The Poop on Fertilizers
Far too many landowners do not get the full potential out of their plantings. People often dismiss the use of fertilizer in food plots, because they think that it's unnecessary, or that the soil will provide the nutrients needed. In some cases, this is true but in many cases, it's not. After all, why run premium fuel in a racecar when you can run regular unleaded? However, it's the premium fuel puts the racecar performance over the top. The same applies to maximizing the potential of your food plots.
All granular fertilizer is made up of three major elements that are reflected in the three numbers listed on the bag, such as 5-10-15. Each number represents the percentage of that element in a one hundred-pound bag. The combination of numbers allows landowners to choose the right mix of fertilizer for their soil's needs. Some combinations are named after particular regions and some number combinations are only available in certain regions.
The first number, 5-10-15, is Nitrogen or N, and is an element that comes out of the air. So why do we put it in the ground? Very few plants can actually take nitrogen out of the air. This element makes your chicory and chufa green; it increases the yield of brassicas and the growth of millets and legumes. It is important that you not use too much of this because it can cause unwanted weed and grass growth, and in some cases, too much N can damage or "burn" your plants.
The second number, 5-10-15, Phosphorous or P, is an important energy component for plants and animals. In plants, it increases plant vigor, aids in root development, and increases the nitrogen fixing abilities in legumes. One of the major roles it plays in food plots is that it increases seed production. For animals, the addition of a phosphorous-rich diet boosts the production of antlers and promotes skeletal and tooth health.
The third and last number, 5-10-15, is potassium or K. This element is beneficial to plants because it is essential in many growth processes, and increases overall health of the plant. Potassium is also important to have in your food plot additives because it can increase the plant yield, which translates to more biomass or tonnage of plant matter for grazing and foraging.
In your search for the right fertilizer product, I would first recommend that you pull a soil sample for testing, so you will know exactly what is missing in your soil profile. For most soil issues, you can usually get by with an equal numbered mix such as 10-10-10. Check with your local USDA office or agriculture expert to see what is recommended in your region.
Something else that is often overlooked is micronutrients and macronutrients or "minors" as some people refer to them. These elements, such as boron, calcium, manganese, zinc, copper, sulfur, magnesium and iron, are available in some fertilizers. Generally speaking, these fertilizers are more expensive, but you are providing your game animals with beneficial vitamins and minerals that contribute to better health and reproduction.
There are two times to fertilize, spring and fall. In the spring, you would fertilize shortly after planting when the seeds have started to grow. This is also a great time to use foliar fertilizers such as Plant Power by DeltAg. Foliar sprays are sprayed over the top of your food plots or native vegetation to really "sweeten" the food source up. The next time you need to fertilize is in the late-summer or early-fall when the plants are entering dormancy. This is especially important for perennials because it boosts early spring growth.
Think of fertilizer in food plots as farmers do with crops; the better the yield--the better returns. Better food plots and habitat means more and better hunting opportunities and quality game.