Comparing Fall Food Plot Blends for Deer: Update 1

Rick Williams, Tim Baxley
Sportsmen have made fall food plots popular as a method to increase the amount of deer and other wildlife using a known area. Besides being an asset for monitoring deer on a given piece of property, forages produced in the fall are important for: • providing nutrition for weaned fawns that are still growing; • providing energy deer need to prepare for winter; • replacing energy lost during the rut or breeding period; • providing female deer adequate nutrition while they are pregnant; •
more » ... regnant; • providing a source of food for wild turkeys, quail and non-game wildlife species. At the UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center, we select and test forage species and mixtures for fall planting that are similar to those available to area sportsmen. The plantings allow us to evaluate forage production (pounds per acre) and nutritional quality. The steps that were followed for preparing the fall 2005 food plots are applicable on most other properties. First, a soil sample was taken in the field where the fall food plots were going to be planted to check the pH level of the soil. If the soil pH is low, then the second step is to apply lime to the area based on the recommendations from the soil analysis. In planting food plots, failing to maintain an appropriate lime and fertilizer regime results in wasted money and crops that do not produce very well (Cook and Gray 2005). Raising the soil pH level to between 6.0 and 7.0 enables plants to use a larger percentage of the available soil nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, and iron, as well as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (Table 1). Most forage plants do well when the pH level ranges between 6.0 and 7.0. Ideally lime needs to be applied 2 to 3 months before the site is to be planted. However, lime can be applied when you are disking the site to prepare for planting. The third step is to apply fertilizer and disk the site to prepare for planting. When the site is disked, with bare soil exposed, the area is ready to plant. The fourth step is to plant the forages at the recommended rate on the label. Exceeding recommended planting rates will cause the food plots to be less effective due to the overcrowding of the plants. Don't forget to inoculate clover seed and other legume seeds before planting. Inoculation of seeds with the proper mixture of Rhizobium bacteria facilitates nitrogen-fixation and allows nitrogen to become available for plant growth (Yarrow and Yarrow 2005). Directions for mixing the inoculants with the legume seeds will be located on the bag. At the research station we put our clover seeds in a large bucket and poured some soft drink over them to make them damp. Inoculum will stick better to seeds that are dampened in this manner. The fifth step is to lightly disc or drag the area after planting to cover seeds slightly with soil. You do not want these seeds planted too deep as many of the seeds are very small (Figure 1).