by David Hart
All food plots benefit deer, but summer plots, also called nutrition plots, provide high-quality forage when natural food sources become depleted. Summer plot plants are typically high in protein, one of the primary building blocks in antler development. They also provide vital nutritional for nursing does and their fawns.
Anyone with a tractor or ATV and a few implements can plant food plots. However, it’s time to start prepping those summer plots now.
Plan Your Plot
First, decide what you want to plant, where you want to plant it and how much you want to plant. All food plots need at least four hours of direct or lightly filtered sunlight. Existing fields are the best spots, but make sure your plot isn’t located in the shade of adjacent trees. If you have a choice, plant along the north side of the field, which gets the most sun.
How much you plant depends largely on your local deer herd. Smaller summer plots, a quarter-acre or less, won’t last very long in areas with high deer densities. In the most extreme cases, the plants will get nibbled before they have a chance to mature.
“There is no ideal size,” says Whitetail Institute vice-president Steve Scott. “Generally, though, bigger is better. The more high-quality food your deer have, the better off they will be.”
In other words, plant as much as your space, time and money will allow. Food plot seed isn’t cheap, but there are ways to cut costs. Soy beans, particularly leftovers from the previous planting season, can be dirt cheap if you can find them. Sunflowers are also an inexpensive option. Deer devour the leaves and even the flowers. Beans and sunflowers, though, can’t withstand heavy grazing pressure. Once they get nibbled to the ground, they won’t regrow.
“Blends made specifically for food plots are a great choice,” says Scott. “They typically provide more tonnage so they can withstand grazing pressure better. They also provide more choices. If one type of plant struggles due to environmental conditions or gets eaten, there’s a good chance the other plants will survive.”
Whitetail Institute’s Power Plant, for example, includes sunflowers, sorghum, climbing peas and vining soybeans, all high-protein plants that deer love.
Test Your Soil
No matter what you plant, get a soil test. There is no more important step in the food plot process than testing your soil, says Scott. It will tell you exactly what your plants need in order to thrive.
Soil test kits are available at your local cooperative extension office or from places like Whitetail Institute. For about $15, you’ll get specific nutrient and lime recommendations for the plants you want to grow. The results typically include a pounds per acre and pounds per thousand square feet application rate for nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, the three primary ingredients in all fertilizers. It will also include recommended lime rates. Although fertilizer is important, nothing matters more to your plots than the appropriate pH level.
“A soil test can save you a lot of money, too,” adds Scott. “You may not need any nitrogen, for example, but if you buy bagged fertilizer, you are spending money on it anyway.”
Lime takes several months to change the soil’s pH level, so the sooner you can get your soil tests done, the better.
Prep The Site
While you wait for your soil test results, start prepping the site itself. Existing plant growth should be killed with a non-selective herbicide like Round Up or a cheaper generic non-selective herbicide. The sooner you can spray, the easier the next steps will be. Spraying early allows the existing plant matter to deteriorate more, which makes disking much easier.
All seeds need good soil contact in order to grow, so it’s vital to break through the surface plant matter and expose as much soil as possible. The plot doesn’t have to look perfectly-tilled and groomed. The seeds you spread just need to fall on dirt, not dead plant matter.
“The smaller the seed, the finer the soil needs to be. If you spread small seeds in soil that’s real chunky, a lot of those seeds will end up getting buried too deep,” says Scott. “You don’t need to disk a plot as much if you are using larger seeds, because they can grow when they are buried a little deeper.”
If time allows, wait for new weeds to emerge and then spray again and then make a quick pass over the plot with a disk one last time. That will cut down on unwanted weed growth before you plant, which is the final step. Don’t rush it, though.
“It’s important to wait until the soil is 65 degrees,” adds Scott. “Just make sure you read the instructions on each bag of seed. Follow those instructions and your plots will do well.”
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