Planting for Wildlife Tips
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When Should I Plant?
Choose Your Wildlife Seed Carefully and Wisely
Cooper Seed Company wants its customers satisfied and informed! We take pride in offering the highest quality seed at competitive prices. For folks planting wildlife food plots, the choices of seed to buy seem almost endless. Even when deciding on one species, wheat, for example, there are many varieties to chose from and the decision to buy certified seed or something cheaper.
Let's see if we can make seed purchasing decisions a little simpler when buying wheat, rye, oats or ryegrass. Certified seed is inspected by GA (or other state) Dept. of Agriculture in the field and in the warehouse. The genetic purity of the variety is guaranteed, it is free of noxious weeds, conforms to weed free standards, and has a minimum guaranteed germination level (usually 80-90% depending on the species). Some varieties are noted for high grazing production, some for seed production and some for disease resistance.
Combine run seed has no standards, no inspection, no guarantees and no regulation. Cooper Seed Company does not sell combine run seed. It is straight from the farmer's combine machine and can be bought in bag or bulk. Its obviously cheaper but can carry some significant risks that may affect the success of your food plot. Noxious weeds and other weeds including little barley, cheatgrass, rescuegrass, wild ryegrass, wild turnip and dock can sometimes or often times be found mixed with the small grain seed. These weed seeds got picked by the combine as they grew with the crop and never got removed. Some can cause serious weed problems in your plots.
Feed seed or re-cleaned seed is a third category that is cheap but it also has no regulation, no guaranteed germination and a risk of noxious weeds. This risk is usually lower than combine run but it depends on if it has been "cleaned" or not and how it was cleaned. Fans or blowers alone do a poor job of cleaning seed. Centrifugal cleaning and use of sieves or screens do a much better job of cleaning and separating seed by size, shape, and density. Cooper Seed feed seed or re-cleaned seed is subjected to this multi-stage cleaning process. There are still no guarantees, however!
Here's some good advice. If you are planting pure small grains or ryegrass in the same food plots year after year and want to get by as cheaply as possible, buy re-cleaned feed seed that has been dated for the current year. Otherwise, if you are mixing in any clovers or if you expect high production, disease resistance, reseeding, or a perennial stand (where weeds can be a real problem), stick with certified seed of a proven variety. Cooper Seed Company has a wide selection for you. Good luck with your wildlife food plots!
Courtesy of Kent Kammermeyer, Senior Wildlife Biologist, Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division,
Special thanks to Kent Kammermeyer and Roy Deason, Forage Specialist, Pennington Seed, for their help with the following planting tips.
Dove Field Management
Duck Planting in August
Wild Game Plot Planting Tips
January through April
February and March
Planting Dove Fields
You want to plant so that your fields will be ready to bush hog 30 days before the season starts. Mow strips on the outside. Doves love eating fresh cut seed heads off of bare ground.
Wildlife In Mind, Management Practices for High-Quality Habitat
by Kent Kammermeyer
American jointvetch (Aeschynomene americana) is a warm season annual legume native to the deep Southeast. There is great confusion surrounding this plant since it is not a vetch nor is it a cool season forage as are other vetches. Moreover, it is commonly referred to by at least 3 different names including aeschynomene, jointvetch, and deervetch. There are 2 or 3 closely related species, including one which is considered endangered, Sensitive jointvetch (A. virginica) and one which is recommended for seeding in bahiagrass pastures in Florida (A. evenia). This article concentrates on American jointvetch which is a vigorous erect annual legume with pinnately compound leaves attaining a height of 3-6 feet.
Jointvetch is most adapted to wet soils in Coastal tropics or subtropics. It tolerates low fertility and moderately acid pH (5.5 to 6.0). Although erect and tall when not grazed, it develops a branched prostate habit under grazing. In recent years, many wildlife managers have found out that jointvetch is much more widely adaptable than once believed. It has also prospered on dry upland sites in Mountain, Piedmont, and well-drained sandy soils. It is one of the few warm season legumes which is highly palatable(20-25% crude protein) but can withstand heavy grazing pressure by deer and this is probably its greatest asset. If it flowers and produces hard seed before frost, it is possible to get natural reseeding the following spring. Heavy deer grazing, however, may keep it from going to seed in adequate numbers before frost.
Jointvetch can be planted beginning in April in the deep South through May and June in virtually the entire Eastern U.S. It may not be a good choice to plant in the more drought prone areas of the Central and Western U.S. Broadcast rate is 20 lbs/acre and like all legumes, seed must be inoculated at planting. Cover seed 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and fertilize with 300 lbs/acre of 0-20-20.
