Here are the steps you should be taking now for a successful food plot this fall and years to come.
Location is the first thing that comes to mind when deciding where to put your food plot. I’m sure if you research any information on food plots, this will be one of the top three, redundant answers, if not the number one answer every time someone asks what is the most important part of making a food plot.
While location is very important, there are so many factors that go into choosing the right location, I could probably write four articles on that alone. A good business owner, would want to choose a restaurant location that is easily accessible, in a path of heavy travel and where people feel comfortable going. The same goes for your food plot for deer.
Understanding the layout of your land and using topo maps or Google Earth can help you tremendously in choosing the right spot. You want to try to be exclusive so the deer feel comfortable, so putting it right next to a heavily traveled road, especially in a town where you may suspect poaching, is not ideal. It’s also a good idea to put it near any water source you may have, because the majority of the time when deer are on their feet, they are usually looking for food and water.
To move forward, let’s assume you already have a location picked out. Let’s also assume you are not a farmer and you don’t have access to heavy equipment. Below are the steps you should take now, to get your food plots growing as quickly as possible and ready for this hunting season.
1. Soil sample
Ask your neighbor who has that beautiful lawn, farmer Dave on the end of your street who grows corn and soybean crop, or your local Feed and Garden store. When starting out, it’s important to do a soil sample. It is probably the cheapest part of the entire process, yet the most important and can be the difference between a luscious, successful food plot or a total failure.
Getting the pH between 6-7 is very important because if the pH is too high or too low, the plant can’t absorb the nutrients in the soil. You can obtain soil sample kits from many local feed stores or online from larger food plot companies, like Whitetail Institute. Once you obtain your sample kit and decide on your seed, you can determine how much lime and fertilizer you will need.
2. Mow before you grow
When we put in our first set of food plots on one of our farms in Maryland a few years ago, the first year we worked with the farmer to use equipment to till the grounds. A couple years later, we decided we wanted to add two new food plots to remote locations that we could not get the equipment into and therefore had to work with what we had.
Initially, once we had our location picked out and our soil sample complete, we brought in our lawn mower, set it to the lowest setting we could, and as one guy walked ahead looking for large rocks, the other followed behind mowing the entire area down.
3. Kill the competition
Weeds are thieves to your crops and steal nutrients and water that essentially should be going to your food plot. Once you have your area mowed down, its time to spray weed killer. To save yourself some money, buy weed killer in concentrate and then mix it with water on your own.
For our last food plot, we purchased the cheapest weed killer but made sure that it was 41 percent Glyphosate weed killer. We mixed it according to the directions, and used our hand sprayer to spray the entire food plot. After you spray, give it at least 14 days before the next step.
4. Lime time
Using lime with your soil, raises the pH which allows your crop to absorb the nutrients from the soil. Depending on your soil test results, it can sometimes vary between 10lbs-50lbs of lime per 1000 sq ft. Lime can take approximately four weeks before you see any change in your soil’s pH however can take upwards to three to six months before it can take into full affect.
If you are impatient or are reading this a tad late this season, you can opt for liquid lime which may be more expensive, but absorbs faster by the soil and tends to reach deeper in the soil initially as well.
With your soil sample test results, you will also get a recommendation for your fertilizer. Fertilizers come with three numbers on the bag that indicate the ratio of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). It is important to use your soil test results to determine how much fertilizer to use as over or under fertilizing can either starve your plant of nutrients while excess fertilizer can kill your plant as well.
6. Throw & grow
If only it were that easy. There is no denying that if you are limited on resources and you are unable to disk, the “No-Plow” and “Throw & Gro” type seed still work. If you know that you will be using this type seed, I recommend using the liquid lime to seat deep into your soil or giving the soil a good rake and time to absorb the lime. If you have access to disking equipment, be sure to disk the ground after you have laid out your lime and fertilizer to ensure that it gets worked into the soil.
7. Choose your seed
The number one recommended food plot that you will hear most hunters repeatedly say, “If you can only plant one type of food plot, choose clover.” Clover is high in protein and nutrients needed to help grow your deer, but it also is a very tough plant that can keep up with heavy browsing as well as thrive in warm and cold climates. A good mixture of red and white clover is best as they compliment each others growing periods.
White clover matures earlier than red clover, according to Penn State University, and as the white clover reaches its full maturity and the deer begin to browse it down, the red clover is beginning to grow and mature creating a mere endless supply of clover for your deer. However, always base what you choose to plant off your desired wants and needs and overall what you want to attract to your area.
I will soon be writing an article on the importance of food plots, but to give you an inside tip, your spring, summer, and fall food plots keep deer on your property and your winter food plots are your recruiting food plots, so both are very important in creating and maintaining a deer herd.
8. Weed kill: Round 2
Here you must give your soil some time to give you some feedback. Well, really what you are waiting for is to make sure you have truly killed all the weeds. Trust me, its better to wait an extra week or two and respray with weed killer rather than spend every week out there physically pulling weeds and educating or scaring your deer with your presence.
So be patient, prepare your bed and level everything out, then let it sit. As new weeds grow, spray them one last time and ensure all the competition plants that will take the nutrients and water away from your food plot, are terminated.
9. Plant the seed
Just like before, after you spray your weed killer, you will need to wait another two weeks before planting your seed. Be sure to read your instructions based on the seed you choose as some seeds require little soil contact and others require 1/4″ or more depth with soil covering the seed.
Each plant varies and it is important to read and follow the manufacturers recommendations when planting your food plot seeds. If you are using your “Throw & Grow” type seed, it may be just as simple as that. However, if you have the time and can put in the elbow grease, a good rake to mix the seed and ensure soil contact may not be the most fun option, but is always better than nothing.
10. Grow & maintain
Making your way down the page you may have realized that getting that ideal food plot isn’t as easy as you thought, however, we all know hard work pays off. When you get the chance to see your food plot grow and successfully harvest your first deer from it, knowing that you put the hours in the ensure you did it properly, pays off. And what pays off more than anything, is doing it right the first time. Be sure to get a soil test and complete the recommendations within the results for lime and fertilizer. If you plant a perennial and you do it correctly the first time, you can have a successful food plot for years to come with little maintenance.
I’ve learned a few things about food plots over the past few years as we have had success and failure using several methods we have found over the Internet. This method is what has worked for us in Maryland and we continue each year to monitor our food plots success with trail cameras and observations. In fact last year we planted a small food plot, specifically for one buck on the property in which ended with a failed attempt to shoot that buck, and our trail cameras were showing very little activity throughout the rest of the season. This just gave us feed back that the site wasn’t what we had hoped for which just reminds us that we are human and we can’t always predict everything deer will do.
Each step is less than a days work and some steps are separated with weekly waiting periods. With this in mind, if you want to have a successful food plot this fall, now is the time to get off your rump, put your phone or computer down, and get out there and get to it, this is your year for success, good luck!