Ditches can move water on and off food plots

Ditches cut through food plots can help carry off water when the plants are inundated, and they can help irrigate plots when rain is missing in the heat of the summer.
Ditches cut through food plots can help carry off water when the plants are inundated, and they can help irrigate plots when rain is missing in the heat of the summer.

Water is one of the most-abundant chemical compounds on earth; it covers nearly two-thirds of the planet’s surface. All living creatures and tissues — plants, animals or fungi — require water, but too much or too little can cause problems for some organisms. Since plants lack mobility, water exposure in food plots must be regulated to produce a successful crop for wildlife.

Even though most plants have the majority of their structures above the ground, the roots of most must breathe and cannot tolerate extended flooding or anaerobic conditions. Too much water rots away the roots, starving the plant to death. Monitor the standing water across a food plot in low-lying areas and take action to drain off the excess with small hand-installed drains.

Move water off

Periods of inundation will drown almost any food-plot seed planted for the deer. While some water problems cannot be prevented on some sites, water ponding can be eliminated on others through shallow drainage ditches. Previous plantings from prior years generally will reveal the problem areas.

Ditches don’t have to be deep to effectively move surface water off a food plot; 12 inches is usually the key depth. Gravity will play a fundamental role in ditch construction. These ditches must be connected to an outfall or a lower drainage feature to carry excess water downhill and away from the plot.

Shallow ditches can be cut with an angled blade on a tractor or small backhoe, and these ditches can even result from a little elbow grease and a shovel.

While July seems to be the hottest month, rainfall seems to be more plentiful in July than any other month. But the sun and sweltering temperatures rarely allow showers to stick around for very long. Most summertime food plots and field crops are susceptible to heat damage and water stress.

Move water on

Plants need water throughout their entire growth cycle, but the reproductive period and a few weeks before is the most important stage and consequently, when water utilization is highest. Additionally, July is the time when most summer crops are in this reproductive stage and water usage is peaking. If soil moisture is low and plants are yellowing and expressing heat stress, these crops must be irrigated to produce high yields.

Irrigation should be routine to match normal rainfall amounts depending on soil type and porosity. In tight, clay soils, irrigation duration must be carefully monitored to make sure plants are not becoming flooded. In well-drained, sandy soils, practically unlimited irrigation can be utilized as long as ponding doesn’t occur. Water should be applied just before daylight or during the early morning hours to allow plants to get the most use and to prevent any fungal growth at night.

About Jeff Burleson 28 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.