The subject of food plots comes up a lot so everyone put there 2 cents on food plots.
Here's some to start if off:
First, what do you want your food plots to accomplish? When selecting food plot forages for deer, the first question you need to answer is what do you want your food plot(s) to accomplish? Is your main objective to provide high-quality food that will improve the health of the deer herd in your area, or do you just want to attract deer during the hunting season? You can accomplish both objectives with food plots. However, there are important differences between food plots designed to attract deer for hunting and those designed to improve deer nutrition. The following is a description of how "nutritional" food plots differ from "hunting" food plots.
Nutritional food plots
The objective of a nutritional food plot is to improve deer nutrition by providing as much high-quality food for deer as possible. As a result, nutritional food plots are typically larger than 3 acres in size so you can provide enough food to actually influence the nutrition and health of deer in your area. The large size of these plots is also important to ensure that your forages can handle heavy, repeated grazing by deer. If your nutritional food plots are small and deer devour them in a few evenings, you will have little or no influence on deer nutrition.
Hunting food plots
The objective of a hunting food plot is to attract deer during the hunting season and provide opportunities to harvest deer at close range. As a result, hunting plots are usually less than 1 acre in size and they are planted with forages that are most nutritious and attractive to deer during hunting season. The specific forages you plant in a hunting plot are determined by what season you plan to hunt the plot. If you want to attract deer in the early-season you would plant forages that become palatable in September or October. If you want the plot to attract deer in the late season, you would plant forages that become or stay palatable in November or later.
Even though the hunting plot is not designed to meet the nutritional needs of deer in every season, it is still important to plant a variety of forages that mature at different times. When selecting forages for the hunting plot, choose forages that mature at slightly different times during the hunting season, rather than throughout the year. If you plant forages that mature at different times in the fall you will be able to extend the period of time that the plot is attracting deer.
Planting just before or during a rain ensures that there is adequate soil moisture available within the root zone for seeds to geminate. Seeds of many plant species require specific temperature and moisture conditions to germinate. If the moisture content is below a certain threshold, the seeds will desiccate and die. This is the primary reason most seed companies suggest that seed be stored in a dry environment until planting. When seed is dusted in, especially during the fall, the temperature is usually adequate to cause germination. However, without adequate soil moisture, a large percentage of the seed will not germinate.
Also if you are worried about moisture in the ground you can do something called banking moisture. You do this by some deep tillage of the soil, creating a 16 to 20 inch layer of soft, absorbent soil. This layer, which is prepared weeks and even months ahead of planting time, serves as a sponge that allows the moisture from the occasional rains to be soaked up and preserved above the hardpan but below the level where the scorching sun and drying wind can quickly suck it away. (Sand, loamy soils are best for banking moisture).
(1) Identify The Enemy. Is it a broadleaf or a grass? Is it an annual or a perennial? Was it here last year? If you can’t identify the weed, take a sample to your agriculture extension agent, university agronomy department, wildlife biologist, or even a nearby farmer. Weed lists are long. Here is a short list of some common offenders by category. Broadleaf weeds include pigweed, ragweed, horsenettle, thistle, jimsonweed, morning glory, milkweed, and coffeeweed. Grasses include fescue, bermudagrass, johnsongrass, crabgrass, foxtail, and many others.
(2) Planning Is Important. In some respects, if you are standing in the weeds in mid-summer wondering what to do, it’s too late for some of the best tactics. What weeds invaded this plot last year? Chances are it was the same species. Your observation of weeds from last year should have influenced what crop you planted this year—a broadleaf or a grass. In other words, if you have had past weed problems from the grass family, such as crabgrass, plant a broadleaf such as clover, jointvetch, or peas. Vice versa, plant a grass such as grain sorghum if your weed problem is a broadleaf. This system allows for selective control of your weeds with chemical herbicides without killing your target planting. See what I mean by planning? More about selective herbicides later.
(3) Control Method (choose your weapon)—Cut, Competition or Chemicals. Many deer food plants are highly tolerant of repeated mowing or cutting. These include clover, alfalfa, and trefoil. You often can give your plants a good competitive edge by mowing, which weakens or kills the weeds and stimulates regrowth of your target plant. This won’t work, however, with peas, beans, or grain sorghum which do not respond well to cutting.
Of all the options, however, chemicals are often the best choice for your food plot. Chemicals are safe, when used correctly, effective, inexpensive, and cut manpower and plowing tremendously. From this point on, we’ll concentrate on chemicals.
(4) Getting Started With Chemicals. Obviously, you have to have some spraying equipment. Usually a garden type two or three gallon sprayer won’t do it if your weed problem is fairly extensive. You will quickly find yourself “under-gunned.” One possible exception is spraying individual thistle plants or fescue clumpsin cool-season plots. Roundup or 2,4-D can be used for this.
