What Should You Plant in Your Food Plot For Deer?
A common question we get on social media is “I have X amount space on my hunting property that I can plant a food plot. What should I plant in my food plot?” There is not a single food plot that would provide deer with year-round nutrition and be the right mix for every deer hunter’s food plot needs. It just doesn’t exist. There are lots of variables that go into deciding on the best food plot mix for your location and situation. These variables include the amount of moisture the site receives, sunlight on the site, what region is your property in, and the most important variable is often the most overlooked and that is your soil type and the fertility of your soil. Another critical part of choosing the right food plot mix for your deer hunting property is the goals that you have for your food plot.
With all these variables choosing the right mix for your food plot becomes a difficult endeavor but with a little information that you can apply to your properties characteristics. Here is a few topics that will help you determine your best food plot mix for your food plot for deer hunting.
Poor Man’s Food Plot
Before you decide what to plant in your food plot a soil test is important. A soils sample is the first thing you should do when considering the best seeds to plant in your plot. So many food plotters fail to do this aggravating but simple step that can mean a successful food plot or a bare weedy plot that the deer actually avoid. A soil test is the single most important thing you can do to help you to grow the best possible food plot that deer can’t resist.
DIY SOIL TEST KITS FOR DEER FOOD PLOTS
The do-it-yourself soil test is a great way to figure out a few general things about your soil and is better than nothing. It can tell you the acid level or PH of your soil. This will tell you if you need to add lime. As I said this is better than not doing a soil test at all but a laboratory soil test can tell you much more. Many deer hunters that ended up sitting over a barren food plot with no deer in sight eventually paid the few dollars more and got a lab test done. I would say that if your soil is not too far off from being plantable then the DIY soil test will do fine. If you try it and your plot won’t grow then I would spring for the laboratory soil test and let them tell you what your soil needs to thrive. Check out this DIY soil test kit and see if your food plot is good to go.
LABORATORY SOIL TEST KIT
Testing your soil is the MOST IMPORTANT STEP for ensuring food plot success. It also will help keep you from buying too much fertilizer. This will save you money. While the DIY soil test kit is an option and definitely better than nothing the laboratory soil test kit is a better option. The lab test can tell you much more than the DIY kits. One thing is the density of the soil and how well it will retain the lime and other fertilizer when applied. Also, a lab test can tell you the optimum application of fertilizer based on the seed mix you plan to plant in your food plot. This is a huge advantage over the DIY-type kits that gives you generalized recommendations on what to add to your soil. Here is a great video from Whitetail Institute explaining this.
UNDERSTANDING THE RESULTS OF YOUR SOIL TEST
While there are many things that a laboratory test can tell you the primary thing that is vital for at least having a chance at growing a good or even a great food plot for your hunting property is the PH level and what fertilizer mix your soil needs to for optimum growing. With this valuable information, you can create a plot that will perform at the highest level. Deer are most attracted to food that is growing. This means that when the plant reaches maturity they begin to become less attractive to whitetail deer. For this reason, planting a seed blend that gives you long-term growth as well as staggered growth in the various types of plants involved.
THE BLENDED MIX FOR FOOD PLOTS
The results of your soil test is in. You now know what you need to do to prepare the soil for your poor man’s food plot. Whether you till or just roundup the plot getting started in the spring is best. Once you have the area cleared and limed and the fertilizer that your soil test recommends then you are ready for the blended mix to sow into your plot.
As mentioned above a blend that offers a mix of plants that will grow during the fall and stagger the plants so that there is something growing all season long. Remember that deer prefer plants that are growing if available. If you can keep plants new and in the growing stage throughout the deer season you stand a much better chance of attracting them to your plot. Especially during the late season when so much of the native foods are depleted and dormant. I once planted a small patch of Rye near my treestand. It came up great, but by the time I got back there to hunt the stand, the Rye was gone.
The deer will come to plants that are growing even if it isn’t the most nutritional food in the area. It’s more attractive because it’s growing. It may also give more nutrition than other plants that are not growing at that time.
WHAT IS A GOOD FOOD PLOT BLEND
Planting cool-season plants in your food plot is a great way to keep actively growing forage for your deer. With a mixture of clovers and cereal grains, your food plot will provide deer with quality forage during times when native forage is dormant or less palatable. A cool season mix or blend that grows well in the south is a mixture of wheat, oats, crimson clover, and arrow-leaf clover. Wheat and oats will germinate and quickly grow to insure attractive forage is healthy during hunting season.
Although the clover seeds do germinate their growth will be slow until late winter. Crimson clover begins rapid growth during late winter that will continue growing until late March to mid-April when they begin to bloom. At that point, the arrow-leaf clover will begin to actively grow. Some arrow-leaf will mature from mid-June to the first of July. This mixture can supply great forage that attracts deer on the same food plot from October until June.
Here is a recommendation for this type of blend. Your results may vary depending on your location you might want to substitute one or two of these seeds.