Jointvetch can be successfully mixed with other summer forages for an effective warm season food plot. Alyce clover (not a true clover) is also resistant to overgrazing and can be successfully mixed with jointvetch with a seeding rate of 10 lbs/acre each. Both are highly nutritious and palatable to deer and both provide excellent brood rearing habitat for quail and wild turkeys. As stated in the last issue of Quality Whitetails (Vol. 7, #1, p.30), jointvetch can be very successfully mixed with grain sorghum as long as the seeding rate of sorghum is kept low at 5 lbs/acre or less, to keep from shading out the jointvetch. Apply more nitrogen and potassium fertilizer when grain sorghum is used.
According to QDMA founder Joe Hamilton, one of the best uses of jointvetch occurs in intensive pine management where it can be planted between pine rows after a row thinning or in firebreaks. Being quite shade tolerant, it will do especially well in these narrow strips or breaks if they are limed (usually 1-2 tons per acre) and fertilized with 300 lbs/acre of 0-20-20. Jointvetch is very responsive to phosphorus. There may be enough seed production each year to regenerate the stand, however, it will probably not be dependable enough to count on. Jointvetch is one of the few warm season legumes which can withstand deer grazing pressure in small fields enough to reach maturity and provide high quality grazing all summer long, especially during the late summer stress period. While it is well adapted to wet soils, it has proven highly adaptable even withstanding moderate drought conditions on shallow upland soils. Commercial seed sources are relatively easy to find, especially in the Southeast.
Glenn jointvetch is a variety from Australia which was originally collected on the coast of Mexico. It does well in low-lying coastal country subject to periodic waterlogging. It also grows on well-drained soils receiving > 50" rainfall.
Lee perennial jointvetch (also from Australia) is noted for more green leaf earlier, and later than annual jointvetches. It is also suited to seasonally wet tropics with > 40" rainfall. For more information on these varieties, contact Barenbrug USA at (888) 298-7112.
Apples for Deer
by Kent Kammermeyer
Nothing remains static. I evolved from growing apples for people 15 years ago to growing apples for wildlife today. What's the difference? Its huge. My home orchard in 1986 had Lodi, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious apple trees. Today at a new site, I don't have an orchard, more like a few small groupings of 3 or 4 trees each of Yates, Arkansas Black, Limbertwig and others. Believe me, if you use the right varieties, its much easier to grow apples for deer (and you can eat some too!) than it is for people. Instead of spraying insecticides and fungicides every 10 days on people varieties, my current worries with growing apples for deer are limited to droughts (very tough on young seedlings) and beavers (very tough on all trees).
Apples are in the same family as roses. There are over 7,000 varieties of apples in the world and over 2,500 in the U.S. Many came from Canada or New Zealand but some are native to the U.S. Climate and selecting the proper variety are more important than soil in determining where apples will grow successfully. They do well between Georgia and New Mexico, Maine and Wisconsin and the southern parts of Canada (apples need 900-1,000 hours below 45o to flower and fruit properly but severe cold (-45o or colder will kill them). Top apple states are Washington, New York, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. There is an ongoing controversy among deer biologists whether apples are just "ice cream" or "candy" in the diet of deer versus an important component of the fall diet. I believe the latter. With production of more than 800 lbs/tree and an analysis of 22 grams of carbohydrates and 16 grams of sugar (80 calories) average per apple, the impact of only 8 or 10 trees can be significant to a local deer herd. Besides, they make an excellent place to bow hunt or gun hunt.
Use adapted varieties and avoid bargains! Never buy wildlife apple trees from a supermarket or discount chain store. Check with your local county extension agent or wildlife biologist for best varieties adapted to your areas. A smart plan is to select varieties that mature in early season (July-August), mid-season (September) and late-season (October) to have a constant supply even into winter. However, emphasize late season varieties for deer that hang on limbs longer, resist rot, and persist into winter. Always plant disease resistant varieties, never plant the following for wildlife unless you love to do a lot of chemical spraying: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Idared, Jonathan, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Rome or Crispin. Do plant the following disease resistant varieties if they are adapted to your area: Liberty (very resistant to disease, good eating), Limbertwig (late-very good keeper), Freedom, Jonamac, Macoun (mid-season, excellent eating), Keepsake, Enterprise, Williams Pride, Gold Rush, Burgandy, Arkansas Black (late season, good keeper, great eating), horse apple (early, yellow, tart), Padukah (early, very hardy), Yates (late, small, good keeper, good eating). Whatever your choice, most varieties need to be grouped (3 or 4 trees, 15 feet apart) with other varieties for best cross-pollination. Fall planting (November or December) is practical in the South; very early spring (as soon as ground is dry enough to work) works best in the North. Always plant apple trees in full sunlight. Pick a spot with good air drainage, neither on a wind-blown hilltop nor in a frost pocket valley. Dig a large hole; add lime (if needed) but not manure or fertilizer. Put topsoil in bottom of hole, bring in good soil or potting soil, if needed. Water thoroughly and pack soil firmly. Use semi-dwarf or standard size trees for deer - dwarf trees are too vulnerable to browsing. Immediately protect newly planted seedlings with plastic tree shelters to prevent browsing and possible antler rubbing. As trees mature, switch to wire cages to protect from antler rubbing.
