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 balanced nutrition. It is not too late to plant food plots for both the early and late parts of this year’s season! The following 10 basic steps for planting food plots should serve as an easy guide for helping you to achieve this portion of the deer management goals you have set for your property:
Step #1: Choose the RIGHT 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 to bring the PH level into balance.
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 rare to your location to provide greater food source 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 first frost and others continue to grow even after heavy frosts. If you hunt in the early season, try planting clover, chicory, sugar beets, or soy beans. For your late season hunting plots, you should plant rye, winter wheat, winter peas, or turnips.
Step #4: Buy the Best Fertilizer for the Type of Seeds You Are Planting
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: Prep 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 if needed.
Step #10: Observe Deer Activity and Hunt Your Plots
Where and how you hunt your plot can be determined by monitoring the activity of deer at the plot. Placing a trail 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 even now, during the mid-to-late summer, can yield an increase in deer activity on your property in a few short months and can greatly increase your chances of reaching your harvest goals, especially in the later part of the season.
Shoot Straight, Be Safe, and Good Luck This Fall!