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For the week of April 30, 2007
Fertilizing Forages Can Provide Deer Food
by James L. Cummins

Most people think that during the spring there is an ample supply of browse for deer to eat. Many people think that since the sweetgums, hickories and oaks are green again, deer will be healthy. Everything that is green is not food for deer and may not meet a deer's daily nutritional needs.

Deer are similar to people in the manner in which they feed. There are certain foods that we love to eat, those that we will eat and those that we would eat only if we were starving. The trees mentioned above are in the last category – just good enough to fill them up. If you hunt in an area that shows a lot of browsing on these species of trees, your herd is probably in need of management.

Several foods that fit into the middle choice category are American beautyberry, dogwood, elm, maple and magnolia. These species provide moderate nutrition but your deer herd will have a hard time maintaining proper nutrition on these foods.

One of the reasons these low and moderate foods become a main ingredient in deer diets is due to overbrowsing on first choice foods. A reduction in the number of animals of the deer herd is usually needed when this type of overbrowsing occurs.

There are many desirable foods for deer. These include honeysuckle, yellow jasmine, greenbriar and blackberry. If you can find these plants growing where you hunt, you can improve them with a small amount of work.

If you've read many articles about food plots or if you farm or like gardening, you may be aware of the nutrient deficiencies in soils in Mississippi. Calcium, and more importantly, phosphorus, are the primary elements for proper antler growth and are both generally low in our soils. Soil tests are an inexpensive method to determine nutrient needs. Applications of essential nutrients can produce a hidden food plot that only you and the deer are aware of. Fertilized vegetation, such as the first choice items described above, grow more vigorously, are more palatable and will be visited frequently.

However, with fertilizer, more is not always better. One of the nutrients that is often recommended for food plots is lime. You can and should apply lime to planted and native foods so the fertilizer will work properly. A soil test will help you determine the amount of lime to use.

You will often see a benefit of better native vegetation growth on the edge of food plots due to the extra sunlight hitting their edges. Direct sunlight is the key to good forage production. With that in mind, you should try to grow your vegetation in areas that are more open, such as, roadsides, rights-of-way, pipelines and newly thinned plantations. A little fertilizer in these spots will increase plant growth and provide the nutrition required by deer.

James L. Cummins is Executive Director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their web site is