Hunters are well aware of the benefits of planting food plots to attract deer, turkey and other wildlife.
The problem many encounter is really simple to correct, according to LSU AgCenter agronomist Ed Twidwell.
“I think that far too many people interested in putting in wildlife food plots don't pay attention to the fertility of their soil,” he said. “If their soil is low in pH or nutrients such as phosphorus or potassium, they may not get optimum stands in their food plots.”
Twidwell and retired AgCenter weed scientist Dearl Sanders planted food plots at the Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station near Clinton. Their goal was to show how different species — including clovers, brassica, ryegrass, sugar beets, chicory, winter peas, wheat, oats and rye — perform under various conditions.
Sanders said there are a wide variety of crops available to help hunters attract wildlife during fall and spring hunting seasons.
“All of the varieties did well from November through February,” he said. “The sugar beets flowered in February and slowly died out as expected.”
The sugar beets would have been effective during deer season, but not any longer, he said.
“All the other plantings are still thriving. They will all mature and play out by late spring,” he said. “In past trials, the chicory has survived through the summer.”
To be successful, Twidwell said, it takes more than just going out and throwing seed around.
“Once a site has been selected, I normally recommend that the landowner try to take some soil tests about three months prior to planting,” he said.
This will give them an idea of whether they need to add lime or fertilizer to the soil before planting, Twidwell said.
Another important factor in establishing a healthy food plot is preparing a good seedbed prior to planting.
“Some landowners think they can simply broadcast seed on top of the ground and they will obtain good stands of food plots. This is definitely not the case,” he said.
The selected area for the food plots should be mowed as short as possible, then some disking or harrowing is needed to break up the sod and allow for good seed placement.
While these tillage operations are being performed, the landowner can apply any needed lime or fertilizer and incorporate it into the soil, Twidwell said.
Once the seedbed is prepared, the seed can be broadcast. Most grasses and legumes used for food plots don’t need to be planted very deep.
The seed can be broadcast and then incorporated into the soil by light harrowing or pulling a roller over the planted seedbed. Grain drills can also be used, just be sure the seed is not planted too deep.
“The landowner may need to apply some additional nitrogen fertilizer once a stand is obtained for additional plant growth,” Twidwell said. “It just depends on how much production he desires and how long he will need the food plot to be productive.”
No-till establishment is also possible where herbicides are applied three weeks before planting and a no-till planter is used.
Sanders said the size and complexity of the food plot is left up to the individual.
In addition to fertilizer, also follow the soil test recommendations for applying agricultural lime to soils with a pH less than 5.5, especially if broadleaf crops are to be planted.