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This is a commonly asked question, there are so many factors to be considered, soil type, rainfall, sunlight, soil ph, drainage, temperatures, micro climates, etc. It can be difficult to figure exactly what to plant, considering the microclimates that can exist from one field to the next. Even experts cannot tell you what to plant in your area without researching the area and doing soil tests. Plants that thrive in one area may be struggling only a short distance away. Of course, proper planting effort, favorable soil, weather conditions and good timing can contribute to the success of your planting.
To pick a food plot location, many of us are 'stuck' with a certain area and have to plant in that spot. For those who have more land to work with, and can choose a location; ideally, the location should be hidden from the view of any road. If planting a wildlife food plot for viewing various animals and birds, choose a place that you can easily view, but with cover close by so the wildlife can feel safe and at ease.
For sportsmen, find a place where you can effectively hunt the plot, and keep in mind your path to and from your tree stand or blind. If you want to provide a late season food source, then place the plot close to deer wintering and bedding areas, if you want to hunt directly over a plot, plant it where you will not disturb it going to and from your stand. Wind is another consideration, dips, hollows, and hillsides often have changing wind currents that make it easier for the deer to pick up your scent.
In farming areas, you may think it is good to plant what is in the farmer's field, since the deer are grazing in that large field, although that may be the worse seed to plant. Why the deer would prefer your food plot? It may be better to give the wildlife the choice of a different variety.
To get ready to plant, the perfect situation is to be able to plow and disc the soil. If that is not possible, a good spray of Round-Up or a similar product will kill any standing weeds in a week or so, and then you can easily work the soil. (always follow the herbicide directions for waiting period) Any seed will grow better in a well prepared seed bed. If preparing the seed bed is not possible, good soil contact is all that is needed for many types of no plow, no till seeds such as clovers, alfalfa and brassicas. Try simply dropping the seeds and walking over them, or broadcasting during a good rainfall, the rain will plant the seeds for you.
Fopr first time planters, planting a small variety of seeds may be best, mix perennial like clovers, alfalfa and chicory with the annual brassicas such as rape, turnip, or soybean. In time you will see what works best in your area for best growth and attracting wildlife.
Below are some suggestions, we are not suggesting that these are the only seeds that will grow in a certain area.
Dry Areas and well-drained soils, such as; sandy soils, hills, slopes, etc… we recommend Alfalfa, Red Clover, Chicory, Rye grass, Oats, Whitetail Institute Alfa-Rack, Chicory Plus, and Extreme. Rapes, Forage Radish and Turnips are also fairly drought resistant.
Moist Areas (not wet) with sun are the easiest areas to plant a plot, most seeds will do well with adequate rainfall and sunshine, Clovers, Rape, Rye, Turnip, Alfalfa, Chicory, Soybeans, Sorghum (Milo), Buckwheat, Peas, and Oats. Whitetail Institute Imperial Clover, The Whitetail Institute Power Plant and No-Plow grow well in a variety of soils and moisture levels.
Shady areas with a normal amount of moisture and sun a few hours a day may support Clovers, Rapes, Turnips, Rye, Whitetail Institute No Plow and Secret Spot ~~ Other bulk seeds that may grow in this area are Clovers, Rapes, Turnips, and Rye.
Most plants will not grow in deep shade under a full tree canopy, cutting down or trimming a few trees can make a huge difference in your plot's success.
After planting, place a small wire basket over a portion of your plants so wildlife can't graze that area. Watch the difference inside and outside the basket. Once you see what grows well, you can plan next years plot. Many seeds such as clovers, alfalfa, and chicory are perennial and if they become established, they will come back for years without re-planting. Brassicas such as Turnips, Rapes, Sorghum, Soybean, Millet, Peas, Oats, and Buckwheat, need re-planting each year, but add an extra succulent attractant to the plot. Some pre-mixed seed bags include brassicas and perennial clovers, the fast growing brassicas feed the wildlife while the slower growing perennials take hold.
It is highly recommended to do a soil test before planting. Legumes, such as clover, like a more neutral soil. If a soil test is not available, lime should be added since most American soils are acidic. A heavy application of lime will maintain a neutral soil (7.0 Ph) for several years.
For clovers, after broadcasting seed, use a cultipacker or some type of heavy roller to roll over field. This gently presses seed into ground and helps insure better seed to soil contact and good germination.
Smaller areas can be lightly gone over with an old broom or leaf rake, or simply walked over. Do not cover clovers and alfalfa seed more than 1/4 inch, do not disc the seed into the ground. Small seeds can be assured good soil contact by simply broadcasting during a good rainfall, the rain insured good soil contact without covering too deeply. This works well for alfalfa, chicory, rape, rye and turnips. Some seeds such as clovers will not germinate if planted too deeply. Soybeans and oats need to be planted deeper.
For weed competition in clovers and alfalfa I recommend the Whitetail Institute Arrest or Slay herbicides, or similar products. Arrest controls grasses, and Slay controls broadleaf weeds.
If you are watching or hunting deer, a food plot will help provide better nutrition for a healthier herd. The plants, flowers and seeds also attract turkey, rabbits, grouse, pheasant and other wildlife. Be patient, it may take a couple years of planting to get the result you are looking for. The first year or two may have a lot of trial and error, before you figure out exactly what grows in your plot, what care and fertilizer works best, and what your wildlife prefer.
Legumes, like clovers produce nitrogen, use fertilizer with the lowest amount of nitrogen content. The first number on the fertilizer label is the nitrogen.
Remember when buying seeds that a couple thousand seeds is usually a tablespoon to two. Take into account the size of the seeds, for example; a quarter pound of Chicory will have over 100,000 seeds, while a quarter pound of soybeans is less than 700 seeds.
I wish you the best of luck with your wildlife food plot !