Along with obtaining the right whitetail hunting gear and securing the perfect spot for a deer blind, some hunters opt to grow a food plot to attract deer populations.
A food plot is an effective way to bridge the nutritional gap as native plants die back in the fall and winter, keeping deer herds well-fed and abundant in your area. However, it also takes a lot of work, time and effort to manage properly—but it will pay off when you see a big buck stroll across your food plot to graze on your planted clover.
Here are eight mistakes to avoid when planting your food plot.
1. Forgetting to Test the Soil
A soil test is crucial for the success of any food plot. Many hunters are tempted to skip testing their soil, and they throw down fertilizer and lime and hope for the best. However, this rarely results in a plush, plant-filled plot.
Testing your food plot’s soil tells you two critical factors: the pH and which nutrients it needs. Use lime to raise your soil’s pH level if it is too acidic. The best soil should be as close to neutral (pH 7.0) as possible.
If your soil has a low pH, which is more common than too high a pH, you’re more likely to grow lots of weeds in your plot rather than deer food. Another detriment of an acidic pH reading is that it makes certain crucial nutrients like phosphorus bind with the soil, rendering it unavailable to your plants.
The other key piece of information that a soil test provides is what your soil is lacking. Soil tests measure how much potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen you need to add with the fertilizer.
You can get soil tests at most gardening centers, co-ops, or small farms, and they’re inexpensive and easy to use. Once your soil is tested, you’ll know how much of each element you need to add to make your plot productive.
2. Neglecting to Use Fertilizer, Lime and Herbicide
You’re fighting an uphill battle if you plant a plot that is already riddled with weeds or grasses. Nothing chokes a food plot more quickly than being overrun by weeds.
Make sure you’re starting with a clean slate by spraying your plot with herbicide. Wait two weeks and, if there are anything green sprouts, respray it. A non-selective herbicide like generic glyphosate works well for this primary stage.
While you’re waiting in between herbicide spray-downs, till the earth with a hoe, turning the dirt over and uprooting any hidden weeds. This will also prepare your food plot bed for future planting.
Once you’re ready to plant, you should first add the requisite fertilizer and lime. Skipping this step will result in an absolute failure for your forage plot. Spread lime first, as it can take weeks to change the soil pH. Adding fertilizer to acidic soil renders the fertilizer’s nutrients redundant as the plants can’t absorb them.
3. Planting Too Deep or Too Shallow
You can’t plant all seeds in the same manner because they grow at different rates and have particular germination needs. One planting style may be fatal for some plant species even as it helps another succeed.
You can determine how deep to plant your seeds by the size of it. Smaller seeds like clover and brassicas can be distributed on the soil’s top layer, where the rain will push it down into the soil. If these types of seeds are planted too deep, they won’t be able to make it to the surface and will suffocate underground.
Likewise, larger seeds such as corn or soybeans need to be planted at least one to two inches below the surface. If they’re broadcast using a device, they need to be culti-packed or disced. Sprinkle red pepper and wood ashes over the area to discourage crows and other small animals from coming in behind you and eating their fill.
4. Missing the Seasonal Window
Different plants have separate windows in which to plant them for an optimal yield. If you plant too early or too late, your seeds will either germinate only to die in the first frost or stagnate underground without enough precipitation.
Species that are annuals like soybeans and corn need a full growing season to be fruitful, and perennial clovers must be planted in the fall, so they have time to establish their root system by spring. Plants like turnips prefer to be planted mid-summer and will grow into a lush crop by fall.
5. Putting in the Wrong Plants
You need to match the plot to the plant species you’re growing in it. If you’re planting soybeans or corn in a spot with a lot of browsing pressure, they would be mowed down in only a few weeks. Clover and brassica, however, can withstand intense browsing.
It’s smart to only plant soybean or corn in a plot that’s larger than two to three acres, as anything smaller won’t be able to withstand the high levels of deer browsing on it.
6. Planting in the Wrong Place
Reconsider planting any food plots close to roads or the edges of your property. Unscrupulous neighbors may be tempted to pick off any great bucks grazing next to the property line, and deer may become nervous grazing too close to a road’s activity.
Keep your deer food plot’s borders at least 10 to 20 feet from your property edges and more than that if possible.
7. Avoiding Maintenance
Picking out the right species of plant for your food plot, testing the soil and distributing the correct amounts of fertilizer and lime are only half the battle when it comes to cultivating an excellent foraging spot for deer. Regular maintenance is also part of the equation.
Spot spray the more aggressive weeds that you see between your plants and hoe the soil regularly. Some plants, like clover, benefit from being mowed periodically. Maintaining your plot keeps weeds at bay, and you have the opportunity to refresh your plot continually.
Deer prefer fresh young shoots to gnarly, fibrous branches, so periodically mowing is essential to keep the deer coming back for more.
8. Only Planting a Single Species
Mix a couple of different seed varieties, instead of a single-species seeds bag, to create better genetic diversity in your crop.
If you have a larger plot of land to experiment on, you can grow different plants and figure out what the deer in your area like at what time of year. Smaller plots benefit from a blend of seed species because they mature at specific points, so deer will have something to eat throughout the growing season.
Companion planting different plant species can also boost the yield. Certain plants protect against pests and draw different nutrients from the soil. Two effective companion plants for your food plot are clover and grain crops such as oats.
Additionally, specific deer prefer one species over another, so, by offering them an array, it’s almost as if you’re putting out an all-you-can-eat buffet for them, and that’s sure to make the whole herd happy.
The Final Word
Planting a foraging plot for the deer in your area is a great way to attract the animals to your property and create an environment in which a large trophy buck can thrive. By paying attention to soil quality, maintenance and site choice, you can ensure a successful food plot for your deer population.