Tips for planting food plots for deer in adverse conditions.
If you have spent much time planting food plots for deer in the South, you know how tough the conditions can be sometimes.
Here in the South, the ideal planting time for cool season food plots coincides with three of the driest months of the year, August-October. Much of the country starts seeing the summer thunderstorms dry up around the first of August. With many landowners, hunting clubs, and outfitters planting in August and September, the conditions can be really dry.
The absence of rain in the forecast and soil moisture being almost non-existent means a lot of folks will have fields that are not up and growing until late fall. Not having a nice, lush, tender field to hunt over on opening day of bow season seems like the worst thing to some bow hunters.
But don’t give up yet. Planting food plots for deer late can be effective for attracting deer and also provide cold season nutrition.
If you run into a really dry planting season on your property, here are a few things to consider that will help you grow a successful field in adverse conditions.
Try to have your ground ready to disk or till but don’t turn the ground over until you have to. Even if the top few inches of dirt is dry, you can conserve valuable soil moisture five to 10 inches down by waiting to work your soil and broadcast seed just prior to a rain.
“Plots planted late can be effective for attracting deer and also provide cold season nutrition.”
Seeds that lay on top of the ground for extended periods of time without moisture can also lose their germination rate. If you are preparing to plant a field that is not currently in a crop but is fallow or full of weeds, burn the field ahead of time with a non-selective herbicide.
Planting food plots for deer late can be effective for attracting deer and also provide cold season nutrition. Multiple passes when tilling or repeated disking can steal valuable soil moisture from your fields. Being able to create a good seedbed in as little as one pass will go a long way in helping conserve soil moisture.
Broadcast planting, using a disk, field cultivator, or tiller box works great to create a good seed bed for maximum seed-to-soil contact. Using this equipment can sometimes leave you with a nice and smooth but “fluffy” seed bed.
This is when using a cultipacker or roller can really be advantageous for a couple of reasons. Cultipacking will firm your seed bed up and create great conditions for clovers, brassicas, chicory and other small seeds to be broadcast.
Using a cultipacker before and after broadcasting seed will create great seed-to-soil contact and help seal in any soil moisture that is present.
Using a no-till drill can also be a lifesaver when planting in dry fall conditions. A no-till drill can place wheat, oats, and triticale in the ground at just the right depth without turning the ground over and losing precious soil moisture.
Most drills disturb the ground just enough to make good seed-to-soil contact for small seeds such as clovers, chicory, or brassicas. I have had some very successful plots that were first drilled with oats and then broadcast a half-rate of a brassica blend (such as Maximum) over the top.
Even if the cold temperatures come a little early, you will have a good stand of cereal grains. If temperatures stay mild, your clovers or brassicas may have time to take off as well.
If a late planting is in order because of abnormally dry conditions, make sure you know what to expect out of the particular seeds you are putting in the ground during a potentially short growing season.
Cool season perennials that are planted late may produce very little above-ground growth. Perennials such as clovers and alfalfa will first build a good root system before it produces a lot of forage. It may be spring before you see these late perennial plantings come to life, so you need to be sure and plan for that ahead of time.
Cool season annuals like cereal grains, brassicas, winter peas, and annual clovers can produce great forage in a short period of time.
Split applications of fertilizer also tend to be very effective on later planted plots. A late-planted field that experiences some cold weather or frosts soon after germination can often benefit greatly from a secondary fertilizer application 30 to 45 days after germination.
This split application can really make your plots take off, especially if there is a warm spell in the fall. If Mother Nature cuts off the water hose this fall, use these tips to make the most out of your late planting food plots for deer.