- Wheat 25-30 lbs per acre
- Oats 25-30 lbs per acre
- Arrow-leaf clover 4-5 lbs per acre
- Crimson clover 10-12 lbs per acre
COVER CROPS FOR FOOD PLOTS
The post hunting season blues may still be well-entrenched. The long hard winter is finally behind us. Soon your property will again start to show signs of life as hunters begin developing ideas for the upcoming season. Many of those plans will be focused on habitat management and food plots.
Proper planning and execution is always key. You can’t just throw seed on the ground and expect trophy bucks to frequent your food plot. A food plot will not flourish just because you spread a few seeds on it. All the pieces of the puzzle must be present for the entire picture to come together. This is why so much has been written about food plots. Everything from preparing your soil to even optimizing hunting success over them. There’s a well-documented distinction between year-round destination food plots and highly productive satellite plots. It is these satellite plots where Hunters often take their prize buck each year. Let’s focus on those honey hole style satellite food Plots here.
For many of us January spells the end of another year at deer camp. February ushers in a brand new season. Depending on your location and the crop you settled on, most satellite food plots are planted towards the end of summer or the beginning of fall. What about those prize hunting spots during the first half of the year? What are you doing to ensure those future food plots are positioned for optimal growth and success? Allowing last year’s Brassica crop to simply sit through spring and early summer would be a missed opportunity. Not only could that soil be utilized for continued attraction and nutrition, but you’re also allowing a location to slowly revert back to a fallow state.
Weeds In Your Food Plot For Deer
Weeds can quickly overtake a once breathtaking food plot. Left unchecked some smartweed species are capable of producing more than 7,500 new seeds in a matter of weeks. From just one plant. Just one acre of ground is capable of producing 125 million new seeds. Imagine what your quarter or half acre plot of soil in spring could potentially look like by the time you’re ready to plant that Premier bag of seed a few months later.
Sure you can let it go and simply spray it off when you’re ready to plant, but the cost of protecting your soil is much less when compared to the overall investment that most hunters make in habitat management. It’s an inexpensive policy that ensures the plot will be ready to perform when you need it to.
As soon as the soil can be worked you should be out there with dirt on your hands. Cover crops are invaluable tools that should be included in your annual routine without question. They protect against soil erosion, helps to smother out weed competition, and offer important nutritional benefits that we seek for our Whitetail Deer. As soon as the weather permits disk what little remains of the fall food plot from the year before. Run a disk and cultipacker over the plot. Broadcast your favorite cover crops across the plot. Buckwheat is a relatively inexpensive time-tested winner. Buckwheat, in your food plot, offers immediate protection thanks to its quick germination and fast-growing characteristics. This helps to crowd out any weed competition in short order.
The plant can reach heights of about 2 1/2 ft tall before the heads begin to flower approximately 7 to 8 weeks after germination. Do not let the plants set seed or buckwheat could smother your next crop. Instead, roll the plot and allow it to sit until you’re ready to plant your fall crop. Buckwheat does a phenomenal job of retaining water. If you’re unable to plant brassicas for two or three weeks the rolled buckwheat will continue to keep weeds and bay and moisture in check until you’re ready.
Preparing The Soil For Your Deer Food Plot
Preparing the soil is as simple as working the soil one last time. This can be with a rake or a small disk and cultipacker on the back of your garden tractor or ATV. A great cover crop for your food plot is winter rye. Winter rye is an actual cereal grain and it is highly palatable to deer. Like buckwheat, it also germinates quickly. It can germinate in temperatures as low as 33 degrees. This can be a blessing for those with multiple acres of food plots. Lower temperature means that you can put seed to soil much earlier or even later depending on how you’re using it, than buckwheat. Buckwheat requires at least 45° to germinate. Winter rye can withstand extreme cold. We’re talking below-zero cold and still remain green upright and palatable. Such longevity makes for an excellent overwintering cover crop.
Before the first flakes of winter snow has yet to fall get out there and broadcast winter rye. As Winter takes hold so too will a lush landscape of cereal grains that your deer will devour. When used as a spring cover crop the benefits just keep piling up. In addition to its quick germination and ability to choke out early season weeds, winter rye takes it a step further. It is through a biological phenomenon that a chemical is created and released into the environment. This chemical prevents other weed seeds from germinating. This naturally occurring herbicide persists even after the plant has been terminated. What’s more, winter rye acts as a nutrient scavenger. This keeps vital nutrients in your soil and out of service and groundwater runoff.
3 Ways to Make a Poor Man’s Food Plot for Deer
Not everyone owns hundreds of acres of great deer hunting land. Many of the major whitetail hunting magazines and TV shows have forgotten about the working man. The weekend hunter loves to hunt but doesn’t have the funds to buy and manage a property just for deer hunting.
I’m one of those guys. I don’t have a tractor with all the equipment to create giant food plots. There are a few ways to plant a great food plot for deer with minimal equipment. I’ll explain three low-budget food plots I’ve used to create a good enough food plot to attract plenty of deer.
Rake & Plant
When you see hunting shows with 100 acre food plots this is not the norm. Most hunters just don’t have the resources to create a food plot that size. Small inexpensive food plots can be just as effective to the lone hunter with just a small area to plant their food plot for deer. I have 7 acres and I have deer moving through all the time. The plan is to utilize these 3 ways to make my poor man’s food plot for deer next season. I have used the Rake & Plant technique before with just winter rye in a small clearing in the woods. It worked great but the deer ate the stuff to the ground but it did hold deer in the area for sure during the season and sometimes that is all you need.
