Food Plot Info:
Food Plot 101:
you want to improve your chances to harvest a big Whitetail Deer?
Planting a Food plot may help you achieve your goal. Many hunters are
doing just that, planting a food plot to increase their chances of
putting that big buck on the Buck pole.
There are other reasons to
plant a food plot. It can be a lot of fun. If you enjoy being in the
outdoors, planting a food plot is great way to get out at times of the
year that you would normally be looking at your TV.
Planting a food plot helps all wildlife, not only Whitetail Deer.
Need a hobby?
It may be a chance for you to combine hobbies.
If you enjoy working with old tractors and Wildlife, planting a food
plot is a perfect fit. You could also use your ATV that you purchased
for hunting and put it to another use.
Why are wild animals attracted to food plots?
plants have usually no more than 10 - 12 percent protein. When you
offer wild animals a food source that provides significantly more
protein they will favor that source over others. That's why food plots
are so effective. Many of the mixes or plants available here average
over 22 percent crude protein with some reaching an unbelievable 30
percent range when the soil is prepared properly.
food plots also can greatly increase the amount of deer that the land
can support if it provides food during the winter months. Even if you
only plant summer or fall plantings it will still reduce the pressure on
the foods that will be supporting the deer in the later winter.
Growing food plots is the best way to produce larger, healthier animals while increasing the number of deer you see.
Get the PH:
probably already realize that fertilizer is an important part of
growing a productive garden. Food plots are just like your back yard
garden except you are growing food for the deer not yourself. So
different plants are grown but the need for fertilizer remains the same.
The need for fertilizer in a garden is basic knowledge that we all
consider common sense, however quite a few of us fail to recognize PH
of the soil is another factor that is just as important if not MORE
important that fertilizer.
What is pH?
we get into what to do about your soils pH it is important to
understand exactly what pH is! pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline
your soil is. Just like we use feet, meters or miles to measure
distance we use the pH scale to classify the soils pH. This pH
scale ranges from 0 to 14. The lower the number the more acidic, the
higher the number the more basic with a pH of 7 being Neutral.
value reflects the relative number of hydrogen ions (H+) in the soil
solution. The more hydrogen ions present, compared to the hydroxyl ions
(OH-), the more acidic the solution will be and the lower the pH value.
If you will notice the hydroxyl ion and the hydrogen ion combined will
give you H2O, are water. So pure water has a pH of an even 7!
Once things are added this balance of ions will shift one way or the
other to make the water acidic or basic.
Note: the scale is
logrithmic meaning that a soil with ph of 5.0 is 10 times more acidic
than a soil of 6.0 and a 100 times more acidic than a soil o 7.0!
How important is PH?
important. pH is more important than fertilizer and here is why. As you
know some soils are more fertile than others (more nutrients
available). To make our gardens more productive we increase the amount
of available nutrients by adding fertilizer. But what if I told you all
of that expensive fertilizer (nutrients) that you dumped on your food
plot would not be available to your plants!!! That is what can happen if
your pH is low. Why? How does pH affect the availabilty? Well it gets a
bit scientific so lets simplify it a bit. The nutrients of a soil are
bound up against the individual soil particles. The more acidic the soil
the tighter they are bound (as if by a magnet) and hence the less
available they are to the plants. So now you can see why pH is so
What is the pH of my soil and why?
may be inclined to think that your soils has a good pH just by chance
and that you don't need to worry about pH. Well that fact is that with
the exception of a few isolated areas in the USA almost all soils are
lower in pH than what is needed by most plants to be very productive.
Don't forget healthier plants will be attractive to deer as well as
healthier for them. You don't want your food plot to be on par with the
surrounding vegetation you want it to exceed that to encourage food plot
Here is why soils are low in pH almost across the
board. One cause has to do with insect and the decay of vegetable matter
by microorganisms. This activity over time will increase the acidity of
the soil. This causes a big time affect on forest soils. So if your
food plots are on soil that was once forest then that will negatively
affect pH. Another cause is the removal of the crops by deer are by
normal harvesting of agricultural crops. And did you realize that many
fertilizers with a high first number such as Ammonia Nitrate can
actually INCREASE the acidity of your soil. Sure that Ammonia Nitrate
give a quick burst of growth but the long term affects if not countered
are more acidic soils. Even rain or irrigation causes leaching
(removing) of minerals which causes an increase in acidity.
fact. You know how you think the grass doesn't grow under your trees
very well because you think the tree is taking up all the water??? Well
just put some lime under those trees and you will be amazed at how well
that grass will grow under a tree after the soil is brought back up to a
more tolerable level. You see it is the insect and the decay of the
leaves that drop the pH under your trees which is the real culprit!
