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If you would like to improve the overall health of your wildlife, along with your chances to see and harvest deer and turkey, you should plan now to establish cool-season food plots.
Outside of sound habitat management (timber harvest, prescribed fire, native plantings, etc.), there is arguably no better way to improve your viewing/hunting success for many species than by providing high-quality winter food. Often times, these plots can benefit both game and non-game species for several months at their greatest times of need.
Location, Location, Location
First things first, you will need to decide where your plot(s) will be located. Ideally, choose sites that are already cleared and will allow you access without being detected by wildlife. Areas like logging roads/decks, wind damaged areas, secluded corners of crop fields, firebreaks, old fields, and even utility rights-of-way are all great places for a plot. Areas with the most level topography and moderate soil moisture conditions (not too dry like on high ridges, or too wet in soaked bottoms) are your best bet. Plan to keep them away from boundary lines and roadways to allow game safer and more secluded areas to browse. In conjunction, all of these considerations will decrease the cost and effort to establish the plot and increase the odds of your hunting/viewing success.
By far, soil testing is one of the most important (and often ignored) components of a successful food plot. No different from your lawn, garden, hayfield, or row crops, your food plot requires proper pH and nutrients in order to achieve maximum production and wildlife attraction. For a fee of only $7 per sample, the Auburn University Soil Testing Laboratory will test and provide recommendations specific to the crop(s) you are looking to plant. Soil test boxes and instructions can be found at your local Extension office.
Results will indicate what lime and nutrients the site needs to be as productive as possible. It is
very important to apply lime if tests indicate it is necessary. This is because if soils are acidic, the majority of nutrients and fertilizer that is applied will be bound in the soil and not available to plants. Those who only rely on fertilizing acidic soils are wasting their resources and not seeing the full potential of their plots. Even more, some plants like clover may not grow at all in highly acidic soils. Although more expensive and short lived, applying pelleted lime now will help this year's plots while spreading agricultural limestone is cheaper and longer lasting but it takes several months to affect pH.
Size and Shape
The ideal size of plots ranges from 0.5 to 3 acres. In forestland, it is a general rule to provide 1%-5% of the area to food plots. This helps to reduce the chances of over browsing and keeps costs to a minimum. Of course, more plots or other types of wildlife openings can be established if desired.
It is better to have several well-distributed smaller plots than just a few large ones. Remember that there is no need for highly irregular shapes, narrow plots, or trees in the plot; all of these factors increase shade and decrease production while reducing your opportunity for clear viewing of wildlife. However, do not be afraid to allow a grassy/shrubby border grow on the perimeter of a plot, this creates a 'soft' edge. Soft edges provide escape cover that many species of wildlife, both young and old, find security with, this often helps to increase use of the plot.
What to Plant?
It is important to understand that the preferences of wildlife will vary by location and the season. Food plots are simply a supplement to the natural food sources. Planting a variety of crops can help to increase the duration use by wildlife and give more bang for your buck. As conditions change and natural food resources are reduced (particularly in the late winter/early spring), the feeding habits of wildlife will steer them towards your cool-season plots.
By far, the most common cool season plantings (particularly for deer and turkey) are a combination of clovers and cereal grains. Because these combinations grow fast, stay green throughout the winter and early spring, and provide both a source of protein and carbohydrates, they are attractive to a wide variety of wildlife. Annual plantings (Mix 1 & 2) are a great choice for many areas prone to weed issues. This is because the entire plot may be prepared with applications of 2, 4-D and glyphosate in the late spring and again in the late summer to provide grass and broadleaf control prior to planting. Over time, this practice exhausts the seed bank and reduces weed competition.
Clover can be a money saver when it comes to food plots as some clovers can last for 2-5 years (Mix 3 &4), and all clover fixes its own nitrogen (as long as the seed is inoculated), essentially lowering your seed and fertilizer bill. Some clovers come pre-inoculated while others require you to purchase and add the inoculum yourself.
