North-South plot directional location: if you have the ability to plan the longest part of your food plot to run in a north-south direction you will not experience dry and drought situations caused by the hot afternoon sun of summer’s heat.
Foodplot Shape: Although square and rectangular plots are easy to prepare plant and maintain, irregular shapes such as inside “L’s”, boomerang and hourglass designs are much more appealing to deer use and offer many choices for hunting set-ups. Large open plots don’t offer the feeling of protection that smaller plots with cover near by do.
Wind Direction planning: when planning your foodplots and your hunting layout. Give predominate and cold front wind directions some serious thought consideration. I can tell you from experience that once a food plot is in existence and if you have to walk past it from an upwind direction you will find yourself “bumping” deer. If you can plan your entrance and exit paths of your hunting areas with the wind directions in mind you will be one up on hunting un-disturbed deer.
Planting and Preparation Considerations:
Soil Test: I can not stress enough how important this step in preparing your food plot is to its success and longevity. You can contact your county’s soil extension office and request a soil test kit for each of your planed food plot locations. Not only will you find out what your soils ph level is and what’s needed to be done to correct it, but you will also receive information on the existing soils nutrient levels and this will aide you greatly in selecting your fertilizer and achieving your goals without a big waste in your time and money.
PH level: Generally around this area most of your soils will test less that the desired “neutral” range in the preferred 7.0 ph level. It is recommended that a ph level of 6.5-7.0 be reached for optimum performance of your food plots seedlings. The closer to 7.0 your soil is the more efficiently your plants will utilize the nutrients in your soil, be they existing or added by some form of fertilizer.
Fertilizer Considerations: Most clover and forbs planted for deer and turkey are Legumes; therefore a low nitrogen fertilizer such as 6-24-24 is a good choice for establishing your foodplot. Once you get your soil test back it will inform you of the proper amounts of nutrients that you will need to correct in order to successfully grow and maintain a thriving wildlife food plot. In some cases you may need to do some calling around to find fertilizers that are not that common, such as a 0-40-60 or a 10-28-36.
Remove the ground debris: Mow/brush-hog the plot area, consider a controlled burn if it is located in an area of tall grasses and weeds. If after mowing and there is large amounts of trash and leaves and sticks, rake as much as you can to clear the ground for the next step.
First Herbicide application: As soon as the first spring green up occurs and grasses and weeds are 4-6 inches tall and daytime air temperatures are in the 60’s than this is when you spray with (round-up or equal). Wait ten days to two weeks for everything to become burned-off and brown/dead.
Working the soil: Now that your herbicide has done its job its time to disk/till your soil wait until your soil is not too dry but not too moist, if you can squeeze a handful of soil and it doesn’t stay clumped up then it’s ready to prepare. This is a great time to apply your lime and fertilizer, the disking will be sure to incorporate it deep enough into your soil to be beneficial to your seeds when they germinate.
Second Herbicide application: You have waited for the dormant weed seeds that were in your soil as you were disking/tilling your plot to sprout and grow up 2-4 inches. You now want to repeat the Round-up application: this is the secret to having an awesome food plot that will be virtually weed and grass free its first couple of growing seasons. Many try to skip this step, but if you follow this you will be gad you did. Your plot will have far less problems with invasive weeds and grasses. Again as before once it is burned-off and dead come back and lightly disk/till.
Broadcasting: Depending on what seed product you have selected you need to check and find out what the recommended seeding rate that’s required for broadcasting. Our spring and fall blends are comprised of small tiny seeds as are most clover varieties. Therefore an application rate of 12-14 pounds per acre is a good rule of thumb for perennials. Whether you’re using a tow behind spinner a hand held cranking devise or using the old hand seeding method you do need to try and set your speed and amount of seed to match your recommended application rates. This sometimes becomes a little tricky, but seeding lighter is better than too much seed and finding you’ve run out and you’re only halfway through. You can always go back and add more seed to areas you think are a little thin or light in coverage.
Seed to soil contact: After finishing your seeding now you want to use a light drag or short tooth harrow to drag over your seed bed and cover with a light shallow amount of soil. These clover seeds are small, so you only need 3/8 to ½ inch of soil coverage, don’t cover them too deeply or they won’t be able to make up through the soil. If you don’t have a harrow an old section of fence with a couple of logs and or 4 x 4’s strapped on top will make a pretty good drag to cover the seeds with soil. This step is VERY important seed to soil contact is imperative in germinating seeds; they need to gather moisture from the ground. (When preparing your food plot remove as many rocks as possible, drag with a harrow or equal to knock off the high spots and fill in the holes and depressions-The closer you have your plot to as smooth as your yard the easier it will be to mow and add fertilizer each season.)
Culti-pac and/or roll your seedbed: Use a lawn roller or a smaller culti-packer to lightly compress the soil bed this will ensure the seed to soil contact that is essential in having a highly successful foodplot. You can also drive over your plot using your tires to compact your soil also; this just takes a long time.
Pray for rain: I know with time in short supply and most of us doing this kind of work on weekends it’s not always possible to plant before an approaching rain is predicted, I have been lucky and timed it so right that as I was finishing I was getting rained on, other times I planted according to the weather reports and waited weeks before a decent rain. Without rain seeds just don’t germinate well sometime you may have enough moisture in the soil to germinate the seeds, but the seedlings will soon need and good drink shortly after emerging.
Mowing: Mow your plot once you see it’s up a foot or more, mow to a height of 3-6 inches depending your mower/brush hog set up. Caution…..don’t mow when your plot is experiencing a hot summer drought, this can damage your plot. Each time you mow you will create a “new” nutrition window in your plot; new young growths are very high in protein and highly attractive to your wildlife. Do not mow annuals this mowing guide is intended for perennial clover blends.
Fertilizer and Lime:
Seasonal applications of lime if needed and fertilizer will provide the sweetness to make your food plot the one the deer will prefer as fall approaches I normally lime and fertilize established plots in mid September.