How to ... test soil in wildlife food plots

  • Updated: May 1, 2014 - 3:02 PM

Soil samples should be gathered from numerous locations in a single plot. Complete instructions come with each testing kit.

Photo: Bill Marchel Special to the Star Tribune,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger


For almost two decades I’ve been planting food plots on land I own near Brainerd. This has always been my attempt to attract deer and other wildlife to the property. My efforts have been successful and very gratifying.

During these years I’ve written about my wildlife farming practices and fielded many questions from those with similar interests. I must confess, I’ve been a hypocrite at times when answering these queries.

“Before you do any planting, be sure to get your soil tested,” I tell prospective food plotters.

Two years ago, my food plots failed to yield their usual lush plants. I wondered why. Then I realized it had been four years since I last tested the soil in my various food plots. “Do as I say, not as I do,” I thought to myself as I recalled the soil test advice I had given others.

I kicked off the growing season by ordering six soil test kits from the Whitetail Institute of North America. The kits cost only $14 apiece, with each kit containing a soil container, a submission form and a preaddressed return envelope. I followed the simple instructions included with the kits and sent them off.

A few days later the results arrived via e-mail.

The results were a rude awakening for me.

I had been assuming my poor crop production was attributable to acidic soil. In other words, I thought I would need to add lime to raise the pH of the soil. But the soil tests showed that only two of the six plots had a low pH. Had I randomly applied lime to all plots, as initially planned, I would have wasted time and money and risked leaving the soil too alkaline in a couple plots.

Test results for one of the two acidic plots showed a pH of 6.0. Optimum pH for growing most plants is 6.5. According to the test results, I would need to apply 3,200 pounds of lime per acre to raise the pH from 6.0 to 6.5. Since the plot is a half-acre in size, I simply cut the suggested amount in half and applied 1,600 pounds of lime. That sounds like a lot of lime, and it is, but proper pH is very important for optimal plant growth. And once the proper pH is obtained, reliming usually isn’t necessary for several years.

The soil test showed the same plot was also deficient in potassium (K) and nitrogen (N). The other important element to plant growth, phosphorus (P), was adequate. I had noted on the soil test kit that I planned to plant Whitetail Forage Oats Plus in the plot. The test results indicated I needed to apply 90 pounds of 34-0-0 fertilizer to satisfy the nitrogen (N) needs and 40 pounds of 0-0-60 fertilizer to raise the potassium (K) to an optimum level. I applied lime, nitrogen and potassium as directed, and the plot grew a lush crop of oats that fall.

Without the soil test I likely would have applied more fertilizer than necessary and not enough lime. I would have spent the same amount of money but with poorer results.

Soil test kits can be purchased at www.whitetail The website also features two brief videos describing why and how to test your soil.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Houston 23 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 98 FINAL
Cleveland 107
New Orleans 88 FINAL
Washington 84
Milwaukee 120 FINAL
New York 107
Philadelphia 88 FINAL
Brooklyn 99
Charlotte 114 FINAL
Atlanta 117
Sacramento 99 FINAL
San Antonio 106
Memphis 103 FINAL
Dallas 108
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question