Some causes of food plot failure – like weather factors – are beyond our control. However, many can be avoided with proper planting, planting technique and maintenance. Take a look at five causes of food plot failure and how you can avoid these common pitfalls with your next wildlife planting.
Reason # 1 – Planting in the Wrong Place
One of the first decisions that has to be made when planning a food plot is where the planting will be located. For most people, choices are limited based on the amount of open land available. Even with limited options, however, careful consideration should be taken regarding the type and quality of the soils, the amount of sunlight that the area receives daily, as well as how well (or poorly) the soil drains. All these factors will weigh heavily on what, if anything, you should plant in your potential food plot. The fact is that some areas weren't meant to grow lush, green food plots. In those cases, you'd be better off to spend your time and money enhancing the native vegetation or working on other aspects of your deer hunting property.
Reason #2 – Lack of a Soil Test
It seems this simple and inexpensive step gets overlooked often enough to make it one of the primary culprits for food plot failure. Without the test, it is impossible to know exactly what your food plot needs in terms of lime or fertilizer.
Most states have cooperative extension service offered through a state university that offers the service for a very modest fee – typically less than $10. In a nutshell, this is how it works; you simply dig up some soil from various locations in the field that you hope to plant. The soil is then mixed together and laid out to dry. Once the soil has dried, you can place some into the envelope provided by your local cooperative extension service and return it for testing. Within a few weeks, you should receive the results in the mail summarizing the amount of lime, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium needed for maximum production.
Reason #3 – Planting the Wrong Thing
Another common reason for food plot failure is choosing the wrong seed mix to plant. This is a key decision in the planting process and should not be based on the size of the buck on the seed bag or what was on sale at the local sporting goods store. Every seed species and blend has specific conditions under which it will perform best; therefore you have to make sure that your soils meet those conditions in order to have a successful food plot. Some things to consider include: Does the amount of sunlight at your planting location match the requirements of the seed mix? Do the soils have the necessary drainage? How much lime and fertilizer will I need? All of these factors must be considered before laying down your hard earned money for seed.
One of the more common mistakes made in this area is planting seed mixes that are not shade tolerant in small forest openings that don’t get the necessary sunlight. Another is when seed mixes that need well-drained soils are planted in a wet, low-lying area. Both of these mistakes can easily be avoided by making sure your seed mix requirements match the conditions of your food plot. Don't let the wrong seed mix be the cause of your food plot failure.
Reason #4 – Improper Planting Technique
While many food plot pitfalls can be avoided in the planning phase, sometimes even the best laid plans still result in disappointing results. This is often due to improper planting technique.
One of the biggest challenges when trying to establish a food plot is lack of the necessary equipment. The fact is that many of us don't own a tractor and all the key implements necessary for farming. This leaves us faced with the options of renting, borrowing, or improvising on equipment. There are many reasonably priced pieces of equipment currently on the market to spare you the cost of expensive farming equipment. The growing manufacturers of ATV mounted sprayers and spreaders, push spreaders and even hand and backpack sprayers and spreaders gives you many options based on the size of the food plot you’re planting.
The point is, don’t let the idea of needing massive equipment deter you from planting a food plot on whatever size land you have available. There are many tools out there to help you.
Reason #5 – Lack of Maintenance
Once a food plot is established, the biggest threat quickly becomes competition from weeds. Weeds can be extremely aggressive and quickly take over an otherwise great planting. The two main ways to keep control of these intruders is with occasional mowing or by herbicide application, depending on the seed mix you are using.
Mowing is an important management tool for clover and alfalfa plantings. Not only will two to three mowings per year help to control weeds in the plot, but it also thickens the legumes and helps to maintain high protein levels. Just be sure not to cut it below four to six inches, and don't mow it during periods of hot, dry weather.
Applying the proper herbicides can also be critical to controlling unwanted weeds and maintaining a healthy deer food plot. Whether you are planting Roundup Ready Soybeans, brassicas, or a white clover mix, there are specific herbicides that will target the undesirable weeds in your plot. It is critical to know exactly what herbicide and how much BEFORE you ever sow the first seed.
Just as with the planting process, maintaining a food plot requires additional equipment, time and money, which is why this step often gets skipped. Without some maintenance, your results will always be less than optimal.