For deer, no need to prune much, especially in early years. The tree should be trained in the first year or two to develop into its proper shape. Prune in late winter or early spring. Summer pruning of small twigs helps keep tree size down. Beginning with the second year, apply fertilizer annually about two weeks before bloom. Use 10-10-10 at 1 lbs/tree multiplied by the number of years the tree has been set but never more than 6 lbs per tree. Scatter fertilizer under the outer parts of the branches.
Keep woody and herbaceous competition away from trees using mechanical means or chemicals. Having selected the correct varieties, you should not have to deal with fireblight, apple scab or powdery mildew. You will still have to watch for bad insect infestations by coddling moth, tent caterpillars, aphids, mites and borers. In some cases, insecticides may be necessary.
In summary, choosing the correct variety goes a long way toward winning the apple wars. Other key factors for success include tree shelters, air drainage, fertilizer (beginning in second year), group planting, and conservative pruning. By the way, there are no rules against eating a few apples yourself!
Food Plot Species Profile: Grain Sorghum
by Kent Kammermeyer
Grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) originated in Northeast Africa. There are grain types, syrup types, and hay types which are all coarse-stemmed, erect annuals, four to 15 feet tall. Grain types, which are much more beneficial to deer, are relatively short with large seed heads.
Grain sorghum is widely adapted across the U.S. and can be planted in any state provided that the growing season is long enough to allow maturity before frost (maturity is 90 to 120 days). It is very drought tolerant, making it an excellent substitute for corn in drought prone areas, especially in the Midwest and Southwest. It is grown commercially on large acreages in Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska. It is not tolerant of acid soils, doing best at pH between 5.8 and 7.5.
The seed head is preferred by deer which heavily utilize seed in the dough stage in August and/or fully mature stage in mid-fall to late winter, depending upon the annual acorn crop and other food supplies.
Grain sorghum is best for deer when planted in May or June, broadcast alone at 10 lbs/acre or drilled alone at 5 lbs/acre. Broadcast seed should be covered one-half to one inch deep. Fertilizer at planting should be broadcast at the rate of 400 lbs/acre of 19-19-19 or according to soil test. Grain sorghum has a moderate fertility requirement but produces best with 80 to 100 lbs/acre of actual nitrogen. Under optimum conditions and fertility, it can produce 80 bushels/acre of seed. Under normal conditions, planted for deer, you should expect 50-60 bushels/acre.
Grain sorghum food plots may be more beneficial to deer when planted as a mixture. Several mixes have been successful including sorghum at 5 lbs/acre mixed with one of the following: Aeschynomene (15 lbs/acre), Catjang pea (25 lbs/acre), Iron clay pea (25 lbs/acre), or corn (5 lbs/acre). The addition of a legume such as Aeschynomene (also called deer vetch or jointvetch) improves quality and value of the stand in addition to reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizer by about half because it is fixing nitrogen utilized by the grain sorghum. In summer, deer will readily roam through the mixed planting ignoring the sorghum seedling while selectively browsing on the Aeschynomene or other legume, thus providing both warm and cool season forage for deer in the same stand.
If available, bird resistant varieties (with reddish seed heads) do better for deer than light-headed varieties. Because these have some tannic acid, they are not as palatable to deer at early maturity (dough stage) and last longer into fall because standing in weather gradually reduces the tannic acid and increases palatability. Bird resistant varieties also prevent migrating blackbirds (and other songbirds) from stripping heads in September.
Also, tall growing varieties are better than shorter ones because of weed problems. Tall growing sorghum (alone or mixed with a legume) does a great job of shading competition such as fescue, crabgrass or other summer weeds such as sicklepod or cocklebur. Johnsongrass, because it is so tall, can present a real problem for grain sorghum and may need to be treated with herbicides prior to planting. Check with your county agent. WGF (Wild Game Food) grain sorghum is a short sorghum which may be outcompeted by weeds unless cultivation or chemicals are used. KS989 (a substitute for the old Savannah 5 variety) is a tall growing bird-resistant sorghum very suitable for deer.