What pH am I looking for?
now that you know that low pH soils are bad you will want to get the
soil pH as high as possible to unleash all those nutrients to the plants
right. Well sort of although it is fairly uncommon soil can be to high
in pH also. Here is why. Bacteria LOVE high pH conditions. If the soil
pH gets to high then the bacteria will have a population explosion and
they will use up organic matter at a very high rate and can actually
deplete the balance needed for plants to grow. To high a pH and micro
nutrients will become unavailable. Micro nutrients affected by pH
include iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu). Remember
you can easily increase soil pH by adding lime but if you were to add to
much that is something that is not as easily undone.
range is 6.0 to 7.5! Since adjusting your soils pH cost money and since
your soil likely has a naturally low pH you will want to bring the pH up
to about 6.0 to 6.5 range.
How do I correct my soils pH?
there are a million things you can add to the soil to adjust its pH
there are probably only two that you will consider and both involve
lime. Lime is basically calcium and it will raise the pH of your soil.
Lime is commonly bought in two forms, pelletized lime and powdered lime
also know as agricultural lime.
Powdered lime is by far the cheapest
and is applied by a truck that the company you buy it from uses to apply
it to your food plot. The other form is pelletized lime and it is sold
in 50 pound bags and is available at your local hardware store.
So access and size of the food plot will likely determine which method you choose.
Take Time and LIME:
is where things can get complicated if you let them. pH alone doesn't
tell you how much lime you need to add. To get true figures you will
need to get a soil sample tested. What your soil is made of and how much
sand vs. clay is present will alter the amount of lime that is required
to raise the pH of a given soil as well as how frequently it will need
to be reapplied.
Typically new food plots will initially require 1, 2
or often more tons of lime per acre to bring the pH up into the desired
range. After that smaller amounts of lime can be mixed in with
fertilizer to maintain the desired pH.
Most colleges with an
agricultural dept will perform a soil analysis for less then 20 dollars.
These reports will tell you how much lime and fertilizer your soil
needs, or you can purchase your own pH meter and test your soils
Add some lime then retest after the soil has had a couple
of months to incorporate the lime. Do this until you get a grasp of how
much your lime applications are affecting the soils pH. Remember it is
best, even when you have the lab recommended amounts in hand, to apply
half of the recommended amount then retest to make sure you don't over
do it. Then go back and add more until you bring the pH up to the
Fertilize, Fertilize, Fertilize and once again Fertilize:
Once you’ve had your soil tested, identified your soil’s pH, and corrected any issues, the next concern is how much fertilizer will you need?
Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K)
the main concerns. Typically, one of the most obvious signs of a lack
of nitrogen is stunted forage growth and yellow leaves or stems.
nitrogen makes forage grow green and grow fast, especially if you are
planting and growing grasses. However, if you are planting clover, the
nitrogen won’t clearly help the plant since clover fixes nitrogen, but
planting clover with grassy plants does work in a mutually positive way.
each bag of fertilizer there will be three numbers corresponding to the
ratio or nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium per 100 pounds. For
example, a fertilizer marked as 5-10-15 has five pounds
of nitrogen, 10 pounds of phosphorus, and 15 pounds of potassium for
every 100 pounds of fertilizer. If your soil test results show that
nitrogen is the biggest deficiency of the soil, ammonium nitrate may be
your best option. Ammonium nitrate is listed as 34-0-0, so 34 pounds of
nitrogen per 100 and zero phosphorus or potassium.
reports also list secondary nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and
sulfur as well as the micronutrients zinc and manganese, but once
optimum pH is achieved, the secondary and micronutrients will often be
corrected. A General rule applies if not able to get a soil test, 2
tons of lime per acre and 300pounds of
13-13-13 or 10-10-10 per acre...
control is a very complex subject which varies from one piece of ground
to another, depending upon the species or root systems already in the
soil, the last time it was plowed, and the weather. There are hundreds
of species of weeds, both annual and perennial, ready to take advantage
of all that money you spent on lime and fertilizer!
