Planting a food plot is a great way to attract more deer to your hunting area while helping to provide them with a supplemental food source and more balanced nutrition. The following 10 basic steps for planting food plots should serve as an easy guide for helping to achieve this portion of the deer management goals you have set for your property:
Step 1: Choose a Location
There are many factors to consider when choosing a location for your food plot. The key is to identify a place that is both good for growing plants and is also strategically placed for your particular type of hunting setup, whether that be hunting out of a blind or a stand. Choose an area that is relatively flat, as sloped areas can present challenges when it comes to soil erosion and ease of equipment use. Look for areas that have greater top soil depths, are composed of a good and workable type of soil, get at least 5 hours of sunlight per day, and exhibit good drainage. Planting next to areas of thick cover or places where deer are known to bed can help to increase the amount of traffic to your plot.
Step 2: Test Your Soil
Before planting seed, you may need to apply lime and fertilizer to your soil to maximize the plant’s ability to obtain nutrients most efficiently. The best way to determine this is to have a sample of the soil at your chosen location tested to determine the PH level. Soil that is acidic may require the application of lime in order to bring the PH level into a more balanced state.
Step 3: Determine What You Will Plant
If you plan for the plot to be used year after year, you might want to plant varieties of seed that are perennials. If you will move your food plots from year to year consider planting annuals. Research what types of plants will thrive best in the growing zone in which you live. Consider the types of forage that already exist in the area and plant a type that is more rare, so as to provide a greater overall variety and attraction for the deer. Do you plan to hunt the plot in the early or late season? Certain varieties of plants will only live through the early fall and others continue to grow even after heavy frosts.
Step 4: Determine the Best Fertilizer to Use
If you purchase seed mix that has been formulated specifically for planting a food plot, follow the fertilizing recommendations on the packaging from the manufacturer. If you are buying bulk seed, seek out the advice of your local county agricultural board for the best type of fertilizer to use.
Step 5: Prepare the Plot
Mow any areas that have tall grasses or thick weeds and then clear away what was cut down. Next, remove the top layer of sod manually with a shovel or use a garden plow to break through the layer of sod and turn the ground over.
Step 6: Apply Lime and Fertilizer
Apply ample amounts of lime to the ground that you have turned over to reach the desired PH level. Keep in mind that it may require a large amount of lime to achieve the greatest alkalinity increase. Also, apply the fertilizer to the area, being sure to follow the guidelines for the volume to spread per square foot. You may want to allow weathering of the lime and fertilizer for a few days (especially if rain is expected) before breaking up the turned over ground.
Step 7: Break Up the Soil
Use a rototiller on smaller plots to break up the turned over soil and mix in the lime and fertilizer combination. On larger plots, a garden disc can be used to further break up the ground. Break the soil up as finely as possible to help ensure a high seed germination rate, and remove any remaining clumps of sod or rocks that have become exposed.
Step 8: Sow the Seed
Seed can be sown by hand on smaller plots, but for larger plots you may want to invest in a seed spreading attachment for your ATV or tractor. Spread seed at a volume based upon the recommended guidelines from the seed manufacturer or your county agricultural board.
Step 9: Maintain the Area
Proper maintenance after planting is essential for ensuring that the plot will reach the desired level of maturity. Keep an eye out for returning weed growth and remove any new weeds that appear, at least until your plants are large and thick enough to overpower and prevent continued weed growth. During excessively dry periods, you may need to water the area. Also, monitor soil fertility and apply another round of fertilizer later in the summer if needed.
Step 10: Observe Deer Activity and Hunt Your Plot
Where and how you hunt your plot can be determined by monitoring the activity of deer at the plot. Placing a game camera in the area will show you when, at what frequency, and from what direction the deer are coming. This information will help you to determine where to set up a blind or stand and what time of the day is best for hunting the location.
A small investment of time and money in building food plots throughout the late spring and summer months can yield an increase in deer activity on your property and can greatly increase your chances of reaching your harvest goals later in the fall.