Planting late is better than not planting at all.
Early fall is upon us here in the South and that familiar smell and feel to the air just gets your blood moving a little faster.
Some guys are running behind on getting their food plots planted for the fall because of weather, work, and all the other things that get in the way of getting down to the farm. There is still time to get some last minute food for your wildlife planted.
“Cool season plantings such as oats, triticale, winter peas, and annual clovers can come up fast with proper moisture and provide great early-season attraction.”
Cool season plantings such as oats, triticale, winter peas, and annual clovers can come up fast with proper moisture and provide great early-season attraction. Plantings in the brassica family, including rapes, turnips and radishes are great for mid- to late-season attraction. Blends that include multiple cultivars can be very effective for an all-season plot.
I have grown very fond of using a cool-season cereal grain like oats or triticale at about ¾ rate and adding radishes at ¼ to a ½ rate. In pounds per acre, this translates to 65- to 75-pounds of grains and three- to five-pounds of radishes per acre.
This has proven to be a deadly combination for a southern killing plot.
Seed Bed Preparation
Seed bed preparation is extremely important in growing successful food plots. Many planting failures can be attributed to poor seedling survival or lack of germination due to incorrect planting depth and poor seedbed prep.
This is especially critical when planting small seeds such as clover, chicory, brassicas, or alfalfa. These seeds need a covering of no more than ¼ inch of soil. Oftentimes, when plots are disked or tilled, the seedbed is left fluffy and is not conducive for small seeds to germinate.
Many times when small seeds are broadcast onto a very finely disked and fluffy seed bed, even a moderately heavy rain causes some seeds to be buried too deeply and results in an uneven stand.
Ideally, when planting smaller seeds, fields should be cultipacked after disking or tilling to firm the seedbed up. Seed can then be broadcast. And for the best seed-to-soil contact, fields can then be cultipacked again.
This process creates a great environment for seedling survival by incorporating the seed at the proper depth. Cultipacking also allows moisture to move through the soil profile properly and keeps moisture around the seed as it germinates.
Leaving a seedbed unpacked and full of air space allows the soil to dry out much more rapidly and increases the chance of plot failure.
Fertilizing Food Plots
When consulting on properties and answering emails, a question I get so often is “What kind of fertilizer do I need to use on my plots?”
That is a loaded question and one with a lot of variables. There is no substitute for an up-to-date soil test that gives pH and nutrient levels. Adding agricultural lime to neutralize the acidity of the soil is an often overlooked step but one that is a major factor in growing good crops.
For example, a soil with a pH level of 5.0 is 100 times more acidic than one at 6.0. At a level of 5.0, 60-70% of the fertilizer added is unusable by the plants. Not only will food plot crops grow better in a less-acidic soil, deer will also utilize the crops better due to a better tasting plant.
For most all food plot crops—both warm and cool season—a pH of 6.2 to 7.0 is ideal.
Many hunting clubs and individuals work on a pretty tight budget when it comes to planting food plots. When soil tests reveal a low pH level, money is much better spent on getting the appropriate amount of lime added to the soil rather than more fertilizer.