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    Deer Food Plots in Seven Easy Steps

    Your step-by-step guide to maximize your food plot's potential

     

    Story and video by Antler King

     

    Planting food plots is the single most effective way of attracting, growing, and keeping deer on your property. When thinking about what and where to plant, you should strive to plant between five and ten percent of your total acreage with as much variety in plant species as possible. Also strive to have a spring, summer, fall, and winter food source on your property to keep your herd coming to your property year round.

     

    Although 5-10% of your property in food plots should be your goal, keep in mind that any amount of land you set aside for food plots will have a positive impact on your deer herd.

     

    Whether you have been planting for years or it is your first time, following these seven easy steps will ensure that you maximize your food plot potential.

    Step 1: Soil Testing

    After choosing an area that gets a generous amount of sunlight in any given day, the most important part of planting a food plot is taking a soil test. For the best growing results, a pH reading of 7.0 is desired, where a pH level of 5.5 may result in poor germination and stunted plant species.

    Take a soil test from different areas around your plot to get a good overall consensus of the soil composition.

    Step 2: Conditioning Soil and Eliminating Weeds

    Soil's pH   % Fertilizer Wasted

    4.57           1.34%

    5.05           3.67%

    5.53           2.68%

    6.01           9.67%

    7.00           10.0%

    If there are existing weeds in your future plot area, it is important to eliminate them with the use of a glyphosate chemical such as RoundUp.

    Prior to planting, it is not necessary to spray weed killer in a newly graded area or an area that does not have weeds. Instead, spray a soil conditioner. Doing so will help maximize your food plot performance.

    Step 3: Liming / Adding pH to Soil

    Liming raises the pH in your soil, which allows plant to fully utilize the fertilizer that you spread on your plot. Although it may take several tons of lime to raise the soil to a desired pH, you may not have to add lime again for many years.

    Lime comes in different forms: agricultural lime, which is delivered in bulk, and pelletized lime, which comes in bags.

    Once the pH reading reaches 7.0, you have created the perfect environment for plants to thrive.

    Step 4: Fertilizing

    Prior to tilling, you will want to spread fertilizer, which provides food for proper root development and continued growth. After plants emerge, a foliar fertilizer can be used to supply plants with food and promote continued growth. This will maximize the tonnage of forage on your plot.

    Fertilizer bags have three number sequences. The first number stands for the amount of Nitrogen in the bag, the second number stands for Phosphorus, and the third number stands for Potassium.

    Step 5: Proper Tilling

    Tilling is necessary to work the lime, fertilizer, and soil conditioner into the soil. Proper tilling with the use of implements such as disc, roto-tiller or harrow, will work up the top 4 to 8 inches of soil. This creates a perfect seed bed to allow more seeds to germinate, creating maximum tonnage on your plot.

    Step 6: Seeding Your Plot

    For smaller seeds, it is best to culti-pack or roll your plot. Doing this will create a firm seed bed. Next, broadcast your seed and culti-pack or roll again, which creates proper seed-to-soil contact. Small seeds need to be less than a quarter of an inch deep when planted.

    For larger seeds, use a planter, a drill, or a pull-behind spreader to dispense the seeds. Then drag the seeds to lightly cover them. Plant these seeds up to ½" deep.

    Step 7: Maintaining Your Food Plot

    Your food plot will get a lot of grazing pressure from the resident deer herd. As long as you can maintain enough forage on your plot, you will continue to attract deer to your plot and keep them on your property. Using a liquid fertilizer is a simple and effective way to provide food to ensure continued growth.

    To maximize tonnage on your food plot, wait until the plants are at least three inches high, and then apply a liquid fertilizer every three to four weeks.

    Helpful Hints: Fall Planting

    In the Midwest, the best time to plant a fall food plot consisting of Brassicas usually would be during the months of July and August. This ensures that the plants can become established and achieve their full potential before a killing frost. If you are looking to plant a clover, rye, chicory, alfalfa, wheat, or winter pea plot, the months of August and September would be an excellent time to plant. These plants will grow very fast and will be able to establish themselves before a frost.

    Keep in mind when planting in the fall, it is usually pretty dry. Try to keep an eye on weather and time planting right before a rain.

    If you are planting a fall food plot, you will want to spread the necessary amount of lime prior to tilling. This is not only beneficial to your fall food plot, but it is also very beneficial to your spring food plot as well. Raising your pH is not an overnight process. Lime takes a variable amount of time to break down and react in the soil. The amount of time depends on how much rain you get and what type of lime you use. As a general rule of thumb, pelletized lime will break down faster, but you will have to lime more often than you would if you use an agricultural lime. By spreading lime in the fall, you give your soil all winter to break down the lime.

    If you are not planning on putting in a fall plot, but would like to use the same area to create a spring plot, it would be beneficial to spray with RoundUp in the fall. This kills everything off and lets the plant matter break down in to usable organic material over the winter. Come spring, your soil will be easier to till up and be much more fertile. Good luck!

    Food Plots: Questions & Answers

    Why do I need to take a soil test and what is the most important part of the soil test?
    A soil test will give you the current state of nutrients in the soil that you plan on using for a food plot. The most important component of the soil test is the pH level. The pH level in the soil will indicate the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. For the most part, everything that we want to plant for deer will grow the best at a neutral pH of 7.0, so that should be your goal when testing your soil. Many of the plants we want to grow for deer simply cannot germinate and thrive in low pH soils. If pH testing is ignored before planting and you see poor-to-no results, it could certainly be that the pH is too low for these plants.

    How often do I need to spread lime? Can I just spread it on top of the soil without tilling it into the ground?
    Your pH test will tell you how much lime to add. Be prepared to add several tons of lime. Generally, it will take several tons per acre of lime to raise the pH and once you spread the proper amount of lime to raise the pH to a 7.0, you may not have to add lime again for 5 years or more. When the time comes for more lime to be added, it probably won't be as much as the initial amount. Lime needs to be tilled into the ground. Lime sitting on top of the ground can blow away or take virtually forever to wash into the soil and raise the pH.

    How soon in the spring can I spray RoundUp and how long do I have to wait after I spray RoundUp before I can start tilling the soil?
    The #1 thing to remember and consider when applying RoundUp is that it is a "contact killer." In theory, it will kill all plants that it is sprayed on. It is important to make sure you wait until all of the weeds have emerged in the spring before your spray RoundUp or other "contact killers." If you get anxious and spray before many weeds have emerged, you will not kill those weeds that are still growing below ground, and you will have to deal with them later in your plots. Make sure to wait 5 to 7 days after spraying RoundUp before starting to till the plots.

    WARNING: The feeding and baiting of wild deer is prohibited in some regions. Consult local laws and regulations before creating a food plot.