is largely determined by where, exactly, your soil sits on this spectrum.
The worst case scenario is a true "beach sand" soil that is 90 to almost 100% sand. This type of soil contains large particles of sand, it does not compact, and it retains almost no moisture in the top 3-5 inches of soil. Unfortunately, if you have this type of soil, your options for food plot crops are few. In my opinion, you're better off either finding other places on your property that have better soil, or focusing on other habitat improvements to attract deer.
With lesser percentages of sand and greater proportions of silt or clay, you have more options. The key is to have a soil sample done and understand the percentage of sand you actually have, along with the percentage of clay and loam.
Geohaunt.org has this excellent article that clearly explains how soils are classified. This article is well worth reading.
Q: Is it really necessary to do a soil test?
A: Yes. If you want to grow the best food plots you can grow, then yes, it is really necessary.
The good news is that this is really easy. The most important test that you really, really need to get is a soil Ph test. Ph is a measure of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. 7.0 is neutral. Less than 7 is acidic, greater than 7 is alkaline.
In the Midwest, with only a few exceptions, most of us have soil that ranges from very acidic (4 to 5) to neutral (7.0). Most soils range from 5.0 to 7.5 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and the Dakotas. There are exceptions, of course.
The key thing to know is that acidic soil robs your food plot crops of their ability to utilize nutrients. So if you are fertilizing your food plots, your fertilizer is being wasted because your plants can only use a percentage of what you are feeding them. This wastes money and limits your food plots potential.
The bottom line is that the little bit of hassle and expense is well worth it. Knowing your soil Ph tells you what you need to do to maximize growth and attraction.