Mixes - Cereal Grains and Clovers
Mix rates are per 1-acre
Mixes 1 and 2 perform well on a wide variety of soils and conditions but must be replanted each year, while Mix 3 does best on soils that retain moisture or are more shaded. Mix 4 will produce on sites that become too dry for ladino clovers. Clover Mix 3 can subside for 3-5 years depending on care and clover Mix 4 may produce for two years before requiring replanting.
If you decide to plant a pre-mixed plot mix be sure to read the label so that you can know exactly what you are buying and planting.
In North Alabama, late August to early November is the best time to plant most cool-season plots, with many traditionally planting around Labor Day weekend. Planting much earlier than this can lead to heat/drought stressed conditions and planting later can risk a killing frost before plants become established. Also, be sure to watch the weather and try to plant with rain in the near forecast to assure the best germination possible.
It is best to prepare your plot sites weeks prior to planting. This includes herbicide applications to reduce competition, applying lime and fertilizer as soil tests indicate, and disking or dragging to prepare a seedbed. This prep work prior to planting helps to assure that undesirable plants and cover will be dead which will reduce competition and allow you to more easily work the soil, soil amendments have had time to incorporate and fertilizers won't burn new plantings, and rains and settling will create a firm seed bed that aids in germination.
Small areas may be broadcast with a hand operated broadcast spreader while larger areas can be broadcast using PTO driven or motorized spreader.
It is important to factor in planting depth when planting any crop, particularly a mix of seeds. Planting cereal grains (large seed) and clovers (small seed) at the same time will ultimately lead to some seeds that are planted too deep while others will be too shallow. It is best to plant the larger cereal grains first as they will be covered deeper, then follow up with top-sewn clovers last.
Ensuring good soil to seed contact is important for good germination and conserving moisture. Ideally, a roller or cultipacker is best to run over the plot, but a homemade drag of chain or fence can also work well, or just simply driving over the plot with an ATV can also help.
Broadcast small grain mixtures evenly over the seedbed. Lightly disk to cover seeds about 0.5-1 inch deep.
Clovers are broadcast over the seedbed after the small grains have been covered. Again, clover seeds are very small so they should not be covered more than ¼".
With a little preplanning and careful site selection, preparation, and planting you can provide a great wildlife plot that can impact both game and non-game species all the while helping to improve your hunting or wildlife viewing success.
Information like this and so much more is available at your counties Alabama Cooperative Extension System office. Please give us a call or make a visit!
Regional Extension Agent – Forestry, Wildlife, & Natural Resources
Norm may be reached by contacting the DeKalb County Extension office at (256)-845-8595 or by e-mail at
There are two groups of landowners in Alabama….those who have wild pigs, and those who are about to have wild pigs. If you're in the first group, landowners currently dealing with wild pigs, you know already know just how destructive they can be and how difficult it is to get rid of them. Luckily we have several "How to" seminars throughout the state to help landowner learn how to get rid of wild pigs to reduce the damage they cause. So if you're having problems and need some help, consider attending one of these information packed seminars with in-field equipment demonstrations.
Landowners Guide for Wild Pig Management Publication
Workshop Registration Website
Mark D. Smith, Ph.D.
Mosley Environmental Associate Professor/Extension Specialist
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences
3301 Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Building
602 Duncan Drive
Auburn University, AL 36849-5418
Phone: (334) 844-8099
Fax: (334) 844-1084
Tropical soda apple (TSA) was nearly eradicated across the state during a recent federally funded eradication program. However, with termination of program funding, reports of this non-native invasive species are on the rise. Tropical soda apple is of concern as it can form very dense infestations in open to semi-shady areas, especially in pastures where it can greatly reduce forage productivity. Timely identification and control of this non-native, invasive Federal Noxious Weed will help prevent its spread.
How do I identify tropical soda apple? There are several species in the nightshade genus (Solanum)
that might be confused with tropical soda apple, but the most common look-a-like is horsenettle (S. carolinense). Tropical soda apple looks a bit like horsenettle on steroids – the plants are bigger, the leaves are bigger, the thorns are bigger and the fruit is bigger. Below are key features to help identify tropical soda apple.
