The ABCs of Soil Tests

Another food plot fail? There are plenty of reasons your brassicas and clover look pale and weak. The most likely? They aren’t getting adequate nutrition. Admit it: you are throwing down a random amount of bagged fertilizer, right?

Don’t fret. There’s an easy fix, at least for next year’s growing season.

Get a soil test. It will tell you exactly how much nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) is in your soil and how much you need to add for a specific plant. It will also tell you the soil’s pH level and how much lime (if any) you’ll need to give your plants the food they need to flourish. A healthy food plot attracts more wildlife, it lasts longer and it provide more forage for the deer, turkeys and other wildlife that feed in it.


A number of do-it-yourself test kits are available at garden centers and big-box hardware stores. They can provide a general guideline of your soil’s deficiencies, but they are notoriously inaccurate. Worse, they won’t give you specific recommendations for lime and the various nutrients your plants need to thrive.

Mail It In

The most precise soil tests are conducted in a lab. State agricultural extension agencies offer test kits for a nominal fee and places like Whitetail Institute sell pre-paid test kits. All you have to do is follow the instructions and send it off to the lab. The better kits will ask you to specify the plants you intend to grow and provide specific lime and fertilizer instructions for that plant variety.

Follow the Recommendations

You’ll get a sheet telling you your soil’s N, P and K levels, the current pH level and how much fertilizer and lime you’ll need to grow a perfect food plot. Sometimes, the results are broken down by acre, while others are calculated per thousand square feet. A few provide both. You’ll need to take accurate measurements of your plots and do a little math (Remember, an acre is 43,560 square feet.), but take the time to follow the recommended fertilizer rates. Your plots will be thankful.

Don’t Skimp

Every plot on your land is different, even if they are just a few hundred yards apart. That’s why it’s wise to conduct a separate soil test for each individual plot. That’s especially important if you are planting different types of plants. Doing so may seem like an unnecessary expense, but when you consider the cost of seed, gas, fertilizer and lime, it’s money well-spent. In fact, the extra 20 bucks you spend on a soil test may actually save you that much or more. You may need less fertilizer and lime than you think. 

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