Improve food plot productivity

Food plots are great for wildlife and for hunters, and a few tips can improve the productivity of yours. (Photo by Jeff Burleson)

Here’s how to create a better food plot

Deer and other wildlife require food, cover, and water to adequately survive. When the groceries are good, deer and other wildlife species will benefit. Food plots are an excellent source of nutrition for deer and other wildlife, and double as ground zero for a hot hunting stand.

Creating a flourishing food plot packed with thick and lush vegetation can be a daunting task. Knowing what not to do can sometimes be as important as what to do. Create a better and more productive food plot this fall with these tips.

On most hunting properties, food plots aren’t planted by full-time farmers with 50 years of on-the-job training. Most food plots are planted by ambitious hunters or land managers with a collection of knowledge soaked up from magazine articles, YouTube videos, or just by reading the label on a bag of trophy seed mix from their local seed dealer. Fortunately, the available information for planting and maintaining food plots is quite extensive.

Food plots are just an oversized garden. So it doesn’t take an agronomist to plant a seed and turn it into a plant. But less experienced and first-time food plotters can gain a wealth of knowledge by taking a few tips of the trade.

Growing plants only takes water, air, nutrients, and then the power of the sun. So, why do food plots fail sometimes? Basically, failures occur when one of the basic components: water, air, nutrients, and/or sunlight is compromised.

Kill the competition

One of the greatest issues with food plots is competition. Often, aggressive weeds and grasses overtake a food plot quickly when not managed. Weed and non-target vegetation can be discouraged by using chemical or mechanical methods. And one of the best methods to discourage weed and grass competition is death. Kill them in the off season as soon as they sprout and repetitive herbicide treatments can really take a toll on weed and grass growth. While disking and harrowing can uproot and kill individual plants, the soil disturbance alone will allow dormant weed and grass seeds to germinate, creating more competition.

In a perfect world with somebody that has all the equipment, a full spectrum herbicide treatment followed by a no-till drill planting method is ideal to start a weed-free plot. But few people have access to a no-till seed drill. An alternative method is to just lightly harrow the surface over deep tilling. Shallow harrowing is less likely to unearth deep weed seeds and the targeted seeds are more likely to grow with less competition.

Shallow harrowing over deep tilling also creates other benefits too. Most food plot seeds only require shallow planting that is usually less than an inch. And in some cases, seeds barely need to be covered up at all. Very small seeds such as cereal rye and clover only need 1/4- to 1/-8-inch of soil coverage. Truth is, most of these seeds will germinate right on the surface especially when the soil is not compacted and relatively loose.

Deep tilling offers big benefits in certain situations, but because it can also dry out the soil (and when it’s hot and dry, soil moisture is critical for germination and young tender sprouts), it should be avoided in most cases and on most sites.

Get it tested

Repetitive herbicide treatments followed by shallow harrowing will help discourage non-target competition.

A pH test is critical prior to dumping $500 on fertilizer. While it is needed for a solid plot, only use fertilizer where the soil pH is conducive for solubility.

One last tip on fertilizer, most time-of-planting fertilizers are heavy to nitrogen and these fertilizers should always be added right at the time of planting or shortly after planting because the nitrogen and some of the other macro and micronutrients will only be available for a short time after they get in contact with the moisture. If distributed too early, the plants will not get the opportunity to utilize the nutrients right when they really need it.

Food plots are wonderful. And these tips will help make sure these plots are off to a good start while also being as efficient as possible.

Shallow harrowing:

Shallow harrowing is usually all that is needed to cover the majority of plants used in food plots, so hunters with basic equipment can do the job themselves.

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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.

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