Food Plots | Planning & Planting Spring Food Plots
Food plots are imperative to any deer management program. It is not only important to the carrying capacity of the habitat in the calculation to deer density and health of the herd, but it is also important in bucks reaching their full genetic potential. There are typically two types of plots; nutritional plots for a supplemental food source and hunting plots for higher attractant and visibility. It is important to have both types of plots annually if you want to hold deer on the property through all seasons. Now, the off-season period before spring, is the perfect time to plan and strategize the when, where, why, and how behind you spring food plots!
For spring planting, it is going to be an advantage to plant nutritional food plots. During spring months, bucks are beginning the antler growing phase and in some regions does are lactating, and fawns and young deer are growing. Deer will prefer forbs over free-range browse and typically consume very little grass after the grasses have surpassed the young tender stage. Even with high protein spring food plots, supplemental feeding and mineral attractants need to be available to deer if your goals are in efforts of deer reaching their genetic potential. Depending on location, during March through July, it is critical to antler growth to have high-quality forage rich in protein available.
In many areas, late summer is a nutrient-stressed time for deer because of the lack of plant growth and young browse that is a direct effect of minimal rainfall and heavy browsing during the early season, resulting in browse and forages lacking in quality and quantity.
Location – Know the lay of the land
If you do not already have established food plots, using Topo Maps or mapping Apps can give you the advantage of finding places for strategically placed plots. You will need to plan these plots to benefit hunting keeping in mind the ingress/egress route to the stand during peak hunting months. Location is critical because most plants will need at least five hours of direct sunlight for growth. Planning those food plots for the benefit of hunting will also allow you ideal areas to place game cameras for early season scouting during the summer months and to inventory bucks your property is holding.
Your goal is to have ample planted food resources to keep game animals on your property year-round. As a rule of thumb, having five to ten percent of your property planted in food plots should give the property what it needs to hold a deer herd. Of course, this amount could change depending on what other food sources and browse are located on the property.
Crops – Know what to Plant
Do you want to benefit deer only, or other game animals such as turkey and upland game? This will need to be decided before strategizing for spring plots. If you are working with an established plot, you will need to decide what it will take to destroy the weeds and other vegetation that has grown up in the plot. Take the time to research in deciding which herbicides to use that will not harm your intended crop. If you are establishing a new plot, more time and work is going to be needed in planting that plot.
When planting spring plots, you should consider high protein crops to provide deer with the protein they need for their daily diet. These high-protein plants are typically perennial plants like chicory, alfalfa, and clover. Lablab, cowpeas, and milo are recommended for spring food plots because they have a higher drought tolerance; however, soybeans are also a good choice for spring plots. Perennials can last up to 6 years if maintained properly.
Know the size of your plot. It is important to the success of your plots to know the exact size so that you can correctly lime, fertilize, and plant them. It is important to plant the proper amount of seed needed for a plot. Overplanting can cause crowding of the crop planted’ which in turn, the crops will never reach their full potential. Most seeds only require a ¼” depth of planting. Planting too deep can cause the plant not to germinate correctly and it will not grow.
It is ideal to have a mix of food plot forage and grains such as corn, iron clay peas, and soybeans. Legumes are higher in protein and also help put nitrogen in the soil to help with fall plots. What is most important is to plant crops that are suited to the soil found in your location. With spring food plots, the biggest issue is going to be weeds. Weeds grow rampant in the spring months and will crowd out the growth of new plants. So keep this in mind with seed choice, and how you will maintain the plot and the weeds.
Preparation and Maintaining– Know when and how to plant
Preparing the seedbed properly will ensure that you have a good foundation for successful growth when planting food plots. If you have the available resources, a prescribed burn is very effective in preparing an area for fresh planting. Soil testing is extremely important to the success of food plots, allowing you to know exactly what the soil needs for optimal soil attributes. Lime is imperative in adjusting the PH levels in soil and the right amount of fertilizer giving it the soil the ability to transfer nutrients to crops. Practicing good soil management practices is also important, incorporating plans to increase organic matter and refraining from breaking soil with techniques like no-till, can help create outstanding blogs.
The best time to plant is when moisture is present in the soil for proper seed germination, this may equate to being prepared to plant after the next rainfall. When planting legumes, buying inoculated seed will assist in proper germination and early growth of the seed.
When planting row crops, using herbicides and cultivating between rows before the crops are grown, maximizes the success and the production of the food plot. Whenever possible, using round-up ready corn and soybean seeds will also help the plant to survive herbicides after breaking ground.
If the area you are planning to plant is shared with livestock, you will need to invest time and money in putting up a fence barrier to keep the livestock from grazing on the food plots. Larger plots will typically withstand overgrazing in the critical growth establishing stage, but it is almost impossible to keep game animals from grazing new food plots. Some type of crops requires bush hogging when they reach a certain age to ensure new tender growth.
Planting and maintaining spring food plots on your hunting property is an investment in time and money that can exponentially enrich the value of the property and the quality of the deer herd. Researching and planning can significantly increase your success while adding value to your cost commitment.