Six Reasons Fall Food Plots Fail | Great Days Outdoors

Six Reasons Fall Food Plots Fail

Each fall, prior to hunting season, hunters and landowners set out to plant food plots. In recent years the practice has become popular. More and more of these greenfields are dotting the landscape across hunting lands. Deer hunters have realized the importance of providing quality food for deer and other wildlife and knowing when to plant fall food plots for deer is valuable information.

Seed and equipment manufacturers have tailored their products to assist deer managers in creating successful food plots. Certain seed blends and specialized fertilizers are part of the recipe to ensure top-notch food plots. However, certain items on the recipe are neglected or overlooked.


when to plant fall food plots for deer

Food plots should be large enough to provide plenty of forage for the specific area to prevent overgrazing.



Despite the best efforts of deer hunters and landowners, food plots fail. Certain factors, like the weather or rainfall, can’t be controlled.  But there are some steps deer managers can take to avoid food plot failures and get the deer season started in the right direction.


Choosing the Wrong Location

Just as it is critical in real estate, it is also important for fall food plots and location can be everything.  Deer food plot planters should consider the location and size of the plot.  If the selected location does not receive enough sunlight the plants won’t grow. Tall trees or brush near the edges of the plot will result in diminished or null plant growth.



when to plant fall food plots for deer

Select a proper location for a food plot to give it a chance to succeed.


The soil type may not be conducive for a food plot. Hunters should try to choose an area where there is good soil. Granted, on some land leases, plots may not be allowed just anywhere on the property.

The size of the plot is another factor to consider helping prevent a failure. If a plot is too small, even with a good plant growth, the deer can overgraze the plot and kill it. Even before it has a chance to get started.


Not Performing a Soil Test

A soil test is probably the single most important factor in preventing fall food plot failure. The results of a soil test can save deer managers money and heartache in the long run. The test will indicate the amount of fertilizer and lime needed for optimum plant growth.


One of the main reasons food plots fail is the lack of a proper soil test.


“The best seed planted will not produce healthy plants without the proper nutrients,” advises Daniel Bumgarner of Wildlife Management Solutions (WMS). “Seed need balanced soil conditions to be able to use the available nutrients and a soil test will tell you exactly what your soil needs.”

Soil test results will indicate the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium required. These are the three critical elements of healthy soil and are available in fertilizers. The test results will indicate the amount of each element is needed. Too much is wasted money and can harm the plants. Too little will result in stunted plant growth.


Planting Inferior Seed

Another reason food plots fail is planting inferior seed. Not all seeds are created equal and knowing when to plant fall food plots for deer won’t matter if you have poor quality seeds. Poor quality seeds will result in reduced germination and thereby less forage available in the food plot. 

“Quality seeds and seed blends will ensure good germination,” Bumgarner said. “With good seed germination the plants have the best chance for healthy growth.”


when to plant fall food plots for deer

Inferior seed can result in poor germination causing your plot to fail.


Also, proper seed varieties for your area is important. Specific plant types will grow better in certain locales and soil types. The folks at WMS can help deer hunters and land managers select the best seed and blends for their area of the state.

Many food plot managers will opt for the least expensive seed they can find. After planting, they soon realize their plots are not looking well. 


Overseeding or Underseeding Plots

In some cases, hunters and land managers will try to compensate for poor quality seed by overseeding their food plots.  Or they could over seed with quality seed thinking more is better. In either case they are setting up their plots for failure.

“We can provide the optimum seeding rate for each type of seed or blend we sell,” Bumgarner said. “A proper seeding rate will result in the best plant growth for the variety of seed planted.”


when to plant fall food plots for deer

Follow the suggested seeding rate for the variety of the seed you are planting.


Bumgarner points out that too much seed in a plot will have the plants consuming all the nutrients in the soil. The plants will suffer and not reach their full potential.

Planting below the recommended seeding rate, will leave thin or bare patches in the plot.  There will be fewer plants available and the deer can easily overgraze the plot. 


Planting the Wrong Type of Seed

The wrong type of seed or forage in a fall food plot with good soil can fail. Certain varieties of forage may not grow well in all locations across the state. Certain varieties of wheat and oats are not cold tolerant. An early cold snap in some locations can have the plot turning yellow and not be attractive to deer.


To help prevent food plot failure, seeds should be planted uniformly across the plot.


On the other hand, brassicas, like turnips and radishes, need cold weather to reach their optimum attraction. A frosty morning on the leaves of brassicas help increase the sugar content.  Kale and rape can last well into the winter months even under below freezing temperatures.

Some plant varieties may not do as well in soils that remain wet through the hunting season. Other seed varieties can excel in wet or drier than normal conditions. The folks at WMS can land manager and hunters select the proper seed for specific locale.


Improper Fertilizer Applications

If a single factor that causes fall food plot failure is the improper use or lack of fertilizer. (see soil test above). While some land managers will conduct a soil test, they may neglect in applying the proper amount to their plots.  Some folks may apply a few bags of 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 fertilizer and think everything is fine in their plots.

The seed will germinate, and plants will begin to grow.  The plot may appear to look lush and green on top, But, in the long run the plants and the plot can be suffering. Too much fertilizer is a waste and certain plants like clover do not need nitrogen. However, cereal grains and brassicas are hungry for nitrogen. 


Liquid fertilizer is easy to apply, and it begins to work in the plants quicker granular.


An option for hunters and food plot managers is the use of liquid fertilizer.  The liquid fertilizer is easy to apply, and the application is more uniform than granular. 

“Liquid fertilizer is applied as a foliar,” advises Chris Grantham of Alabama Liquid Fertilizer. “That is directly to the leaves of the plant. The plant can immediately begin absorbing and using the nutrients of the fertilizer.”

Grantham mentions that liquid fertilizer like, Clark’s Plot Nutrients, is more efficient. There is no waiting on soil moisture or rain to activate the fertilizer.

Creating successful food plots requires some planning and a little work.  Hunters should not waste their money on cheap seed or skimp on fertilizer. There are always some risks involved when planting food plots.

There are some reasons for fall food plot failure you can’t prevent like weather and rainfall.  However, knowing when to plant fall food plots for deer and trying to avoid the factors that cause food plots to fail will push the odds for successful plots in your favor.

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