How can I control tropical soda apple? Tropical soda apple is very shallow rooted and small shrubs can be pulled with a sturdy pair of gloves (make sure they can withstand the thorns!). When hand pulling, try to remove the lateral roots if possible. Cutting and mowing can be used to prevent seed formation, but will not control the plants and should be avoided after the plants have set fruit.
What herbicides can I use to spray tropical soda apple? The best herbicide options for tropical soda apple in pastures are picloram + fluroxypyr, picloram + 2,4-D or aminopyralid + 2,4-D. In forests, the best options are aminopyralid, triclopyr and glyphosate. All of these herbicides benefit from the addition of a nonionic surfactant at 0.25% v/v. Always read and follow the herbicide label. One treatment will not eradicate tropical soda apple and follow-up monitoring and retreatment is critical. Treatments can be applied anytime during the late spring through early fall.
*See label for specific forest information.
Prepared by: Nancy J. Loewenstein, Extension Specialist, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and Stephen F. Enloe, former Extension Weed Specalsit, Department of Crop Soil, and Environmental Sciences, Auburn University.
The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool is a useful resource for planning
outdoor work activities based on how hot it feels throughout the day.
Featuring real-time heat index and hourly forecasts, specific to your
location, as well as occupational safety and health recommendations from
OSHA and NIOSH.
The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool features:
On May 19-20th, volunteers and supporters of Alabama Water Watch gathered at the Living River Retreat on the Cahaba near Montevallo to recognize this milestone year of AWW. Please take a moment to check out some of the highlights from the weekend in our most recent AWWareness Blog Articles.
Feel free to let us know what you think by leaving comments! We are all looking forward to the next 25 years!
AWW 25th Anniversary Tee-Shirts
If you would like to purchase an AWW 25th Anniversary Tee Shirt, send a check for $20 made out to the AWW Association to the following address:AWW Association P.o. Box 3294Auburn, AL 36831Include a note with the quantity and size(s) of the tee shirts you would like, as well as the mailing address where they can be shipped. Shirts can be purchased from the AWW Program Office as well.
Over the last week, I have received a couple of calls about using our native king snakes as a control method for venomous snakes, such as copperheads. King snakes do hunt and eat many species of snakes, including venomous ones. This is called "ophiophagy". King snakes are also immune to the venom of our local pit vipers, making them adapted to feed on venomous snakes. They use constriction to kill their prey, and are very opportunistic, feeding on a variety of other prey such as birds, rodents, lizards, and eggs.
The king snake's abilities to feed on venomous snakes is well documented, and videos and pictures of king snakes feeding on other snakes regularly pop up on social media such as Facebook and YouTube. I suspect some recent Facebook videos are what prompted clients to call me, looking for a "source" of king snakes to transport to their homes to control venomous snakes.
There are several different species of king snakes in Alabama, including the black king snakes, speckled king snake, scarlet king snake, speckled king snake, and the prairie king snake. Of these, the scarlet, prairie, and speckled king snakes are illegal to buy, sell, trade or capture. Please see the information from OutdoorAlabama.com:
"It shall be unlawful to take, capture, kill, or attempt to take, capture or kill; possess, sell, trade for anything of monetary value, or offer to sell or trade for anything of monetary value, the following nongame wildlife species (or any parts or reproductive products of such species) without a scientific collection permit or written permit from the Commissioner, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which shall specifically state what the permittee may do with regard to said species….."
While there are species of king snakes that can bought and sold, I high discourage displacing native wildlife to new habitats. Many of our king snakes are only native to certain parts of Alabama, and will not survive if moved to a different part of the state. For example, the black king snake is mostly found in the Northern parts of Alabama, while the Eastern king snake is only found in the Southeast portions of the state. Furthermore, each species has slightly different habitat needs that your home may or may not offer. There are also disease issues to consider: transporting wildlife may also transfer diseases to the new location. Finally, the stress of capture, handling, and transportation of native wildlife can lead to death.