Grain sorghum pests includes leafspots, lesser cornstalk borer, or sorghum midge. The midge which attacks the grain in the seed head, is probably the worst of the three, but really should not present problems unless sorghum is grown in the same field for three or more years.
by Kent Kammermeyer
For whitetails, it doesn’t get any better than corn (Zea mays). Find the top of a deer’s preference list and corn will be there, especially in fall and winter. Its no wonder, the nutritional value of corn is well established and documented, especially by the cattle folks. What corn lacks in protein (5 to 8%) it makes up for it in fat (2 grams/cup) and carbohydrates (30 grams/cup). Some deer folks chose to feed corn by the bag, others chose to grow it for deer. This article is for the latter.
Before you jump on the corn bandwagon, a word of caution is in order. Corn is used by over 100 species of wildlife, many of which can decimate a small cornfield before deer even find it. I know, its happened to my sweet corn patch repeatedly. These include, raccoons, crows, squirrels, opossums, beavers, and blackbirds. Also, corn is drought prone, has high fertility requirements, and needs chemical weed control for best results. Nevertheless, if you want the best for deer, you have the equipment, and you can get it past the other critters (using big fields of 3 acres and larger), then go for it in your deer food plot.
Find your best soils, bottomland is best, flatter uplands will do. Droughts are hard on corn, soil moisture is critical, especially during tasseling and silking stage. Plant in March (in the deep south), April (further north) or May (really north) when your soil temperature reaches 60oF or above. Measure the temperature at a depth of one inch at 7:00 AM. Corn will germinate slowly at 55oF. Corn can be planted by conventional plowing and planting in rows, broadcast planting in prepared seedbed, or no-till drilling into dead mulch. For best yield, corn plants need to be 7-12 inches apart which usually translates into 5-10 lbs per acre in rows. Broadcast rate would be 10-15 lbs per acre. Conventional row planting is recommended for best results. Plant 1-2 inches deep, deep planting does not result in a deep root system. Germination occurs in 6-10 days. Plenty of fertilizer is needed. For 100 bushels per acre yield, depending on your native soil fertility, you probably need 100 lbs/acre Nitrogen, about 50 lbs/acre Phosphorus and about 50 lbs/acre Potash. This translates to 300 lbs/acre 19-19-19 at planting and an additional application of 100-150 lbs/acre ammonium nitrate about 4 weeks later. Corn will mature in about 70-120 days, depending upon variety planted.
If you plan to eat some of your corn patch yourself, then obviously use sweet corn varieties that suit your palate, even the super sweets, or sugar enhanced varieties. But if you do this, count on lots of damage from off-target species like raccoons and beavers who obviously prefer sweet corn. Otherwise, you would be better advised to use field corn, cow corn, or any variety suited for cattle feed. Don’t use white corn or silage corn varieties.
If you expect high yields, some kind of weed control will be necessary. Atrazine is a common, effective chemical for weed control in corn, which can be pre-plant incorporated or applied post-emergent with boom sprayers. There are many other herbicides approved for use on corn. If chemicals are not used, you can cultivate your corn at about 4 weeks after germination, the same time you apply your second dose of ammonium nitrate.
If you don’t have the planting equipment, then you will obviously have to broadcast your corn seed and fertilizer. If you do this, I recommend thinning the corn rate down to 5-7 lbs/acre and mixing with 5 lbs/acre of a tall, bird-resistant grain sorghum (such as KS989). This will give you 2 advantages: 1) two-tiered shade for better weed control, and 2) a buffer crop in case of drought, depredation or insect damage to the corn. Grain sorghum is a close relative of corn and provides similar nutritional value.
Bigger fields are by far better. Your fields are too small when you lose newly planted corn seed to crows, turkeys, squirrels, or skunks scratching, pulling or digging up the kernels. There is also a cumulative learning effect when corn is grown in the same small fields for several years. There are commercial crow repellent applications available to treat corn seed before planting.
In summary, corn also known as "golden acorns" is a great crop for deer if you can pull it off successfully. I have grown it for 20 years and have had good years and bad. In the good years, your corn should last at least into early winter before being entirely consumed. When this happens, your deer will surely be fat and sassy!
Acorns and Deer
by Kent Kammermeyer
Any deer hunter knows that oak trees are of major importance to both man and wildlife in the U.S. There are 54 to 85 species (they tend to crossbreed, driving the taxonomists crazy) native to the U.S. Oaks are widely distributed over the country but are scarce or absent in the northern prairies. They thrive at different altitudes and in many different soil types.