More likely, if you are serious about food plots, you will need a spray rig for a four-wheeler, pickup truck, or tractor. These are available in electric or gas driven for four-wheelers and electric or PTO driven for tractors. Boom type sprayers with fan nozzles are usually better than rainbow type sprayers. Sprayers range in price from $150 to $2,000, depending on features.
If you have big fields with good access, you may be able to hire your spraying by truck from a local farm cooperative, seed dealer, or farmer.
(5) What Chemicals to Use. There are hundreds of herbicides on the market. For purposes of this article, we’ll concentrate on three—Roundup®, Poast®, and 2,4-D. Roundup kills a broad range of both grasses and broadleaves. Its best use is to control unwanted vegetation prior to the use of a grain drill. With Roundup and a no-till grain drill, you can just about get rid of your disk harrows, or plows. This time of year, spray Roundup and drill grain sorghum, peas, jointvetch, or alyceclover. If no drill is available, spray, wait two weeks, plow and plant. Although the Roundup will kill all germinated plants it contacts, the plowing will likely germinate a new crop of weed seeds (probably reduced in number from the previous crop).
Poast is a grass selective herbicide that basically kills most grasses but no broadleafs. So, if we are still standing in our food plot in June or July and the plot is a broadleaved perennial like alfalfa, clover, or trefoil being invaded with crabgrass, johnsongrass, bermuda, or fescue, then Poast is our weapon. Even new annual broadleaf plantings of peas, beans, clover, or jointvetch are candidates for Poast which must be mixed with a crop oil concentrate for best results. This is where last year’s planning pays off. If this plot had problems with crabgrass or johnsongrass last year, plow repeatedly and plant a broadleaf. When the noxious grass reemerges, spray with Poast for the knockout punch. Whichever scenario, if the noxious grasses are over six inches tall, mow, wait a week or two, and then spray the regrowth.
2,4-D is a broadleaf killer that has been around under many brand names for several years. It will not kill grasses. Grain sorghum infested with coffeeweed, ragweed, jimsonweed, morning glory, or any other broadleaf qualifies for 2,4-D application. Grain sorghum is a little sensitive to 2,4-D, so read the label carefully. Atrazine is a great herbicide for grain sorghum or corn, but is a controlled chemical requiring a private pesticide applicator’s license. 2,4-D, Poast, and Roundup are all available over the counter with no license required.
(6) Read The Label. This cannot be emphasized enough. Do not apply any more chemical than the label directs! Use at least 20 to 30 gallons of water per acre for best coverage and effective kills. Do not mix herbicides unless it specifically states this on the label. Carefully calibrate your spraying equipment (your agriculture extension service can help with this) and carefully measure your food plot acreage. I have seen many half-acre plots that were eyeball estimated to be one acre, thus doubling fertilizer, seed rates, spray rates, and everything. It is a good way to waste money and reduce efficiency. Poast always needs to be mixed with crop oil concentrate, while Roundup and 2,4-D sometimes need to be mixed with surfactants. Read the labels.
(7) Timing is Everything. Most weeds are more vulnerable to chemicals when they are young and vigorously growing. Do not spray when plants are wet or when rain is expected within 24-48 hours. Do not spray when it is windy as drift will render spraying ineffective and can be harmful to the applicator. Again, when weed growth exceeds four to six inches, mow, wait one to two weeks and spray regrowth. Do not spray during an extended drought, weed control is ineffective and valuable crop species may be injured or killed.
A soil test should be made prior to planting a food plot to determine the amount of fertilizer or other additives needed in the soil. Fertilizer improves palatability of plants and improves the odds that a good stand of your plantings will be established.
As a rule, a neutral pH of 7.0, or one that’s 6.5 (just slightly acidic) is the best for the majority of plant species. Soils that are highly acid (lower than 6.0) typically have high concerntrations of aluminum, iron, and manganese, which can inhibit plant growth, while soils that are too low in pH can even be toxic to certain plant species. When lime is added to the soil, the pH level rises and, in so doing, toxic substances are neutralized. Now, plants can efficiently utilize the nutrients in the soil, primarily those which you’ve applied in the form of fertilizer.
Seeds should be planted at the proper depth according to planting specifications and with the proper equipment. Most food plots can be planted with seed drills or broadcast spreaders. Broadcast plantings should be followed by a roller or drag to insure contact with the soil to improve germination.
Row or skip-row crop planting techniques should be used for some crops such as sorghum or lablab to allow for cultivation and weed control (or where it is real dry). Small seeds such as legumes and ryegrass should be planted no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep (or at a depth recommended by your local dealer or mill). Larger seeds such as wheat, oats, peas, or beans are planted at 1 to 1 1/2 inch depths (or at a depth recommended by your local dealer or mill). Use of pre-emergent herbicides and cultivation may be required to get a good stand on some forage plantings.
