How to prepare successful food plots for hunting and habitat improvements
What does it take to keep big game like whitetail deer thriving on your property?
Food plots are a major asset for landowners and wildlife managers because they provide increased nutrition and attraction to a property. A well-thought-out food plot program can provide high-quality food throughout the year, increasing herd health and wildlife diversity. While a green thumb might be good to have, proper planning and coordination will give your food plots a great start.
Here are a few things to consider when creating your food plot game plan:
Scout your land.
- What food resources does your property already have?
- Is there a lot of competition from hunters nearby?
- Are neighbors planting food plots that could benefit you or alter how deer travel through your land?
- Are there other surrounding food resources at certain times such as row crops, orchards, alfalfa/clover hay fields?
- How does your terrain affect how deer may travel and access your land and food plots?
- What region are you planting in and what are the ideal planting times for the crop you are looking to use?
Check out Mossy Oak Biologic's Guides and Tips to see what is recommended for your region.
Know your soil.
After deciding on where you would like to plant, soil samples should be taken. A soil sample will give you current pH levels as well as the status of your macronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Soil sampling takes the guesswork out of what your dirt does or doesn’t need to grow a successful food plot.
Mossy Oak Biologic's Soil Lab offers this testing with quick turn-around times, easy-to-read results, and detailed recommendations. Their results will be geared towards the crop that you plan on growing in the plot with recommendations for optimal growth.
Is your soil sandy, clay, or mixed? You can do a field test with a bit of water and soil. Apply the water to the soil and roll a ball of soil between your hands. The longer you can make it roll, the more clay is holding the soil together. Evaluate soil drainage by digging a 1 by 1-foot hole and refilling it with water. After 12 hours, refill the hole with water and see how much water drains away. Most water should drain between 2 and 3 hours. If the water sits for 10 or more hours or drains in less than 2 hours, it means that you have soil drainage issues that need correction.
Perform a pH test. Our recommendation is to visit your local Department of Agriculture site. In Georgia, we take our soil samples to UGA for the most reliable results.
Here are their guidelines for Georgia residents:
“Samples should be air-dried overnight. Dry samples on a flat surface lined with clean white paper. Take care to avoid contamination. After drying, transfer the sample to the soil sample bag and bring it to your local extension office.”
The Soil, Plant and Water Lab, University of Georgia, 2400 College Station Road, Athens, GA 30602-9105
Work your soil right!
Starting with great soil is a solid foundation for your success, but you need to make sure you can maintain it throughout the life of your plot. You should keep up to date with the best agricultural practices for working your soil.
The National Deer Association suggests No-Till Drilling versus Till and Broadcast method:
- Weed seed reintroduced
- Topsoil erosion
- Lack of moisture retention
- Retaining nutrients with cover crops
- Maintenance of beneficial organisms
- Earthworms mean good organic soil
- Cover Crops to prevent run runoff and maintain moisture/nutrients/microbes
Providing the best for your deer.
Whitetail deer consume a wide range of food sources, from white and red oak acorns to clover, cereal grains, brassicas, and corn. Planting and improving the diversity of food sources on your plot can separate your property from others.
Things can change for almost any reason, but one thing that’s certain is that you should be mindful of these potential issues once your plot gets going. You may need to keep deer from eating your plants too early. Deer repellants can be used to combat early consumption of food plots, a common issue in areas with high deer densities and smaller food plots.
You should monitor your plot regularly for unwanted species using a trail camera. Keep a log of any changes so that you're not caught off guard.
And remember, with Spartan Camera, you don't have to be there!
Contributors: Austin Delano from Mossy Oak and Kevin Warstadt
“Easy No-till Food Plots -- Whitetail Weekend Seminar.” Performance by Lindsay Thomas, YouTube, National Deer Association, 1 May 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XmXiXMjsts.
“Food Plot Planting Guide and Tips.” BioLogic, www.plantbiologic.com/pages/foodplotplantingtips.
“P2 - Food Plot Protector Kit - Deer Repellent System (1acre).” BioLogic, www.plantbiologic.com/products/p2-food-plot-protector-kit-deer-repellent-system.
“Soil Test.” BioLogic, www.plantbiologic.com/pages/soil-test
Sonon, Leticia S, and David E Kissel. “Turfgrass Fertility: Soil Texture, Organic Matter, Aeration, and PH.” University of Georgia Extension, 6 Oct. 2015,https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C896&title=Soil%20Testing%20for%20Home%20Lawns,%20Gardens%20and%20Wildlife%20Food%20Plots