There are much better, and easier ways to manage snakes that are around the home. First, snakes that are found in and around building are often seeking the rodents that are found in these areas. Using traps or toxicants to control the mice and rats will often cause the snakes to find other areas to hunt.
Areas outside can also provide shelter for both snakes, and the food they hunt. Piles of firewood, brush piles, lush ornamental gardens, and long grass are other areas that can be home to snakes. Cleaning these areas up can also persuade snakes to move on.
Finally, it is going to be almost impossible to eliminate all snakes around the home, especially in rural or wooded areas. I encourage you to learn how to identify our native snakes, and learn the characteristics and signs that a snake may be venomous. In North Alabama, all of our venomous snakes are going to have a triangle shaped head, and a vertical pupil. In contrast, non-venomous snakes are going to have an oval or rounded head, plus a round pupil. For more information, please see the Alabama Extension publication "Identification of Snakes in Alabama for Forest Workers".
While transporting king snakes to your home is not a viable option, they are a unique species that feeds on venomous snakes, and should be left alone if found. Managing the property around your home and learning to identify our native snakes are important when working to prevent harmful snakes from making your property their home.
Spenser E. Bradley
Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resources Management
firstname.lastname@example.org/mobile: 256-303-4924/office: 256-773-2549
With springtime's warm weather, you're not the only thing wanting to dig in your yard, flower beds and vegetable gardens. The eastern mole becomes active in the warmer, wet weather, burrowing through yards and gardens in search of grubs, beetles, insect larvae and earthworms. It's a common misconception that moles feed on roots and bulbs, however they are mostly carnivorous. Moles are often blamed for plant damage, but it is usually rodent species, like voles, house mice, and white-footed mice, that share the mole's tunnel system and forage on plants. As a member of the shrew family, not rodent, these voracious eaters weigh 3 to 4 ounces and consume 70 to 100% of their body weight a day. This can be beneficial to yards and gardens by controlling nuisance insects, however moles become problematic when their burrows damage the grass in lawns or wash out during heavy rains.
Moles have have sharp claws and webbed feet that assist them in digging tunnels through the soil in search for food. Typically more active at night when the soils are moist and cool, moles will dig comprehensive feeding tunnels in search for food. Along with feeding tunnels, moles with construct their nesting burrows in dry warmer soil under trees or solid structures. Moles remain solitary for a majority of the time, however will breed in March and April. The gestation period is around 5 weeks and litter size ranges from 2 to 5. The young will remain with the mother about a month before they're weened, however still may use her tunnels system until they can establish their own. On average, there are usually 5-6 moles per acre.
When it comes to controling moles in your yard, there are several avenues, some more effective than others. There are commercialy available repellents and toxicants, however they are typically not the most effective due to the dificulty of getting the moles to accept the baits as a food source. Another option homeowners have is to target the moles' food source, however food items like earthworms provide valuable services and may not be the most viable option to eliminate. Additionally, eliminating the moles' food source can be time comsuming and may not rid a yard of moles for some time.
The most effective means of mole contol is typically trapping. There are three types of lethal traps available: harpoon, scissor-jawed and choker. From my experience, harpoon traps are more effective in sandy soils, while scissor-jawed and choker traps are more effective in loamy soils. Before setting your trap, you must first determine which mole tunnel, or runs, are being used the most frequently. This can be done by stepping on the raised portion of the tunnel and then returning the next day to see which ones have been raised. These tunnels are the most active and best place to set the trap. When setting a harpoon trap, flatten the tunnel again and then set the trap and trigger on the flattened part. Before setting the harpoon, allow the harpoons to penetrate the soil several times to make sure there are no obstacles in the way when it is triggered by the mole. When setting the scissor-jawed or choker traps, dig out a portion around the tunnel and place the trap in the hole. Then fill the hole back with the removed soil, being sure to make sure no light penetrates into the tunnel. When using scissor-jawed or choker traps, I recommend wearing rubber or latex gloves to prevent your scent getting on the trap. Traps can sometimes be triggered without catching the mole, so be sure to check traps daily and reset if needed. If the mole doesn't use the tunnel with the trap after a few days, relocate the trap to another tunnel.
