Gerald Almy: The importance of micronutrients for food plots

Gerald Almy

Micronutrients are vital for all life forms including humans, animals, and plants. If you grow food plots for deer and other wildlife, they also need them to grow and thrive. And when those plants have sufficient micronutrients, it also helps the deer and other animals that eat those crops and absorb them.

A micronutrient is a nutrient or trace mineral that living things only require in small quantities. In this column we’ll delve into some of the reasons micronutrients are needed, and we’ll also look at a few other elements deer require that are sometimes overlooked such as magnesium, calcium, and sulfur.

Plants interact in a number of complex ways with these elements in the soil for their daily functioning and growth. Without micronutrients cell walls in plants could not be formed and photosynthesis could not take place. Boron, manganese, copper, and zinc enable food plots to ward off diseases, grow strong root structures, reproduce cells, activate enzyme systems, fix nitrogen, and obtain maximum yields.

Even if your soil once had good levels of most micronutrients, the plants you grow every year extract and utilize them, depleting them over time. Others may become “bound” in the soil through chemical reactions and be unavailable to plants if the pH becomes too high or too low. Soil compaction below surface levels can also make it difficult for plants to obtain these vital elements even though they may be present in sufficient quantities.

The first step in determining if your food plots need micronutrients is a professional soil test, available from many agricultural colleges and farm co-ops. After you get the report back, consult with the people who did the analysis or your county extension agent for advice on exactly how to proceed.

Another step you might want to take in conjunction with the soil test is a tissue sample analysis to determine if your plants are getting enough of these crucial elements. Often the lack of certain nutrients may reduce the yield of a plot without overt distress symptoms appearing. On the other hand, too much of some of these can be as harmful as too little, iron being a good example.

Don’t take a haphazard approach. When in doubt, consult an expert.

Micronutrients can be provided to plants basically in three ways. You can treat the seeds with finely powdered dry mixes that are applied right at the point of germination. You can spread them on the soil or crops in granular forms, either separately or mixed with the N-P-K fertilizer you apply to your soil. Finally, you can apply them to the foliage itself with a liquid treatment after the plants are growing. All of these methods can be beneficial and effective when done correctly.

Seed applications. Delta Ag and other companies offer finely-powdered additives that can be mixed with seed before it’s planted. Since this is applied so close to the plant’s germination point, a light coating can provide a strong boost of the required nutrients – right where it’s needed. The seed and plant will absorb the copper, zinc, manganese and other trace elements during germination and initial growth. This method is very inexpensive.

Granular application. Many micronutrients are available in granulated form and can be mixed with your N-P-K application or applied separately with a hand or pull-behind spreader. Boron and sulfur are fairly easy to find in 50 pound bags. I buy them this way and mix with phosphate and potash before applying to my fields.

Manganese sulfate (32 percent), zinc sulfate (35 percent), copper sulfate (25 percent) and other micronutrients are also available in granulated forms. This is a simple way to work in needed micronutrients. Just be sure to follow the recommendations of your soil test.

Liquid micronutrient applications. Liquid forms of micronutrients can be applied to the soil as well as the plants themselves. In the latter case the plant leaves absorb most of the application, but what misses seeps into the soil for later uptake. Two products that come highly recommended for this are PlotStart and PlotBoost, from PlotStart gives a liquid application of calcium that quickly boosts the pH of your soil, allowing it to absorb nutrients more efficiently. A low pH is often the cause of poor crop or food plot production.

PlotBoost is a combination of carbohydrates, amino acids, nitrogen and micronutrients such as manganese, copper, and boron in liquid form that can be applied to growing plants to improve their growth and health. It can be mixed with Roundup or generic glyphosate for easy application when spraying for weeds.

I started testing both of these products on my fields and food plots this summer and have already noticed increased forage production on the plants treated versus a control group I did not apply the products to. Besides boosting nutrient uptake, these applications will also help your plots or crop fields resist drought, diseases, and insect infestations. Though my experimenting is in the early stages, so far I’m very impressed.

Next week we’ll look in more detail at eight common micronutrients or lesser known elements your food plots may require.


Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.