For many Americans living in the southeast, the thought of building a modern-day ark was becoming a real possibility this year. The deluge soaked just about every place imaginable, threatening many communities with property damage, swollen rivers and recurrent, widespread flooding on almost a daily basis.
Even though the rainfall was a blessing in certain areas, in other places, it was more of a disaster. Significant rainfall is important to anybody trying to grow anything, but a spring and summer like this year’s has caused significant repercussions on both agriculture lands and wildlife food-plot sites. Landowners with a significant investment in food plots will need to examine their sites’ nutrient composition and chemical carrying capacity to bring them back up to speed.
While average monthly rainfalls were met in the first couple of weeks of each month, June was noted by the National Climatology Office as one of the wettest on record, second-wettest only to 1895. The year was a complete turnaround from the last decade of drought conditions from Virginia to the southern tip of Florida.
Along with nutrients, sunlight and space, water is no doubt one of those key components critical to plant life. From soybeans, corn and peanuts in commercial agriculture fields to oaks, pines, persimmon bushes, native herbs and grape vines in the forest, plants need a sufficient supply of water to survive. Plants are nearly 90-percent water — for transportation and in the production of chemical compounds utilized for energy. But too much water in most plant species will cause suffocation and death, especially in soils lacking significant drainage.
The best food plots have a healthy mix of active permeability and water-holding capacity, such as loamy soils with a variable particle size. Permeability and proper drainage in soils is a function of particle size/shape and landscape elevation with respect to the water table.
In soils where the particle size is very small and flat, such as clay and silty soils, permeability and percolation is very poor, allowing soils to retain moisture. The flat soil particles bind together, preventing water molecules from passing through. However, sandy soils with large and more spherically-shaped soil particles allow water molecules to pass around the soil particles, easily allowing rapid drainage.
So, what exactly are soil particles? They are elemental compounds rich in iron, carbon (or organic compounds), aluminum, silicon, phosphorus, calcium and a mixture of other trace minerals important to plant chemistry: zinc, magnesium, manganese, boron, etc. Depending on what the pH of the soil is will determine which compounds will be available in the soils — some will be useful to plants and others will not. Just about every chemical reaction in the soil requires water as a catalyst to form certain chemical compounds.
During periods of recurrent rainfall, and especially on well-drained sites, excessive water exposure will cause crucial nutrients, such as potassium and phosphorus, to leach through the soil horizons. Unfortunately, these nutrients will descend below the root zone and will become unavailable to plants.
Additionally, poorly drained sites have their own set of issues when flooded for a long period of time. Initially, flooded fields will have oxygen depletion and soil-compaction issues. But the flood will also cause significant nutrient loss, debris build-up and the threat of chemical contamination.
The bottom line is, flooded food-plot sites need to a checkup. Regardless of how much limestone, fertilizer and other soil amendments have been applied over the past few years, a long period of significant rainfall will have considerable effects to food-plot sites.
Even though we are in the middle of the deer rut, landowners should take time to collect new soil samples at all of their food plots this month and get them analyzed at their local soil conservation service. Landowners should not be surprised if the soils take on an entirely new face, with abnormal chemical concentrations. While nutrient loss is the greatest result noticed from soil testing after flooding rains, some sites can experience an altered pH that will require specific soil amendments before planting any plots next season. These early soil sample results should allow landowners ample time to correct and adjust any nutrient losses months before the spring planting season.