Garden Mama is a local Jackson radio personality whose real name is Nellie Neal. She is the quintessential gardening, planting, pruning and botanical expert. Her call-in show offers plenty of practical advice on a wide variety of gardening and general plant care information and suggestions for how to help yard and garden plants propagate and survive.

If I were to guess what might be the No. 1 question that Garden Mama answers on her radio show, it just could be either when or how do I trim something, or when are the best times to till up a section and start with new plantings.

More often than not in terms of building new beds, she is going to recommend springtime as the most productive season to create new plant growth for the summer and well into the fall. I contend such is the case for wildlife food plots, too.


Plotting a reverse strategy

I've yet to meet a deer hunter who would not be in favor of planting fall food plots for deer. Sure, their intensions are to provide viable supplemental food resources for deer to grow bigger bodies and larger sets of antlers. Yeah, right.

Actually probably 99 percent of fall food plots are designed for one purpose: killing deer. And that is perfectly OK.

But if you are serious about the nutritional health of your localized deer herd, then you have to be planting suitable food plots in the springtime as well.

I mean, let's get real. If you really are interested in growing some high-protein food plots so deer can gain some extra pounds early in the year as well as have extra mineral support when bucks are putting on antlers, then when would you say would be the best time for wildlife foot plots?


Minimizing habitat disturbances

At the Southeast Deer Study Group meeting held in February 2008 in Tunica, a deer habitat manipulation study was presented by Don Draeger of the Comanche Ranch in Texas.

"There was an apparent negative relation between deer utilization and plow activity," Draeger reported. "However, deer utilization patterns returned to normal within four weeks of completion of the mechanical manipulation work."

What this means in layman's terms for deer hunters is that anytime you introduce a habitat disturbance in the hunting area, the deer will react negatively to that intervention. On the plus side is that they generally return to their usual patterns of activity in about a month.

Given that general premise, I would think the behavior patterns of deer would be less negatively impacted by food plot work or other habitat enhancements conducted during the spring months. This is added credence to the reasoning of doing spring food plots. The impact on deer would be less given their recovery time all summer long.

On the hunting properties where I supervise quality deer management principles and conditions push fall plot plantings into October or later, the work definitely dulls the deer movement activity and strikingly cools off success for bowhunters and first-season gun hunters. Deer do recover, of course, but they certainly are more suspicious of human presence and activity.

Again, this is additional support for conducting spring plot and habitat work. Now I'm certainly not advocating neglect of fall plots, but land managers should do those as early as possible to minimize habitat disruptions that could impact deer as hunting seasons arrive.


Just do it

Just like the new flower bed your better half has been harping about wanting for the yard, it's time to make a list of all those work projects for camp that result in habitat manipulation. It could be a whole new food plot layout, another ATV trail to be cut across a woodlot or some timber thinning to open up the forest canopy to increase native browse growth. Spring is the best time to tackle these projects when the weather is nice and wildlife recovery times are long.

Spring is the time to contract for heavy work, too. If you dreamed of a new access road to the far reaches of your property, then arrange for it to happen early in the year. If your hunting stands have been in the same place for years, then there is a high likelihood that deer have patterned those locations. Maybe it's time to move them around some. Maybe you want to plant some new oaks, autumn olive or fruit trees. Do it now.

Spring is the time for renewal both for habitats and hunters' spirits. It's a long time until the next deer season, but work projects can help keep the interest high and the anticipation keen. If you have an urge to make some changes in your habitat's status quo, there is no better time than right now.