For more information on controlling moles in the lawn and garden, please contact the Coffee County Extension Office at 334-894-5596.
"Pine bark beetle" is a broad term used to describe several species of native Dendroctonus beetles that cause mortality in pine trees. Pine Bark Beetles are typically attracted to stressed pines, and once established, can infest healthy neighboring trees. Pine bark beetles can become a major concern in urban forests during droughts, following hurricanes or as a result of root damage or poor growing conditions. Beetles can impact vast numbers of trees and potentially devastate large acreages if left unmanaged.
In the urban forest the management techniques for controlling beetles are different that those implemented in rural timberlands due to the higher values and removal costs of landscape pines. This publication is aimed at addressing the causes, identification, and recommended integrated pest management techniques for pine bark beetles in the urban landscape.
What attracts pine bark beetle?
Pine bark beetle are attracted to stressed pines with declining health. Common stressors in the urban forest include:
Several species of bark beetles affect pines in southern urban landscape. These include the black turpentine beetle (BTB), Ips engraver beetles, and the southern pine beetle (SPB). For homeowner management options it is most important to distinguish Ips and SPB from BTB. Both Ips and SPB beetles introduce blue stain fungus which cannot be treated and will often result in tree mortality. BTB seldom carries the fungus and as result does not always kill trees. It is important to note that more than one species of beetle can be found in an infested tree.
The difference between these beetles are subtle, however, a few key points will help distinguish the beetles.
Black turpentine beetles
In most cases it's too late to save a trees once they have been infested, with the possible exception of BTB. Instead management is aimed at preventing the spread of pine bark beetles. While pine beetles are not great flyers and cannot buzz from an infested tree in your front yard to one in the backyard, they can easily glide to neighboring pines. Trees standing in close proximity or within 20 yards of an actively infested tree are at greatest risk.
Begin by make regular inspections looking for the pitch tubes up and down the stem of your pines, especially those trees that have undergone one of the previously mentioned stressors (construction damage, lightning strikes or during drought). Once beetles have been identified use the following integrated pest management short and long-term management strategies:
Short Term Management Strategies:
Short term strategies are meant for dealing with currently infested trees and preventing the spread of the pest.
Long Term Management Strategies:
Long term strategies are meant for ensuring the future health of the tree to reduce stressors which attract pine beetle outbreaks.
There are several contact pesticides labeled for pine bark beetle prevention. These include Bifenthrin, Permethrin and Carbaryl. If pesticides are used, high risk trees should be sprayed in late winter or early spring before beetles become active. High risk trees include: trees adjacent to infested areas, trees with root or above ground damage and lightning struck trees.
Each of these pesticides is sprayed on the trunk of the pine. This can pose some challenges on large trees as the entire trunk from the ground to the lower canopy must be sprayed to effectively prevent Ips and SPB attacks on high risk trees (these beetles often start in the canopy and move downwards). This will require the use of either a high pressure sprayer or a bucket truck to reach the canopy of larger pines. For BTB beetle only the bottom 12 to 15 feet should be sprayed. This method provides between 1 to 3 months of protection depending on the product and weather conditions.
Pesticide drift, non-target species toxicity (pollinators, aquatic species, etc.) and applicator safety are concerns and thus the use of a professional applicator is highly recommended. Also, some formulations of these chemicals are restricted use. Always carefully read and follow label recommendations when measuring and applying pesticides.