Annuals are plants that require only one growing season to complete their life cycle. At the end of one growing season they die. This means that you must replant these forages each year if you want to keep them in your food plots. Some annuals can be encouraged to reseed themselves through proper management of the food plot. This management may include mowing, fertilizing, and disking, and will depending on the forage species you have planted.
Perennials are plants that require at least 3 years to complete their growing cycle. This means that you can get multiple years of forage production from a single planting. They do this by developing specialized root systems that allow them to regenerate from their roots after the leaves and stems of the plant die at the end of the growing season. The number of season you will get from a single planting depends of the specific forage species, how well you maintain the food plot, and the region you are in.
Here are some common mistakes made by people establishing food plots:
• More is better. Exceeding the seeding, lime, or fertilizer recommendation is a waste of both time and money and, in the case of lime and fertilizer, too much may
negatively affect the crop. The recommendations for seeding and nutrient application have been researched and should not be exceeded.
• Not fertilizing. Most crops need applications of fertilizer to help them grow and achieve maximum productivity. Don’t assume your soil doesn’t need fertilizer. Soil test — don’t guess.
• Using old seed. Seed that is old may not have been properly stored and handled. Make certain to use new, high quality seed in your food plot. (if you store seed make sure it is in a dry location)
• Planting agricultural seeds in shaded areas. Plants grown for agricultural purposes require sunlight for energy and growth. Avoid placing these seeds in shaded areas such as woods. (check to see if your particular plant will grow in the shade)
• Not planting enough acres. Food plots that are too small are ineffective. Food plots can be any size, but should be at least 1,000 square feet. Food plots of 1/4 to 1/2 acre in size for every 20 acres are a good rule of thumb.
What to Plant?
Try lablab (its usually considered a warm season plant but I think fall plantings are okay but not positive), alfalfa, iron clad peas or cowpeas, Austrian winter peas, persimmons are great fruit trees that to plant that do well in Texas, orchard grass, rye grass, birdsfoot or junkyard trefoil, winter wheat, oats, white clover, sorghum.
Soybean site requirements (need good rain)
Soybeans will grow on a wide range of soil conditions, but they grow best on well-drained soils. They will not tolerate drought however, so forage production may be low if planted on sandy or gravelly soils. Soil pH should be between 5.8 and 7.0.
This cool-season perennial legume gets its name from its seed pods that are arranged in the shape of a bird's foot. It is a winter hardy legume that will last for several years in northern regions. In the mid-west and south it is susceptible to root and crown rot and usually lasts no longer than 2 years. It is very sensitive to high temperatures and therefore, is not a good choice for the deep south. Birdsfoot trefoil has an average protein content of 16% to 20%. It is highly preferred by deer and can be easily over-grazed if planted on small acreage plots.
Birdsfoot trefoil site requirements
Birdsfoot trefoil will grow under a wide range of soil conditions. It is best adapted to well drained soils but it will tolerate poorly drained conditions, as well as drought. Best forage production is achieved when soil pH is between 6.2 and 7.0, but it will grow on sites with pH as low as 4.5. Birdsfoot trefoil fixes nitrogen, but it will typically require annual applications of low nitrogen fertilizer to encourage the best growth.
Cowpea or Iron Clay Pea site requirements
Cowpeas are adapted to a variety of soil conditions. They can be grown on conditions ranging from sandy soils with low fertility, to fertile, clay soils. However, the best growth and forage production will occur on well-drained sandy loam, and clay. Cowpeas shouldn't be planted in wet soils. Ideal pH for cowpeas is between 6.0 and 6.5, but they will tolerate pH as low as 5.5. While they are very resistant to heat and drought, they are very susceptible to frost.
Austrian winter pea site requirements
It grows best on well drained loam or sandy loam with a pH near 7.0. Winter peas are best suited for warm climates; they will not tolerate extreme winter temperatures and they are not suitable for northern regions.
Ryegrass site requirements
Ryegrasses grow best on fertile, well-drained soils with pH between 6.0 and 7.0. They will, however, tolerate moist soils and pH as low as 5.0.
Alfalfa is a cool-season, perennial legume. It has many characteristics that make it one of the best deer forages you can choose for your food plots. Its high protein content (16% to 28%) and high digestibility make it highly preferred by deer. It has a taproot that can extend to a depth of over five feet, so it is one of the most drought tolerant forages once it is established. Alfalfa is a cool-season perennial that will persist for over five years if managed correctly, and it can produce more forage per acre than the other legumes. Additionally, it is very efficient at fixing nitrogen, so you won't have to apply nitrogen fertilizer to alfalfa plots.
