There is no doubt that food plots are a great way to attract deer to a certain location.
The benefit for the deer of course is that it offers a source of palatable nutrition, and supplements the natural forage that is available. The benefit for you is that it allows you a better chance to hold the deer in your area, giving you the opportunity to observe them and hopefully have the opportunity for a successful harvest.
Food plots; however, can also be the source of frustration and disappointment for many outdoor enthusiast.
Knowing the time, money, and sweat that went into establishing the food plot only for it not to produce the desired effect can be very discouraging come hunting season.
Having the right equipment can play a role in how easy it is for you to plant, but having the right knowledge will determine the success of what you plant.
Just as there is more to deer management than just pulling the trigger, there is more to planting a food plot than just scattering some seed around.
Producing a successful food plot for deer is within your grasp if you will avoid these common mistakes.
1. PLANTING IN THE WRONG AREA
Not all land is created equal. Just because soil is present doesn’t mean that area was intended to grow lush green vegetation. There is no sense in spending time and money on trying to get the soil to grow something it was never intended to grow.
It is wise to consider a few variables before deciding where you want to plant.
What type of soil does it have – sand, loam, or clay? How much sunlight does it get? Does it drain well, or does it hold water? Is it easily accessible? Asking yourself these questions can help you determine the best location for your food plot as well as what type of seed you may want to plant.
If you are dealing with a small property and there isn’t an ideal place to plant a food plot, don’t get discouraged. Instead, focus your efforts on enhancing the natural vegetation preferred by deer that is already available.
2. PLANTING IN INFERTILE OR ACIDIC SOIL
Not all soil is created equal. Infertile or acidic soil is one of the primary reasons food plots fail, and ironically one of the easiest to avoid.
Knowing the condition of the soil where you want to plant will help you know better how to treat it before you spread the seed.
The pH level and lack of macronutrients of your soil can be easily determined by taking soil samples and having a soil test done. This inexpensive test will give you recommendations on the amount of lime and fertilizer needed for your food plot to be most productive.
The pH balance in soil varies even across the landscape of your property, and can change from year to year depending on soil use and the amount of leaching of nutrients during the year.
Having a soil test done may be a step that requires a little more time, but the pay off can be huge. It can make the difference between a successful plot that is attracting deer, or a source of frustration and disappointment during your hunting season.
It doesn’t matter what type of seed you spread, if the levels in your soil are off then you are going to have a hard time getting what you plant to grow, despite your best efforts.
There is more to growing a green lush food plot than just plowing the dirt and spreading the seed. A single soil test can be the key to your success.
Most states offer this testing through a university. Check with you local extension office to find out more information. For those of you here in the East Texas area I recommend using the soil analysis from the Soils Lab at Stephen F. Austin State University Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture.
3. PLANTING THE WRONG SEED
Not all seed is created equal. If your criteria for choosing what to plant is determined by the big the buck on the bag or the weekly sale at the feed store, then you are leaving a lot to chance.
Different seed requires different conditions. Some seed mixes may require mostly sunlight and grow better in a sandy soil, while others may be more shade tolerant and do well in a clay soil. Others seeds; however, are drought tolerant and some perform better in freezing temperatures.
Knowing what to plant in your area for maximum benefit may require a little research but again it will pay off in the long run.
Knowing the answers to the questions in Step 1, testing your soil as suggested in Step 2, and then understanding the recommended conditions of the seed you want to plant can save you a lot of time and trouble.
Deer are attracted to a variety of plants and vegetation, so plant what will do well in your conditions and you will attract the wildlife in your area as well as provide adequate nutrition.
4. PLANTING IN AN UNPREPPED SEEDBED
An unprepped seedbed can be the detriment to a well thought out food plot. This can result not only in stunted growth of the seed, but it can also keep seeds from emerging, or can encourage vegetative competition that eventually chokes out the plants.
The first step to a well prepared seedbed is properly treating the area by spraying with a herbicide to prevent unwanted vegetation. It is critical to know what type and how much herbicide to use depending on what competition you are targeting and what seed you intend to plant.
Once you have sprayed your food plot area and have given it a couple of weeks to take affect, then the next step is to disk.
If you plan to use a seed spreader then disking the soil is a must. If you plan to use a no till drill, then you can skip the disking and get right to planting.
Disking removes debris from the top layer of the soil that can prevent seeds from emerging, helps eliminate any additional vegetative competition, and incorporates nutritious organic matter into the root zone.
Depending on the location and type of soil you are dealing with, you may have to go over the area more than once. Once you have a well prepped seedbed that is clear of debris and unwanted vegetation, and is clean aerated soil – now you may plant your seed.
5. PLANTING AT THE WRONG SEED DEPTH
You can be careful to avoid the first 4 mistakes, but if you make this last mistake then all your efforts will be in vain. Planting at the wrong seed depth will almost ensure a food plot fail.
After you have spread your seed, disking over the area again will bury the seed. Most seed mixes recommend a planting depth of 1″ to 1.5″ deep. You will want to make sure the implements that you are using are set to the correct planting depth. Using a drag behind the disk eliminates dirt clods and gives you an even planting depth throughout your food plot.
Planting too shallow will cause the seed to emerge but then die. Seeing those tiny green sprouts is enough to give you a sense of satisfaction, but if the seed isn’t planted deep enough it can’t take root, and that satisfaction soon turns to disappointment.
Planting too deep will cause the seed not to emerge at all. This can leave you doubting the quality of seed you purchased, or trying to retrace your steps to see where you went wrong. Again, another huge source of frustration and disappointment.
Planting at the wrong seed depth is a mistake that can nullify your efforts to avoid the other common mistakes.
Planting can be intimidating for several reason, but having the right knowledge can help you get the best start. Avoiding these mistakes may take a little extra time and effort, but they will save you big in frustration and disappointment.
Question: Which of these mistakes have you made in the past and what did you learn from it, or what will you do different in the future?