How To Plant Spring Food Plots With 4 Steps
Food plots are a very welcomed and important tool that year in and year out, helps hunters find success. Food plots offer game species such as deer and turkeys supplemental forage opportunities and can greatly help in attracting and holding more game species throughout the year. While the concept of a food plot is rather simple, the science, planning, researching, and planting that lies behind the simple install of the food plot has caused some hunters to become part hunter, part biologist, and part farmer. The spring months provide hunters their first opportunity to begin installing their food plots, which in turn offer much more than just the benefits of the coming fall, and when installed correctly can greatly improve your property, your deer, your deer hunting, and your success.
Why Spring Food Plots Are More Important Than Fall Food Plots
Spring food plots are a great addition to any property and can help lead you to success this fall. But spring food plots instead of fall food plots planted now can reap more benefits. Why? You have to consider what is happening from the start of May until the end of hunting season.
- Bucks are growing antlers
- Does are lactating
- Fawns are growing
Alone these considerations give you enough motivation to put out forage for whitetails during the spring. Other than that, key fall food sources such as standing beans and corn are planted now during spring, so getting your spring food plots correct can have multiple benefits past just hunting with your Hoyt Bow in the fall. Supplemental feeding and mineral attractants like Big & J Attractants go a long way, but spring food plots can supply tons of forage and opportunities for you before deer season. They offer great spots to hang Bushnell Trail Cameras over, scout during the summer for velvet bucks, and they start creating centers for deer activity over the summer. Overall planting spring food plots is a 4 step approach that requires a lot more time than just planting the food plot, but can offer countless benefits for you and your deer herd.
Step 1: Make a Plan
The most important step in any project is to have a good plan, and installing food plots is not any different. It is important to know exactly what your goals are ahead of time and what you are specifically hoping to achieve by planting the food plot.
- Is your goal to hold more deer year round, or are you only interested in holding more deer during a specific part of the year?
- Are you interested in forages that will benefit multiple game species such as turkeys and possibly quail?
- How does the layout of the food plot impact your ability to access and hunt the area?
These are all important questions that you as the hunter need to spend some time answering before you ever turn the soil over.
Once you have your goals and objectives in mind, then it is time to get started, and that still doesn’t even mean planting seed! You first need to determine where you want to plant your food plot. Great Apps like HuntStand.com can help you map out your property, deer movement, bedding areas, stand locations, and can help you visualize where spring food plots make sense.
Once you know where you are going to install your food plot, you then need to confirm what is currently there. This will help you determine the proper tillage and/or herbicide treatment that you will need to kill the existing vegetation and begin establishing your food plot. Understanding how much work needs to go into preparing the seed bed will help you determine how much tillage time is needed and will help you estimate fuel expenses if you planning to use a tractor or ATV. Also, it will help you estimate additional costs such as herbicides, which can be a very important step in preparing and maintain a food plot throughout the growing season. Additionally, having the ability to estimate acres by either staking and measuring with a measuring wheel or drawing using a program such as google earth or google maps can help you closely estimate seed cost. Food plots, while very beneficial to the deer hunter or turkey hunter can sometimes require a substantial cost and time commitment. It is important to know exactly what you are getting into before you get started, as it is often easier to make adjustments at the beginning than halfway through the process.
Step 2: Preparing the Seed Bed
Now that you have done your homework and have your game plan put together, it is finally time to get dirty! Preparing the seed bed through tillage and/or herbicide burn down can be a very fulfilling and rewarding activity that really starts painting the picture of what the final product may look like. To start have a prepared seed bed, with good weed control measures in place. After this there is one critical step that is often missed, that should occur before you ever put a blade in the ground, and that is a soil test.
If you want to have a lush and fruitful food plot in the fall, then it is critically important to know what the current state of your soil is. Soil tests are very easy to complete and are very inexpensive and yet can help make all the difference in the outcome of your spring food plots. Soil tests can be completed by your local Ag Coop for minimal expense and will let you know if you need to add soil amendments such as lime or others such as Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K).
Once you have determined what soil amendments are needed, then it is time to begin preparing the seed bed in preparation for planting. Once the soil has been tilled or disked and the existing vegetation is addressed, then it’s time to add your fertilizer and get the seed in the ground. If you find the existing vegetation hard to address, and you are unable to break the sod you can utilize both mowing and a prescribed burn of the existing vegetation to help address this issue.
Step 3: Selecting your Seed
Probably the most exciting and fun part of planning your spring food plot is determining exactly what you are going to plant. Making these decisions is based on a couple of factors; the first is the time of year. With spring food plots, you are keying in on suite of plants and cereal grains that will be established and germinated by late summer or early fall. This may be grains such as corn or soybeans, which are annual forages that will persist throughout the fall and winter but will need to be replanted the following spring. You may also look at perennial forages such as clovers, which can be established over the spring months and will persist throughout the years with only a little maintenance mowing and occasional herbicide treatment applied to keep the competition down.
Selecting the right seed for the situation is a very important part of the food plot process so be sure to take some time to make sure you are making the right choice. Also consider the maintenance factor as well. Species like clovers are great for early fall deer hunts and early spring turkey hunts but will lose their effectiveness when the weather turns cold. Species such as soybeans can be an excellent early and late season food source of forage for deer and turkeys but can be hard to maintain, without the proper equipment. These are all questions that you need to work through prior to selecting your seed.
Step 4: Follow Up
Hands down, follow up is the missed step in establishing spring food plots and will lead to more failed plantings this summer than anything else. Many who establish food plots will think the job is done once the seed is in the ground, when the reality is it is just beginning. Weed competition and browsing by wildlife can cause a planting to fail more than anything, and it is important that you do your best to keep an eye on the food plot and head off any issue before they take hold.
While the food plots may be planted as a source of forage for deer, in areas with high deer densitites they can nip off the sprouts before they ever have a chance to fully mature. If you find yourself in this situation, employing the use of a solar powered electric fence can help to ensure your food plot meets its full potential. These fences can be put up and taken down very easily and can make all the difference in the world.
Weed competition can be a killer on your spring food plots. If you select a grain such as corn or soybeans for your spring food plots, spend the extra money for the treated variety such as roundup ready. This will ensure you have the ability to treat the growing seed with a glyphosate based product and limit the amount of weed competition in the stand.
Spring food plots are a great addition to any property and can help lead you to success this fall. While there is certainly a time and financial commitment involved, these additions to your property will allow you to hold and grow more wildlife year in and year out!