Acorns rate a position at the top of the wildlife food list with usage by over 100 species of animals. White-tailed deer use of acorns has been documented in many studies with acorns composing as high as 52% of the diet in Texas and up to 50% in Missouri and Alabama. Wherever acorns and deer occur together they are an important food item.
Acorns contain a relatively low protein level (6%) but are high in fat and carbohydrates at maturity in the fall when deer and other animals need fat to over-winter in a healthy condition.
Acorns have been repeatedly tied to deer abundance, body weight, antler development and even over-winter survival. Deer populations exposed to acorn failure followed by a harsh winter are much more subject to mortality than acorn abundance followed by a harsh winter. Studies in the Southern Appalachians found acorn abundance linked to deer harvest, fall body weight in the year of the crop and the year after, as well as antler production and reproduction in the year after the crop.
Production and Variation
One study in North Carolina showed average production of well-developed acorns ranged from 6,600 per acre per year to 94,600 per acre per year. The quality of acorns produced is as important as the quantity produced. On the average, only 2 of 3 acorns were fully developed. Of those fully developed, the number of sound and undamaged acorns varied from 11% to 73%. Production of sound acorns on 2/3-acre plots ranged from 0 to 145,400! Acorns were damaged by insects (mostly weevils), birds and squirrels, and were imperfectly developed, deformed or aborted. Late spring freezes, poor bloom, and lack of pollination are other important factors affecting the size of the acorn crop each year.
Oaks are divided into 2 groups, red oak and white oak. Major differences between groups are that the white oak group blooms and produces a mature acorn in the same year while red oaks bloom and produce a mature acorn in the second year. The white oak group has rounded leaf margins (lobes) contrasted to pointed lobes with a bristle on the tips of red oak leaves. There are other important differences too numerous to detail here. The white oak group includes white oak, swamp white oak, chestnut oak, post oak, live oak and others. The red oak group includes northern red oak, southern red oak, scarlet oak, black oak, water oak, willow oak and others. An important non-native species is sawtooth oak, a member of the red oak group from China, which has been imported and widely planted in the Southern U.S. Sawtooth oak produces at an early age(7+ years), drops acorns early, and rarely fails.
Due to lower tannic acid, white oaks are generally more preferred by deer than red oaks. Sawtooth oak is a notable exception to this, reported to be equally as preferred as white oak.
The importance of oak diversity is unmistakable. Red and white oaks (probably due to the one year difference in time to maturity) rarely fail in the same year. Consequently, the 2 groups often buffer each other year after year, preventing a total failure of both groups in the same year. This is important because of the wildly fluctuating nature of acorn production.
Maintain diversity of oak species as explained above. Manage oak stands for large crown diameter and air movement around crowns. Peak production age for oaks is usually 50-100 years of age. Select cut to release oaks from surrounding competition such as hickory, white pine, gums, poplar or maple.
Finally, while not proven by research, fertilization of individual trees may help increase acorn production. A complete fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) broadcast underneath mature oaks evenly out to the dripline at the rate of 2 lbs per inch of diameter at breast height (dbh) in the month of March (south) or April (north) may increase acorn production. Individual oaks located around lawns, pastures, croplands, and other fertilized areas have long been noted for heavier, more consistent heavier acorn production, although other factors (such as insects or air circulation around crowns) may be involved.
Though inconsistent and unpredictable, acorns make up a very important component of the fall and winter diet of whitetails. This is especially true where diversity of oak species among both white and red oak groups is high. Although white oaks as a whole are more palatable to deer, red oaks appear to be more consistent producers on a year to year basis. Both are extremely important components of a serious deer management program.
A Report on Growing Rice for Ducks in North Georgia
By: Kent Kammermeyer
Last summer I was given a bag of Bengal domestic rice by William Cooper of Cooper Seed Company in Lawrenceville to test for its growth potential in North Georgia. I have a four-acre pond with a flashboard riser stacked with 6 inch boards. In early July, at full pool, we loaded up the seed and cyclone seeder in my 12 foot semi-V aluminum boat and broadcast the 50 pounds of rice in as shallow water as we could run the boat with electric motor and out to depths of about 1 ½ feet deep. Then over the course of the next week, I gradually dropped my pond about a foot exposing a half acre of mud and creating another half acre of water less than 6 inches deep. The rice is supposed to germinate in up to 6 inches of clear water and it did. I got a very good stand on the mud flat and in the shallow water. My intention was to raise the water back up to full pool to flood the mud flat again, but I could not do it because of the drought. Nevertheless, the dryland rice did fairly well. In August, when it was thigh high or higher and trying to send up a seed head, I noticed a few stalks floating on the water, then a few more, then a lot. Within a two week period beavers and/or muskrats had cut all the stems at ground level, apparently ate a little of the stem and the rest floated away! What a disappointment! Despite the failure, I'm convinced you can successfully grow domestic rice for ducks in North Georgia if you don't have beavers or muskrats or you can practice beaver and muskrat control (usually trapping or shooting). If you have the critters and can't get rid of them, you may want to stick with the old standby Japanese millet.