While the above characteristics make alfalfa a top forage choice for many deer managers, it is a demanding plant that can be difficult to establish and maintain. As a result, it is not for everybody. For example, alfalfa has low tolerance for moisture and soil acidity; it will do best on well-drained soils with pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Although alfalfa fixes its own nitrogen, it usually requires annual applications of other soil nutrients such as potassium, phosphorous, boron and sulfur. It is prone to damage from over 50 insects or diseases (especially alfalfa weevil and potato leafhopper). It is susceptible to heavy competition from weeds if stands are not kept thick and lush. Finally, it is susceptible to over-grazing early in the season.
Sorghum site requirements
Sorghum is easier to grow than corn because sorghum demands fewer nutrients and typically requires 1/3 less water for good growth. It is very drought tolerant, it will tolerate poorly-drained conditions, low soil fertility, and moderate acidity. It will not tolerate flooding. Best growth is achieved on well-drained soils with pH between 5.6 and 6.5.
Lablab site requirements (Usually a spring/summer plant)
Lablab is very heat and drought tolerant so it can be grown well in the arid climates of the south. It will also grow in other regions where soybeans and cowpeas are grown. It prefers sandy clay loam soils with pH above 5.0. It will not tolerate poorly drained soils. On the topic of Lablab plantings for the fall, it usually grows until the first freeze of the fall. (Stops sometime in November)
Oats are a cool-season cereal grain that are highly preferred by deer. During the first months of growth oats are high in protein (14% to 18% protein) and easily digestible. In most cases, deer prefer oats over the other cereal grains. Oats are most often used in fall-planted hunting plots to attract deer.
Site requirements of oats
Oats have a couple drawbacks that make them unsuitable for some planting situations. First, they are the least cold tolerant of the cereal grains and they are easily killed off in extreme cold. As a result, they may not be the best choice for planting in northern regions. Second, oat plantings will often fail if planted in no-till food plots; the seeds must be covered with 1" to 2" of soil for proper germination. For best results, plant in well drained soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Oats will not grow well on deep sands, and they will not tolerate poorly drained sites.
Wheat is a cool-season cereal grain that is preferred by deer and ideal for planting in mixtures with other forages. During its first months of growth, wheat is high in protein (14-20% protein) and highly palatable to deer. As a result, it is an excellent forage for fall-planted hunting plots and as an early-spring food source.
Site requirements of wheat
Of the cereal grains, wheat is the most tolerant of heavy wet soils. It is more cold tolerant than oats, but less tolerant of cold and acidic soils than rye. It grows best on well drained or moist soils with pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Unlike oats, it can be planted successfully without tilling the soil.
Rye is a cool-season cereal grain that is less preferred than oats or wheat, but is still eaten readily by deer. Rye is most palatable to deer when it is young. Protein content in young, tender stems is between 14% to 16%. It is most useful when planted in a mixture with cool-season legumes. It is suitable for use in fall-planted hunting plots and as an early spring food source.
Site requirements of rye
Of the cereal grains rye is most winter hardy and drought tolerant. It will grow on a variety of soil conditions including sandy soils and low acidity. It is less tolerant of wet sites than wheat. Rye grows best on well-drained soils with pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Rye is excellent for no-till planting.
White Clover Requirements
6.5-8.0, 7-8 (best adapted)
-38º F. (minimum). High cold tolerance.
Chicory is a cool-season perennial herb that grows long, broad leaves that resemble those of dandelion or common plantain. It produces abundant spring and summer forage that is highly preferred by deer. When managed properly, the nutritional value of chicory can be higher than that of alfalfa. Protein content of young plants can be as high as 32% and the leaves are between 90% and 95% digestible. A properly maintained chicory stand can last up to seven years.
Chicory develops a deep taproot so it is very tolerant of drought and will stay green and palatable in summer, a time when other cool-season forages such as clovers decline in quality. Best growth is achieved on well drained to moderately drained soils with medium to high fertility. It will tolerate pH as low as 4.5 but grows best when pH is between 6.0 and 7.0.
Cereal grains can be planted alone but they are most beneficial to deer when planted in a mixture with other annual or perennial forages. They are especially valuable when planted as a "nurse crop" for legumes such as clover. Because cereal grains grow faster and begin growing earlier after planting than clovers, the grains often receive most of the first grazing pressure from deer, when the clovers are young and susceptible to grazing damage. (Types of cereal grains are wheat, oats, and rye)
I would not pay too close to the dates on this chart because it's from Ohio, so of course the planting dates will be different than here. None the less, it gives you which animals prefer what species of plants.