Why control weeds?
they can severely compete with your deer planting for moisture and
light and thus lower the production, quality, and utilization. A certain
level of weed infestation can be tolerated, depending on who the
invader is and whether the objective of the target planting is forage or
This time of year, you could be dealing with both
categories of food plots—a cool season planting, planted last fall in
clover, alfalfa, or trefoil which is now being invaded by warm season
grasses or a warm season planting, planted in May or June with corn,
grain sorghum, peas, jointvetch, alyce clover, soybeans, etc. Each has
its own set of problems and remedies we’ll discuss later.
through this step by step procedure to simplify a complex problem and
lead us to the best approach to win the weed wars.
(1) Identify The Enemy.
it a broadleaf or a grass? Is it an annual or a perennial? Was it here
last year? If you can’t identify the weed, take a sample to your
agriculture extension agent, university agronomy department, wildlife
biologist, or even a nearby farmer. Weed lists are long. Here is a short
list of some common offenders by category. Broadleaf weeds include
pigweed, ragweed, horsenettle, thistle, jimsonweed, morning glory,
milkweed, and coffeeweed. Grasses include fescue, bermudagrass,
johnsongrass, crabgrass, foxtail, and many others.
(2) Planning Is Important.
some respects, if you are standing in the weeds in mid-summer wondering
what to do, it’s too late for some of the best tactics. What weeds
invaded this plot last year? Chances are it was the same species. Your
observation of weeds from last year should have influenced what crop you
planted this year—a broadleaf or a grass. In other words, if you have
had past weed problems from the grass family, such as crabgrass, plant a
broadleaf such as clover, jointvetch, or peas. Vice versa, plant a
grass such as grain sorghum if your weed problem is a broadleaf. This
system allows for selective control of your weeds with chemical
herbicides without killing your target planting. See what I mean by
planning? More about selective herbicides later.
(3) Control Method (choose your weapon)
Competition or Chemicals. Many deer food plants are highly tolerant of
repeated mowing or cutting. These include clover, alfalfa, and trefoil.
You often can give your plants a good competitive edge by mowing, which
weakens or kills the weeds and stimulates regrowth of your target plant.
This won’t work, however, with peas, beans, or grain sorghum which do
not respond well to cutting.
By planning ahead, you can out-compete
your weeds using shade. For example, if your weed problem last year was
crabgrass, bermuda, or fescue, you can plow in early spring, let sit,
plow again and plant in grain sorghum or corn, which grow tall and shade
out these grasses. Broadcast rate is important here (5 lbs/acre grain
sorghum and 5 lbs/acre corn mixed or 10 lbs/acre grain sorghum by itsel
f). Plant variety is also important. For grain sorghum, use tall growing bird resistant varieties (not WGF) for best results.
all the options, however, chemicals are often the best choice for your
food plot. Chemicals are safe, when used correctly, effective,
inexpensive, and cut manpower and plowing tremendously. From this point
on, we’ll concentrate on chemicals.
(4) Getting Started With Chemicals.
you have to have some spraying equipment. Usually a garden type two or
three gallon sprayer won’t do it if your weed problem is fairly
extensive. You will quickly find yourself “under-gunned.” One possible
exception is spraying individual thistle plants or fescue clumpsin
cool-season plots. Roundup or 2,4-D can be used for this.
likely, if you are serious about food plots, you will need a spray rig
for a four-wheeler, pickup truck, or tractor. These are available in
electric or gas driven for four-wheelers and electric or PTO driven for
tractors. Boom type sprayers with fan nozzles are usually better than
rainbow type sprayers. Sprayers range in price from $150 to $2,000,
depending on features.
If you have big fields with good access, you
may be able to hire your spraying by truck from a local farm
cooperative, seed dealer, or farmer.