Top Ten Cream of the Crop Food Plot Plants... North and South
by Kent Kammermeyer
Wait a minute, you say, how can a biologist from Georgia write about food plots in the frozen north? Just like some outdoor writers, a couple of phone calls and we have an expert, right? Wrong! Let me explain. Where I work in northeast Georgia, we plant food plots at mountainous elevations as high as 4,000 ft above sea level. This is equivalent in climate and vegetation to areas over 1,000 miles north! We plant orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass and timothy, for example, which are not adapted to the South. Also, I have hunted on and assisted with food plot mixes for over 35 years on a very successful high quality hunt club in New Hampshire. I grew up in Connecticut and assist friends with their plots in that state. Finally, I read Ed Spinazzola’s new book “Wildlife Food Plots, Easy as 1-2-3” based on his extensive experiences in Michigan and I recommend it to anyone planting food plots in the North.
Now that we have cleared the air, lets try to clear up some of the food plot confusion. Choosing a seed or seed mix for your food plot can be like buying a car, hundreds of models (or seed varieties) to chose from, all with different options (plant characteristics) that either fit your driving needs (soil type and climate) or don’t. The whole experience can be mind-boggling, frustrating, confusing, and worrisome. It can sometimes be made more difficult by some dealers (seed and car) who have a hidden agenda or lack knowledge of the seed they sell. On top of everything are the pretty bags, extravagant claims, and mysterious mixes promoted by the seed dealer who is armed with all kinds of propaganda from the company seed salesman. Ironically, many of the pretty bags do have high quality, valuable seed in them at least as one component of a mix, but they can sometimes break your budget. Premixed seed mixes are convenient and certainly appropriate for small plots, just read the labels and look for the plants mentioned individually in my tables.
The best way I know to present a clear and true assessment of the best deer food plot plants is to divide the country into North and South and present appropriate seed species (not mixes) suitable for either one or both (see Tables 1 and 2). The seed species are roughly ranked from top to bottom considering such characteristics as palatability to deer, production, quality (protein levels), and cool season value. There is not much difference (North or South) between the top three or four or the bottom three or four on either list. These plants are the cream of the crop for deer! There are some very good deer food plot plants conspicuously missing from both tables including annual ryegrass, kale, orchardgrass, fungus-free fescue, rose clover, berseem clover, subterranean clover, Kentucky bluegrass, Matua brome grass and others. For one reason or another, they just did not make the cut. Reasons may include lower preference by deer or not widely adapted (requiring special conditions for growth). Some are expensive or difficult to find, some are low producers, some grasses are too competitive for mixes with clover.
There are some seeds that are prominent on both lists, including alfalfa, ladino clover, red clover, wheat and rape. On these, it will be of utmost importance to select the right variety for your climate, soil and other conditions. I can help with this to some extent, but you need to check with your local agricultural extension agent, wildlife biologist or reputable seed dealer (finding the right seed dealer can be as valuable as picking the right family doctor).
One more preface before we begin to analyze the contents of the tables. You will notice this as we discuss the seed. Just because the seed are listed separately does not mean you need to plant them that way! As a matter of fact, with the possible exception of alfalfa, rape or turnips, all of the plants in the table need to be mixed with something.
A word about legumes is also in order. You will notice that six of 10 plants on the northern table and seven of 10 in the southern table are members of the legume (pea/bean/clover) family. This is no accident. Besides being highly palatable to deer (high protein and high total digestible nutrients), legumes fix their own nitrogen from the air, a huge advantage to the plant and the farmer. Nitrogen (N) is an important part of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, an essential part of growth and body function. N is also the most expensive of the major fertilizer elements. Legumes fix 100 to 300 lbs of N/acre/year for their own use and that of companion or follow-up grasses. This is equivalent to 300 to 900 lbs of ammonium nitrate/acre/year ($50 to $150/acre/year).
