Treatments for Building Better Food Plots

Sponsored by: Heartland Wildlife Institute

By: Bob Humphrey

The work is done. Your warm season food plots are in and with all the rain we’ve had this spring they’re greening up nicely. Until it’s time to start planting cool season annuals, there’s nothing do to but sit back and watch the grass (and clover, alfalfa, chicory and soybeans grow (right?) Not necessarily.

Great preparation leads to great success.

Before you break out the lawn chairs and the beach umbrellas you might want to consider what your ultimate goal is. If you’re willing to accept what comes up, which should be adequate nutrition, you can call it a wrap. But if you want to maximize all your planting efforts this spring, there’s much more you can do.

It is amazing what you find in perennial food plots.


LIMING:

Because it takes lime so long to react with the soil, it’s best if you can incorporate lime several months before planting. For annuals, that usually means liming in the spring for fall plots, and in the fall for spring plots. The lime will be incorporated into the soil more quickly if you disk or plow it in; but you can lime over an existing crop. It’s more expensive but you can also speed up the process by applying a lime solution rather than pelletized lime.

If you’re plan is for a fall, cool season hunting plot, or you will be converting your warm season plot into a fall hunting plot, it’s not too late to lime. Even if you intend to retain the plot in perennials, you can still lime now. Timing is less important for perennial crops. Liming crops like clover now may give them a boost in nutrition come early fall. It will also help ameliorate any remaining pH problems. It’s best if you can apply during dry conditions. Some post-application rain is good as it will work lime into the soil. However, heavy rains may wash it away; so check the forecast.

Author Getting ready to Lime.

MOWING:

There are several reasons to consider periodically pruning your perennial plots (say that three times fast). One is to maximize growth, nutrition and palatability. In the annual life cycle of a clover plant it grows, goes to seed, then withers and either dies or goes dormant. Young, rapidly growing plants contain the most protein and thus are the most nutritious. As they mature they become more fibrous and less digestible. Keeping them from maturing can usually be accomplished with two mowings, one in June and one in August. If you’re not sure, or if conditions vary, a good rule of thumb is to keep plants from growing beyond 8-10 inches tall.

This also helps keep down unwanted weeds. Mowing weeds reduces competition and allows sunlight to reach your intended plantings. Just be sure you mow high enough so as not to cut the crop below.

HERBICIDE:

There is another way to accomplish the same thing. By applying selective post-emergent herbicides you can target invasive plants without harming non-target crops. Obviously, the specific application will depend on the crop. Glyphosates like Round-Up will eliminate a range of mostly narrow-leaved grasses and forbs without killing Roundup Ready varieties of corn and soybeans. Poast (sethoxydim) or Pursuit (imazethapyr) are good choices for clover. Obviously using mixes or blends you’ll have to be careful about selecting the most appropriate solution. The best source I’ve found for determining the appropriate herbicide for most any food plot crop is

A Guide to Successful Wildlife Food Plots” by Craig Harper (University of Tennessee Extension )

Author Spraying select Herbicide.

If it all seems like too much work, and you’d rather just let nature take its course you can. If you followed the recommendations of your soil test and prepared the ground properly, with the right amount of rain and sunlight your land should provide adequate nutrition to your deer. But in food plots as in life, you get out what you put in. If you want to provide your deer with more than just adequate nutrition, you need to put in more than just enough time and effort.

For the best products for wildlife and food plots go to: Heartland Wildlife Institute