By Josh Boyd
With springtime fast approaching, few tasks are as pronounced within the minds of avid habitat managers as the planting of food plots. Spring food plots are nutritious and attractive to does and their soon to be born fawns, as well as bucks that will be rapidly growing new antlers for the fall to come.
Seemingly every photograph that exists in both print and digital media depict lush, wholesome stands of clover as far as the eye can see. These renderings of grandeur often give the average hunter the impression that by simply tilling and seeding a field, results of this nature are standard.
However, this simply couldn’t be any further from the truth. On the contrary, nearly as many spring food plots fail to live up to the expectations of the habitat manager who plant them, as those that do. This leads to a myriad of questions on a yearly basis regarding what went wrong and why efforts to cultivate a quality food plot failed.
When asked why spring food plots fail with a certain degree of regularity, University of Kentucky Agricultural Extension Agent, Adam Huber cited a number of factors that are often to blame. Huber is no stranger to food plots himself. Aside from his tenure as an Agricultural Extension agent, Huber is an avid habitat manager and the host of River Country Outdoors.
Lack of Soil Testing
Among Huber’s list of spring food plot oversights that many habitat manager’s plots fall victim to, is a lack of soil testing. Soil testing is used to analyze the pH balance and nutrient content of the soil into which you will be seeding. If the state of the soil within your food plot is not as it should be, you will be fighting an uphill battle.
“Soil testing is key in any food plot, and you must know the nutrient needs of your soil before planting,” said Huber. Soil sample kits are available through agricultural extension offices in a number of states, and after a brief waiting period, you will be supplied with the needed information to give your soil the assistance that it is in need of.
Failure To Adhere To Planting Dates
Another mistake that Adam Huber says he witnesses quite commonly is a lack of adherence to provided planting dates. “When planting spring or fall plots, sometimes folks forget to check the planting dates for species they are planting, and end up planting cool-season species too late into the spring and planting warm-season species too early,” said Huber.
Adam also gave a word of advice as to when certain varieties of seed should be planted in the bulk of the nation’s regions. “Cool-season species should not be planted after mid-March, and warm-season species should not be planted until at least mid-April, depending on what you are planting,” he said.
Seeding At Incorrect Depths
Even if you have tested and prepared the soil of your plot, and chosen the correct time in which to plant, a failure to seed your plot to the correct depth can spell disaster. “Seeding depth is crucial for food plot success. Whether you are using the no-till method or conventional tillage, you should always check the seeding depth on the package of seed when it is planted,” Huber said in reference to the value of depth-specific seeding.
The depth at which you should plant seeds of a particular species can differ substantially, depending upon several variables. However, planting depths often run in parallel to the size of the seed that is to be planted.
When relaying ideal average planting depths Huber states, “As a rule of thumb, small seeds such as clover, turnip, and radish should be planted at ¼”-½” deep. Larger seeds such as soybeans, peas, corn, and sunflower should be planted at 1”-2” deep.”
Lack Of Food Plot Maintenance
In the majority of cases, if you simply plant a food plot only to return when opening day rolls around, you will be greeted by a stand of weeds where you had envisioned a lush, green plot to be. “If you are going to spend money and spend time preparing a food plot, it only makes sense to do routine maintenance. Depending on your food plot species, oftentimes just simply mowing food plots will reduce weed pressure, especially in clover plots,” says Huber.
Herbicides can also be used to much success when attempting to keep weeds at bay. Care must be taken to select a treatment that is best suited to the type of plot which you have planted. In regards to herbicide use, Huber states, “Using chemistry is a great way to control weeds also. Typically, to take care of grass weeds you would use Clethodim, and broadleaf weeds you would use 2,4-D.”
Failure To Consider Plot Size/Species Selection
Another often overlooked aspect of the cultivation of spring food plots is the size of the plot that is to be planted, in relation to the species that are intended to be planted within. If a species of plant for a particular plot is not carefully matched to the plot’s dimensions, the plot can be wiped clean of forage in short order.
“I sometimes hear people talk about wanting to plant soybeans for a food plot. Soybeans are a great nutritional, attractive option, but oftentimes planted in too small of an area.
When planting soybeans, you should first know your deer density. Soybeans shouldn’t be planted in less than 2-3 acre plots, especially in high deer density areas,” Huber says.
Averting A Food Plot Crisis
By avoiding these five costly food plot oversights this spring, you will be well on your way to the dense, rich food plot that you envision. While we cannot change the cards that nature deals in the way of rainfall, or a lack thereof, we can eliminate all unnecessary human error in order to turn our habitat management goals into reality. With a dose of hard work and a little luck, you will be watching as deer feed in earnest over the fruits of your labor.