(5) What Chemicals to Use.
are hundreds of herbicides on the market. For purposes of this article,
we’ll concentrate on three—Roundup®, Poast®, and 2,4-D. Roundup kills a
broad range of both grasses and broadleaves. Its best use is to control
unwanted vegetation prior to the use of a grain drill. With Roundup and
a no-till grain drill, you can just about get rid of your disk harrows,
or plows. This time of year, spray Roundup and drill grain sorghum,
peas, jointvetch, or alyceclover. If no drill is available, spray, wait
two weeks, plow and plant. Although the Roundup will kill all germinated
plants it contacts, the plowing will likely germinate a new crop of
weed seeds (probably reduced in number from the previous crop).
is a grass selective herbicide that basically kills most grasses but no
broadleafs. So, if we are still standing in our food plot in June or
July and the plot is a broadleaved perennial like alfalfa, clover, or
trefoil being invaded with crabgrass, johnsongrass, bermuda, or fescue,
then Poast is our weapon. Even new annual broadleaf plantings of peas,
beans, clover, or jointvetch are candidates for Poast which must be
mixed with a crop oil concentrate for best results. This is where last
year’s planning pays off. If this plot had problems with crabgrass or
johnsongrass last year, plow repeatedly and plant a broadleaf. When the
noxious grass reemerges, spray with Poast for the knockout punch.
Whichever scenario, if the noxious grasses are over six inches tall,
mow, wait a week or two, and then spray the regrowth.
2,4-D is a
broadleaf killer that has been around under many brand names for several
years. It will not kill grasses. Grain sorghum infested with
coffeeweed, ragweed, jimsonweed, morning glory, or any other broadleaf
qualifies for 2,4-D application. Grain sorghum is a little sensitive to
2,4-D, so read the label carefully. Atrazine is a great herbicide for
grain sorghum or corn, but is a controlled chemical requiring a private
pesticide applicator’s license. 2,4-D, Poast, and Roundup are all
available over the counter with no license required.
(6) Read The Label.
cannot be emphasized enough. Do not apply any more chemical than the
label directs! Use at least 20 to 30 gallons of water per acre for best
coverage and effective kills. Do not mix herbicides unless it
specifically states this on the label. Carefully calibrate your spraying
equipment (your agriculture extension service can help with this) and
carefully measure your food plot acreage. I have seen many half-acre
were eyeball estimated to be one acre, thus doubling
fertilizer, seed rates, spray rates, and everything. It is a good way to
waste money and reduce efficiency. Poast always needs to be mixed with
crop oil concentrate, while Roundup and 2,4-D sometimes need to be mixed
with surfactants. Read the labels.
(7) Timing is Everything.
weeds are more vulnerable to chemicals when they are young and
vigorously growing. Do not spray when plants are wet or when rain is
expected within 24-48 hours. Do not spray when it is windy as drift will
render spraying ineffective and can be harmful to the applicator.
Again, when weed growth exceeds four to six inches, mow, wait one to two
weeks and spray regrowth. Do not spray during an extended drought, weed
control is ineffective and valuable crop species may be injured or
herbicides are a safe, effective tool to manage weeds in food plots.
Once necessary equipment is obtained, effective chemical applications
can be made for $15-$50 per acre. Counting equipment and manpower costs,
you cannot plow any cheaper and every time you plow, you will germinate
a new crop of weed seeds to compete with your deer plants. The best of
all worlds would be herbicides followed by no-till drilling. Fewer weeds
are germinated, soil erosion is greatly reduced, and seed placement is
precise. Drilled plots can even be treated selectively with herbicides
later as needed for final control. By using chemicals, we have
maintained vigorous ladino clover stands for five to ten years without
replanting. This is really getting efficient and cost-effective. You,
too, can win the weed wars by careful planning and judicious use of
chemicals. The results will surprise you. Note: There are hundreds of
other herbicides that can be used effectively on deer food plots. The
three above were featured because of familiarity, name recognition, low
toxicity, easy obtainability. and widespread use. Check with your
agriculture extension agent for further information.
Topics we will soon be covering:
Disc, Drag OR Plow:
Innovative Plot Designs:
Annual OR Perennial:
Seed Planting Depth: