Food Plot Mistakes You Should Avoid
It’s easy to think about sitting in a tree stand this fall, surrounded by deer eating in a lush green food plot. Unfortunately, many people just don’t have the time or resources to spend on food plots to achieve this dream. As a result, the food plots and the hunting over them are somewhere in the middle, a subpar plot with subpar attraction. Here are ten of the most common food plot mistakes that can result in a less than average plot. Avoid each of them with these deer food plot tips!
1. Not Doing a Soil Test
Though most of us know how important soil tests for food plots are, we still don’t do them. Whether we let it slip off our radar or just plain run out of time, it doesn’t get done for some reason or another. But neglecting to do one is leaving everything to chance. You could pick the perfect spot and food plot seed and have perfect growing conditions, but without knowing what nutrients your soil is missing, you would likely waste your opportunity. You can find a simple soil test kit at most fleet or sporting goods stores for a few bucks. Simply grab a few small scoops of soil from around your property and mix it up in a bucket. Add a small sample of this mixed soil to the envelope and send it in. It will tell you exactly what your nutrient levels are and recommend how much fertilizer to add for the perfect growing conditions. That way, you won’t waste money applying fertilizer you don’t need or not spread enough of it, which will limit your food plot growth.
2. Not Using Herbicide
One of the biggest food plot mistakes most people make is to not properly prepare the soil first. When you’re starting a food plot from scratch, you need to kill the other vegetation or it will just overwhelm the new food plot seeds as they germinate. While a no plow food plot or poor man’s food plot is definitely an option, you can’t expect a lush food plot to emerge if you scatter seed into a grassy field. If you’re wondering how to plant a food plot without a tractor, it’s still possible. But without heavy equipment, it can be really tricky to break through the sod. And even if you disc it really well, weed seeds will inevitably pop up again and start to take over your food plot. One of the best ways to combat the weeds is to spray herbicide on the plot first and give it time to work. A general glyphosate herbicide will kill everything it is sprayed on, which makes it a great option for new plots. Allow it to kill the plants for at least two weeks, and you’ll likely need to spray it a few times if spring rains persist.
3. Not Fertilizing and Liming
One of the first steps to planting a food plot is to fertilize and lime your plot. After your soil test comes back, you should know exactly what you need to apply to your food plot to get the best result. Plants can’t grow well without the right amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, or potash, not to mention dozens of other trace nutrients and minerals. The problem is that fertilizer is expensive, and you don’t want to add any more than you need to. Also, if your soil pH is off, applying food plot fertilizer actually won’t help you much because it can’t use the available fertilizer anyway. Since almost all soils are acidic, applying lime will raise the pH and increase the plant’s ability to absorb the fertilizer nutrients. Missing this step can be one of the biggest food plot mistakes you make!
4. Missing the Planting Window
You definitely need to know the best time to plant a food plot for deer. If you plant too early or late, the seeds will either germinate and die from frost or will sit there too long because it is too hot and there is not enough precipitation. Each species does better when planted at a certain time of the year. For example, annual species like corn and soybeans need a full growing season to reach maturity, while annual brassicas and turnips can be planted in the late summer and reach peak attractiveness in a couple months. Meanwhile, perennial clovers are better planted in the fall so they can start to establish their root systems and then expand the next year.
5. Planting the Wrong Species
Besides planting at the wrong time, one of the other food plot mistakes many people make is to plant the wrong thing. You need to make sure that the seed you choose will work for the spot you have. For example, if you were to plant corn, soybeans, or lablab in a tenth-acre kill plot, they would be overbrowsed with only a few deer present in a short time. On the other hand, perennial clovers or brassica seed can easily withstand browsing pressure even on small plots. Regardless, you should always plant the best food plot seed for the site.
6. Location, Location, Location
If you’re wondering how to keep deer on your property, food plots can be the magic bullet. But when you plant a food plot in the wrong spot, you don’t really benefit from it in any way. Sure, the deer can still eat it to fuel fawn development, antler growth, and bigger bodies, which is great if deer nutrition is one of your goals. But if it’s not in a location you can actually hunt, that might not achieve your goal for a fall hunting plot. Additionally, deer food plots in wooded areas can work, but you need to use the right seeds and preparation for densely shaded areas. Most species require at least some sunlight each day to grow well.
7. Wrong Planting Style
There are certain planting techniques that work better for different food plot species. Using the wrong style can cause your plants to either not grow well or not germinate at all, which are definitely food plot mistakes. The size of the seeds generally dictates how deep the seeds should be planted. Most small-seeded species (e.g., clover, brassicas, turnips, etc.) can simply be broadcasted onto the surface of the soil, and the rain will help cover the seed appropriately. If they’re planted too deeply, they likely won’t have the ability to push up through the dirt. Meanwhile, large seeds (e.g., corn, soybeans, etc.) should be drilled into the soil, or if broadcasted, they should be disked or cultipacked in to ensure they are planted at least 1 to 2 inches deep.
8. Not Maintaining Food Plots
Food plots take some effort to plant them – there’s no doubt about that. But if you just plant them and walk away, you may be throwing the towel in. Annual food plots may start to be invaded with weeds and perennial food plots can be outgrown. You can spot spray particularly aggressive weeds with herbicide. Mowing clover plots is one of the best things you can do, as it removes weeds and rejuvenates the clover. Bush Hog® has several good mowers for that purpose.
9. Hunting and Monitoring Them the Wrong Way
You can plant the best food plots in the best location and produce tons of food for deer, but if you routinely hunt right on the edge of them and bust deer off your plots each time you hunt, the deer will quickly start to use your plots only at night. Obviously, that won’t help you for hunting purposes. Instead, you can use Bushnell® trail cameras to keep tabs on the deer herd and only check them every few weeks. Or you can hunt the deer trails that lead to the food plot to avoid spooking deer repeatedly and condition them from not using the plot. This is even more important for food plots on small acreage.
10. Overthinking It
One of the biggest mistakes you can make though is to spend too much time thinking about it without any action. Food plots don’t last forever. Most of them only grow for a few months. With the way that life goes, you can blink and the summer is over already. So think about the process as an experiment. Try different options out and combine them with Big & J® mineral sites, water holes, or mock scrapes. Learn about what works on your property and apply your lessons learned to the next year. With some luck and planning, you can avoid these common food plot mistakes.