Taking Care of Your Food Plots

News & Tips: Taking Care of Your Food Plots

One of the more common food plot questions we're asked is, "How long will a food plot last"? The short answer is "It depends". It depends on a whole lot of factors, but most of all it depends upon how well you maintain it.

Grasses are best controlled by spraying food plots with a grass-specific herbicide to kill grass but not affect the plots.

Food plots, like just about everything else, require regular maintenance. And, like just about everything else, the better the maintenance the longer they will last — up to 5 years or more with a little luck.

The number one enemy of food plots is weeds and grasses. They weaken food plot plants by competing for food, water and life giving sunshine. Over time, weeds and grasses will gradually "crowd out" the more desirable food plot plants as the plot gradually returns to its native vegetative state. Native vegetation is generally more suited to growing conditions in a given locale and almost always will prevail over more delicate food plot plants.

Grasses are generally more difficult to control than broadleaf weeds as they have tremendous recuperative powers. The year after a plot is established, grasses will generally begin to show up. Grasses are best controlled by spraying with a grass specific herbicide, which will kill grass but will not affect common broadleaf food plot plants like clover, chicory and brassicas.

Grass herbicides can be applied with a hand or backpack sprayer if you have the time. Spraying by hand can be uneven but if you persist and use care you can eventually get the job done. An ATV sprayer makes short work of a plot and for $2.0 or so is definitely the way to go.

food plot atv bannerWe use POAST or Arrest on grasses. These chemicals only work on growing plants so we spray only when grasses are vigorously growing. We generally spray once in late May or June and if the plot is heavily laced with grass, again in late summer. This protocol will pretty much keep grasses at bay for years until your food plot plants eventually give up the ghost and die of "natural causes".

General purpose herbicides like Roundup are often associated with food plots but they are typically not used for maintenance. They kill everything they come in contact with and will wipe out an entire food plot in one application. Roundup is an excellent tool for removing vegetation during site preparation but should be kept off of productive plots.

Broadleaf weeds can generally be controlled by selective mowing. The trick to keeping a weed-free food plot is to mow broadleaves before they go to seed. Most broadleaves are annuals and repeated mowing (2-3 times per season) will weaken them and enable the food plot plants to gradually overwhelm the weeds. If they are unable to produce seeds the reproductive cycle is interrupted.

Mowing also keeps food plots fresh and "young". Mowing plots (except brassicas) when they reach a foot or so in height will keep them growing strong (much like a lawn). Most plots can be trimmed to a height of about 6-8 inches.

1 arrow pointTip: Mow half the plot one week then the other half a week later. This keeps good groceries in front of the deer at all times and will never force them to leave your plots to look for food as your plots recover from the mowing (3-5 days).

Much like a lawn, mowing plots when they reach a foot (except brassicas) will keep them growing strong.

In addition to weed and grass control, food plots need to be fed. New plots on new ground typically grow like wildfire. But, over time many of the nutrients contained in the soil are used up and plots begin to strain. Food plots should be fertilized at least once per season and twice is even better. We typically use 250-300 pounds (per acre) of a general purpose fertilizer like 15-15-15 in the spring and again in late summer when the fall rains and good growing conditions return. This schedule keeps food on the table all season long and ensures excellent hunting.

Clover only plots do not require nitrogen (the first number in the ingredients sequence) as they make their own. They are best treated with fertilizers like 0-15-15 or 5-20-20 as nitrogen will encourage weeds and grasses.

Eventually, most food plots just give out. Their plants weaken over time and are gradually overtaken by native vegetation. Like an old worn out vehicle, you can only do so much fixing before you are throwing good money after bad. Then it is time to start over again — kill the whole plot and start again with fresh seed.

When you look at the time and money it takes to establish a food plot, it only makes sense to take care of it. A couple of hours a year and less than a hundred bucks in fuel, fertilizer and herbicides will do the trick.

Hunter/landowners should work to be good stewards of their land. This includes being efficient growers, taking care not to exploit the land and getting the most from their wildlife plantings. Good maintenance makes for good land stewardship.