Injectable systemic pesticides:
There are several injectable pesticides labeled for pine beetle use. While this approach removes many of the challenges associated with the contact applications, it does require a professional arborist to drill into the base of trees and macro-infuse the tree. Injections are not recommended during periods of drought or for severely stressed trees as the system relies on the tree's vascular system to translocate the product throughout the tree. It should be noted this technique is invasive to the tree and there is a risk of introducing fungal decay. However, these technique do provide longer protection and avoid many of the non-target species and applicator safety concerns.
An alternative to pesticide use are the anti-aggregate pheromones, such as Verbenone, that help disperse adult beetles. Pine beetles naturally produce pheromones to communicate and attract or disperse beetles. Verbenone is a synthesized anti-aggregate that is packaged in slow-release pouches that are stapled to trees at risk from pine beetle infestation. Like pesticides this is only a preventative treatment. Also, research has found this product to exhibit mixed results and it's generally considered to be less effective than pesticides.
Arnold “Beau” Brodbeck, PhDAlabama Cooperative Extension System251.email@example.com
Watching wildlife is a favorite past time of many Alabamians and I am certainly no exception. Each year, these folks spend millions of dollars traveling to places to watch wild animals in their natural habitats. However, sometimes you don't have to travel at all to get the opportunity to see wildlife behaving as wildlife. For example, a good friend of mine snapped these pictures of the red-tailed hawk catching and eating a squirrel's in the heart of the Auburn University campus. He was also able to video this Mockingbird harassing the hawk as it was trying to eat. My friend was able to get both pictures and video on his phone as he set in his office. The hawk consumed almost the entire squirrel, hide and all. Red-tailed hawks and many other raptors have become quite common on campus and in neighborhoods and, in many instances, will carry on their daily routines in surprisingly close proximity to humans. If you would like to get more information on these fascinating animals, check out Southeastern Birds of Prey (http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/Y/YANR-0193/YANR-0193.pdf).
Today we conclude going through some silvicultural practices forest landowners and managers can use to promote good health and resiliency to prepare for drought by focusing on the benefits of eliminating and controlling invasive species and an overall summary and conclusion.
Eliminate and control invasive species:
Invasive species can rapidly encroach native systems and cause stress to forests that can make them more vulnerable to drought. Removing invasive species and preventing establishment is essential for eliminating and controlling their spread. The picture below is Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) an invasive plant species of ecosystems in Alabama and across the Southeast.
Drought causes stress to trees and stressed trees experience poor growth and health that increase the risk of insect pest attacks and disease. Specifically, drought can cause decreased growth and poor health, decreased resistance to disease and insects, increased risk of catastrophic wildfire, and tree mortality. Proactively managing your forest with appropriate silvicultural practices can minimize these risks associated with drought when it occurs.
The management practices highlighted over the last few days are focused on improving the overall health and vigor of your forest. As I mentioned earlier in the week, healthy forests are better equipped to withstand and recover from drought and many risks to forests associated with drought, but that does not mean they are drought-proof.
In summary, species selection for planting is critical to the long-term health of a stand. Planting the wrong species on a site can result in poor survival, growth, and vigor. Thinning reduces overcrowded conditions, increases nutrient and water availability to remaining trees, and removes trees in poor health. Prescribe fire provides many benefits including reduced competition and reduced fuel loads that can minimize the risks of catastrophic fire. However, prescribe fire can cause stress to trees and should be avoided during times when trees are already experiencing stress from other factors, especially for forests systems not burned regularly. Taking account of the current condition of your forest and proper timing is essential when using prescribed fire.
Specific site conditions, environmental factors, and landowner objectives should be considered in forest management. For assistance with managing your forest, contact your local forestry professional.
Multiple workshops on the effects of drought on forests and forest management practices that help minimize the impact of drought will be offered by ACES professionals at different locations across the state of Alabama this summer. Specific locations, dates and times will be announced in the coming weeks.
Additional information on invasive species can be found at:
Additional information on drought can be found at:
Additional information on forest management and drought can be found at:
For further information on forest drought or the upcoming forest drought workshops, contact Adam Maggard at (334)-844-2401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Picture citation: Nancy Loewenstein, Auburn University, Bugwood.org
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