Tops on the legume, N-fixing list at up to 300 lbs/N/ac/year is alfalfa. Because of its very high quality and very high production, alfalfa is at the top of the northern list. Because of the extra difficulty of growing alfalfa, it is midway down on the southern list, especially in the Deep South. Before everyone jumps on the alfalfa bandwagon, alfalfa is definitely not for the majority of deer hunters and their food plots. Because alfalfa is sensitive to overgrazing in the early seedling stage, requires a high pH (over 6.5), lots of potash (K) and annual maintenance in the form of weed control or weevil control, alfalfa is labor intensive and expensive to grow and maintain. Meticulous may be the right word to describe the type of deer hunter suited to growing alfalfa. If you can pull it off, however, the benefits/rewards are great in quality, production, and longevity which become directly beneficial to your deer herd. There are many varieties of alfalfa that work well in the north (Geneva, Winter Gold, Radiant, Laser and Vernal). Some are genetically improved to better resist weevils or to resist heavy early grazing pressure. (Alfagraze is one, there are others). These also work in the upper South or mid-South. The Deep South is another matter because of deep sands, droughts, poorer fertility, and high deer populations. Early trails show that Amerigraze varieties have a better chance than others to get at least two or three years longevity from the planting.
Ladino clover (giant-leaved white) is high on both tables. It is a high quality, high production perennial that can produce significant forage for seven to 10 months of the year. In the North, ladino clover may persist for over 10 years if managed properly, in the South, five to eight years would be a good expectation. The past four years of severe drought in the South and East has taken its toll on ladino clover plantings. Some varieties (such as Osceola) have been specifically bred for drought resistance and are holding their own, but everything has its limits. Other varieties common across the U.S. include California, Will, Tillman II, Advantage, Regal, Tripoli, Alice, Pilgrim and Merit. There are new, more persistant ladino clover varieties on the verge of hitting the market. Keep your ears open here. In my opinion, ladino clover should always be planted in a mixture. My favorite is ladino (five lbs/acre) plus red clover (seven lbs/acre) plus wheat (50 lbs/acre). The wheat and red clover are very productive and palatable and fast starting while they “nurse” the ladino into early spring when it explodes.
Red clover (also known as June clover) ranks high on both tables. It is a highly palatable, productive clover that grows well in all of the eastern U.S. but acts as an annual in the Deep South, a biennial in the mid-South and a perennial in the North. It does better in the warm season than ladino. Like ladino, it is sensitive to pH (needs 6.0 or above) and is vulnerable to severe droughts. In the North and Upper South, Redland III, Arlington, Marathon, Cinnamon and Freedom are good winter hardy and disease-resistant varieties. In the Deep South, Cherokee has the best chance to produce and persist. Again, mix red clover with wheat (50 lbs/acre) or oats (50 lbs/acre) or rye (50 lbs/acre) and ladino clover (five lbs/acre).
Two annual clovers sit at the top of the list for southern states. These are Crimson, a productive, fast starting, acid-tolerant clover that will often automatically reseed itself in the Deep South and Arrowleaf, a slower starting, drought-tolerant, tall growing, long season, high quality clover that will reseed if disked lightly in late summer. Both have a lower temperature limit of about 0o in winter whereupon they will be winterkilled. Because they complement each other so well in growth habit and reseeding ability, they make a good mixture with each planted at about 10 lbs/acre and mixed with oats (50 lbs/acre) in the Deep South and wheat (50 lbs/acre) further north (mid-South).
Birdsfoot trefoil is an excellent food plot choice for the North down to Upper-South (TN, VA, NC, north GA, north AL). Its big advantage is its tolerance of soil acidity down to 5.5 pH, its drought tolerance, and its longevity (5-10 years or more). It is a little sensitive in the seedling stage to overgrazing, drought or lack of fertility. For this reason, mix birdsfoot trefoil (two lbs/acre) with a perennial grass – Timothy (6-8 lbs/acre), orchardgrass (10 lbs/acre), Kentucky bluegrass (5-10 lbs/acre), or perennial ryegrass (15 lbs/acre). You can also mix with the small grains (no more than 50 lbs/acre) and/or clovers to end up with an ultimately pure stand of trefoil two or three years down the road. Erect varieties (AU Dewey (South), Fergus, Norcen and Tretona (North)) persist under heavy grazing pressure and persist better with weed competition.
Chickory is easy to grow, persistent, productive, and drought-tolerant. Deer sometimes eat it lightly in fall but jump on it heavily the following spring and summer. For this reason it really needs to be planted in a mixture (at about one lb/acre) with clover and a small grain.
Alsike is a fast starting, winter hardy, acid-tolerant and flood-tolerant clover adapted to the North. It does best in a mixture (at five lbs/acre) with red and white clover, a small grain and maybe even trefoil.
Austrian winter pea is a highly palatable legume appropriate for the southern U.S. It makes a great early season bow hunting plot when mixed at 20 lbs/acre with any clover and small grain. In small fields, it will likely be killed by deer over-grazing before winter. If not, it may take over the field with rank growth by mid-spring. If it blooms and seeds, disking in August will get it back for a second year.
