It’s easy to overcomplicate the simple process of creating a late-season food plot. We are surrounded by information that provides us clues for how to grow a successful plot. Check out the corn and soybean fields booming across the nation and take your lead from the folks who grow crops for a living. Consider the seasonality of the crops you will be planting and when you want deer to be grazing them. With a few basic gardening tricks, you’ll be well on your way to ensuring that your late-season food plots are in great shape.
Choose the Right Seeds The first step is to make sure you’re planting something that will actually grow. It seems rather obvious, but every summer a bunch of seed is put into ground that has almost zero chance of ever producing a pound of forage.
I’m not a fan of pre-bagged food plot mixes for this reason. Aside from the fact that those bags are almost certainly priced above the value of the seed within them, the blends are a catch-all mix usually intended to produce some level of growth in a wide variety of soil types and geographic regions. It's not that they won't work, I just think there are superior choices.
A better option is to make a trip to your local grain elevator or county extension office and ask them what they would recommend for the goals you have and where you are planting. They’ll not only be able to provide top-notch planting advice, but they’ll also be able to offer seed varieties that they know will thrive in the area you’re looking to plant.
Prepare for Planting The next step is to make sure you give those seeds the opportunity to grow. This starts a couple of weeks before you intend to plant. Competition for water, nutrients, and sunlight must be greatly reduced, if not eliminated outright.
To accomplish this, I recommend treating the area you intend to plant with an herbicide like glyphosate. I believe that glyphosate is perfectly safe when used correctly—if you don’t, that’s fine. There are other options available, but organic practices can take more time. After spraying to kill the competing weeds and vegetation, I give the plot seven to 10 days and then check for any remaining growth. I try to use as little herbicide as possible so it’s entirely possible there will still be some green weeds left in the plot, which is OK. If need be, I can do a second spot treatment.
For small plots, I like to leave the dead foliage in place and simply drag it down with a harrow drag. This creates a nice bed of mulch that will help protect newly planted seed and serve as a barrier to maximize soil moisture. At this point I will also add fertilizer and pelletized lime if need be. You can do a soil test to ensure proper soil pH, but most local farmers can give you a very good idea of the natural pH levels and I’ve never really found a test to be vital. I simply ask farming neighbors and follow their advice. That said, I live in an area with pretty good soil. Your situation may be different.
Plant Appropriately There is no magic in getting a seed to grow. It simply needs to be in the dirt. However, this is where a lot of plots fail, particularly those focused on late-season forage. Typically, late-season forage plots will include plants like brassicas, turnips, and radishes that all come from tiny seeds.
Seed-to-soil contact is crucial, but a lot of people take that too far. Bury those tiny seeds too deep and they won’t germinate properly. When I’m planting late-season plots with tiny seeds, I simply broadcast the seed by hand into the mulch bed I’ve left behind. Then I rake the plot once. This shakes the seed through the mulch layer and into the soil. Time this just before a solid rain and you’ll have all the soil contact needed plus an initial dose of moisture.
Plan Ahead If your goal is to have a plot delivering forage late into deer season, you have to keep in mind just how much grazing pressure a plot can take. Plots on an acre or less in areas with moderate to high deer densities will likely get eaten off pretty quickly. This is another reason I like to make my own seed blends, because I want to have forage that’s favored in October but also offer protection for those plants that should last through November.
I accomplish this by planting a diverse crop. I use a mix of oats, winter wheat, turnips, and radishes. The oats and wheat will germinate first, fill in quickly, and deer will hammer them early. Deer will mostly ignore the big leafy brassica plants early on (which is exactly what I want) but once the frosts of October and November arrive; those leafy tops will be a top draw. Later in the year, the turnips and radishes will become the hot ticket.
Be Prepared to Plant Twice You can’t control all factors when planting, and rainfall is certainly one of them. You can try to do some sort of irrigation, but it’s likely impractical in most situations. I’m always ready to replant a fall plot if needed.
So long as there is no frost in the immediate forecast, it’s almost never too late to plant again if a crop fails. I wouldn’t hesitate to plant any time in August or through the beginning of September. Oats and wheat germinate pretty quickly and most brassica varieties do, as well. You likely won’t get a bumper crop of giant turnips but you will get some, and some is better than none.
Just because it’s late season doesn’t mean it’s too late to plant a food plot. Be sure to prepare the land, get the right seeds for the job, and plant them well. Making a plan for your plot could provide grazing opportunities all season long, and in turn, more chances at that big buck.
Feature image via Captured Creative.