You can rake and plant a sizeable area in a day. Less if it has been planted previously. Small food plots can be eaten completely down to the ground. They can become of no use by the time hunting season rolls around. One way to help save your delicious deer attractor is to fence your poor man’s food plot until a week or two before the season. This will give the deer time to find it. They will be using it when you plan to hunt.
Timing the Plant
If the deer are already using the area and you feel that they will find it quickly then absolutely wait til closer to when you are going to hunt before letting them get to it. I would rather hunt a few times without them knowing it’s there and waiting for them to show up. This is better than them finding it 2 weeks before season rendering your poor man’s food plot the deer poor food plot.
Rake & Plant food plots are just what the title says. A rake, some back muscles and a spreader is all you really need to plant this plot.
Now you might want to spray roundup to kill the competition and that’s fine but add a little more time to this process because you will need to return later to complete the food plot. The Rake & Plant food plot that this post is referring to however is a simple Rake & Plant process with no spraying, no liming, and no fertilizing. All of these things are great and can drastically improve your food plot. We can talk about those in another post. This one I want to keep simple. There are people that prefer simple and inexpensive ways to create a food plot. This one is one of those. Also, some people hunt deep in the woods. They carry all those things in with them. Rest assured there are ways to create a small plot without them and this is one of them and here is how it is done.
POOR MAN FOOD PLOT LOCATION
Start by locating the area you want to plant. A flat area with at least some sunlight will be best. If there is a few trees that you can cut or break over to expose your area to more sunlight then do that for sure. Sunlight is vital to a good poor man’s food plot and it is at a premium when your spot is deep in the woods.
Once you locate the spot you want to apply this Rake & Plant process then begin to clear the area of any big tree limbs or dead trees that you can move. Once the big stuff is out of the way use your rake to begin clearing all loose debris from the area you’re planting. It is surprising how quickly you can clear an area with a rack. Clean the area down to the dirt. There will be a little green stuff left that you can hit with the rake to work it up or just pull it out of the ground by hand. This is not required but it will help your food plot grow a lot healthier and quicker.
CLEARING DEBRIS TO MAKE A FOOD PLOT IN THE WOODS
The raking has already scratched the surface of the ground from removing the debris. If there are some spots that look like they need some loosening up use the rake and hit those areas. This will help get good seed to soil contact and good germination of the seeds. If you can, time your planting day for just before a good rain. This would be optimum. If you return after raking the debris be sure to scratch the area up again with a rake to loosen up the soil.
BROADCAST SEEDING FOOD PLOTS
Using a simple hand spreader cover your food plot area with the appropriate amount of seeds. You can plant a perennial for log-term forage for your deer herd. Then plant an annual as deer season approaches. This provides a strong attractant throughout the deer season. A perennial will last a couple seasons and even longer. Things like clover, grasses, and legumes are great perennials. To maintain a strong food plot it should be reseeded at least every other year.
Closer to deer season you can seed with an annual like rye or winter wheat. These provide excellent browse throughout the winter and during the season when you want to be there to hunt.
PLANTING CLOVER FOR DEER
Probably the most forgiving food plot seed especially for unknown soil health and in the woods is clover. Clover is a hearty plant. While it grows in questionable soil conditions it also withstands browsing by the deer very well. The annuals can be wiped out pretty easy. Especially if you have a lot of deer. Clover is the go-to crop for a full-time crop in your plot. Then adding annuals like the rye or winter wheat only enhances the food plot for the most trying time of the year for deer. Cold weather and the rut.
Food plots are not just for hunting over. In fact, some seasoned food plot hunters won’t hunt over their food plots. Instead, they hunt trails leading to the plot. Or they hunt the trails leading from the poor man’s food plot to bedding areas leaving the plot as a sanctuary for nutrition. Food plots are also a way to keep deer on their property, or at least nearby. Below are some definitions of the two types of seedings.
- Perennial means long term plantings (Lasts 2 or more years) with very minimal maintenance. Some of these include wildflowers, clovers, legumes, grasses, herbs, lespedeza bushes. These crops may need occasional reseeding depending on the weather, climate factors, and soil conditions. Some species are short term maybe a couple of years and others species will last many years.
- Annual means seasonal plantings that usually only last a season. Annual plantings can be wildflowers, legumes, ryegrasses, millets flowers, sorghums. It depends on your region and the wildlife you are attempting to attract. – Annuals must be replanted every year.
BENEFITS OF CLOVER DEER PLOT
- White clover spreads rapidly and effectively crowds out weeds.It also grows well with other grasses. Clover thrives in areas that are shady and poorly drained.
- Red clover typically grows taller than white clover and produces purple flowers that attract bees and butterflies.
- Being a legume, clover has the ability to convert nitrogen into fertilizer using bacteria found in the root system. This almost eliminates the need for fertilization.
- Clover is extremely drought-resistant. It will keep its cool-green color even during the driest of summer.