It’s spring and everything is turning green, including your perennial food plots. But so are those other plants, the ones you don’t want mixed in with your clover and alfalfa. Weeds, whether grasses or a variety of broadleafs, not only rob your food plot plants of limited space, they steal moisture and nutrients. If left to grow, they will eventually overtake your hard work and swallow even the healthiest stand of clover. That’s why you have to control those weeds. Mowing is an effective way to combat many unwanted plants, especially broadleaf annuals. By following a regular mowing schedule, you can prevent those weeds from dropping seed and marching deeper into your plots. Unfortunately, many types of unwanted plant growth can’t be controlled with a bush hog.
“Grasses typically grow and reproduce from the roots, while most broadleaf plants reproduce by seeds. Mowing will cut those seed heads off, but that doesn’t work very well with grasses,” says Whitetail Institute director of special projects Jon Cooner. “There are exceptions, but that’s a good rule of thumb.”
It’s vital to understand the definition of a weed, of course. That broad category includes just about any plant you don’t want in your food plot. But to understand what to use in order to save the “good” plants and kill the unwanted ones, you have to be able to identify various plants. Cooner says one of the easiest ways to figure out if a specific plant is a weed is to take a sample to you local agriculture extension office. A variety of field guides can also help you identify various plants. Once you figure out what you got, you can target those unwanted plants with herbicides.
Of course, if you plan to start from scratch with bare ground, you’ll need a non-selective herbicide like glysophate, which kills all types of plant life, including those that are beneficial to deer and other wildlife. Use glysophates like Round Up only if you want to wipe the slate clean and start over, or if you want to build annual food plots like beans, corn, brassicas or peas. Round Up is the most common glysophate, but a variety of other brands will work just fine. Of course, they don’t kill seeds lying dormant in the ground, which will eventually sprout. And that means you’ll have to spray them again. Cooner first offers a word of caution before you spray at all.
“The first thing you must do before you apply any herbicide is read the label,” insists Cooner. “Failure to read the label can not only have unintended consequences on your food plot, it can have harm the environment and even you. It can also save you lots of money because you’ll know exactly how much to use.”
If grass is overtaking your clover, alfalfa or chicory, you’ll want a grass-specific herbicide like Poast, Ornamec or Whitetail Institute’s Arrest. They target common food plot grasses like Bermuda, fescue and Johnson grass. Be warned, however. Wheat, corn and sorghum are in the grass family and any grass-specific herbicide will kill those plants, also.
No matter what you use, any herbicide is most effective when target plants are in the active growth stage. Cooner says the best way to determine that is to watch your own lawn. When it’s time for the first mowing, it’s time to spray your food plots. He recommends spraying any herbicide in the late morning, although timing isn’t all that important. What is critical, he notes, is to wait until the wind is calm. Even the slightest breeze can cause drift, and that not only wastes valuable resources, it can kill beneficial plants adjacent to your plots.
Other herbicides, like Whitetail Institute’s Slay, target broadleaf weeds but are safe on clover and alfalfa. Cooner says Slay can be applied prior to the active growth stage, but it’s best to treat a food plot when the unwanted plants are just a few inches tall.
Another effective pesticide is 2-4,D, the most commonly used herbicide in the country. The most popular use is to control broadleaf weeds in lawns, but it’s also effective in controlling broadleafs in wheat and corn. Cooner, however, says herbicides are most beneficial in perennial food plots like clover and alfalfa. If you don’t maintain them, they’ll get swallowed up by a sea of weeds.
Although food plot herbicides are safe and have been tested extensively, it’s mandatory to wear some safety equipment, including chemical resistant gloves, sun or safety glasses and a long-sleeve shirt. Wash all equipment and clothing after applying herbicide and don’t spray on a windy day.