Sweetclover is appropriate in the North if pH is above 6.0 and will tolerate very low fertility. Sweetclover is not quite as palatable as most other legumes but is very drought-tolerant. It is a true biennial. There are white and yellow-blossomed varieties of sweetclover. The yellow flowered species are higher quality but yield less than the white-blossomed sweetclover. It can be mixed at about eight lbs/acre with any of the clovers, trefoil, wheat, rye, or the perennial grasses.
Hairy vetch is a high quality legume appropriate in all of the South. It is used extensively as a winter cover crop that fixes N and can be followed in the spring (especially with a no-till drill) by corn, grain sorghum, millet, or any summer grass crop. It produces a beautiful purple bloom in mid-spring and produces hard seed by late spring. It would do well at 5-10 lbs/acre mixed with Crimson clover, Arrowleaf clover, oats, wheat, or rye. Disking in late summer will ensure the reseeding of both clovers and the vetch.
Oats, wheat, and rye have been repeatedly referred to in this article. Fall planted oats can winterkill in the North; rye will grow in acid soil and low fertility, but is not as palatable as wheat. All three can be mixed together in a food plot, but don’t skimp on N. A better tactic would be to pick one of the three and mix with any of the legumes mentioned above.
Timothy is one of a handful of high quality (not so aggressive) cool season grasses appropriate for the northern and Central U.S. down to mid-South. The others are Kentucky bluegrass, Perennial ryegrass, Orchardgrass, and fungus-free fescue. I would always recommend mixing any of these with clovers or other legumes.
Rape and turnips (and kale) are all members of the Brassica family. They are high quality and easy to grow in acid soil, low fertility and drought but are high N users (75 lbs/acre). Deer use has been extremely variable. Some experienced users of Brassicas indicate that it may take up to three years for deer to get used to eating these plants, then they really relish them. Often, heavy use will not begin until December or January (when frosts apparently increase sugar content of the leaf). Some users report high preference for rape (or a related canola variety) that begins at planting and continues through winter. Turnip foliage is mostly used in winter and some deer learn to eat the turnip bulb throughout winter (though I have never observed this in my turnip plots). Due to a serious disease problem, brassicas do not need to be grown on the same ground for more than two successive years even if they reseed and volunteer back. My recommendation is to mix rape at a low rate (two lbs/acre) with clover and wheat.
Thanks again to QDMA Chapter president Ed Spinazzola for his insights and long experience at planting food plots in Michigan. I also want to thank three knowledgeable and trustworthy seed dealers here in Georgia: Jimmy Adams of Adams-Briscoe Seed Company in Jackson, William Cooper of Cooper Seed in Lawrenceville, and Jimmy Willis of Athens Seed in Watkinsville. Also responsible for a wealth of information for this article were agronomists Dr. Bill Sell and Dr. Dewey Lee.
Quality Deer Management......Lime
by Kent Kammermeyer
Spreading lime will improve soil content and help with the growth of food plot plants.
"Got lime?" This is my first question for the hunter on the phone who wants to know what to plant in their food plots. If the answer were "yes," they could come close to doubling their food plot production and greatly increase their protein and digestibility (DO use lime on food plots).
Lots of folks like to take shortcuts, and I was one of those when it came to deer plots — until I learned the hard way.
We had to have lime to grow anything other than KY31 toxic fescue in our food plots in northeast Georgia. Our soil tests were showing pH levels from 4.8 to 5.2 (extremely acid). Soil tests recommended three to five tons of dolomitic limestone per acre. Twenty-five years later, we still put over 400 tons of agricultural lime each year on parts of our 900-acre food plot system on 14 wildlife management areas.
There is no doubt in my mind that lime is the backbone of our clover plot program. Without it, we would be sunk. Why? Acidity is the number one soil problem in the entire eastern U.S. Past loss of topsoil, native acidity of woodland soils, and intensive use of croplands have all contributed to increased soil acidity. Nitrogen fertilizers, crop removal, and the loss of calcium and magnesium by leaching all combine to push soil pH downward. If allowed to remain, the soil cannot hold necessary nutrients and plants can't grow properly.
Agricultural lime begins to work immediately upon contact with acid soil. However, a full reaction may take as long as 12 to 24 months. Lime can be applied at any time of year, especially under dry spreading conditions and unbroken ground.
Check with your local county extension agent and/or Department of Natural Resources for suitable planting dates and other vital information.
Some of the seed varieties we sell have been treated, so please wash your hands after handling.
Some of the seed varieties we sell have been treated, so please wash your hands after handling.
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