FINE TUNING FORAGES for Maximum Fall Performance

By Hollis Ayres

When choosing a forage, don’t forget to consider the purpose you want that forage to serve in the context of your overall food-plot system. When it comes to maximizing the results from your food-plot system, planting only annuals, only perennials, or a combination can all be great  options depending on your specific needs. In this article, we’ll talk about the third option — using fall annuals such as Imperial Whitetail Pure Attraction, Winter-Greens, No-Plow and Secret Spot to complement existing perennial plots.

Regardless of whether you plan to plant annuals or perennials, there are two general categories of factors you should consider in making your forage selection for a particular site. The first relates to physical conditions of the plot, for example soil type, drainage and equipment accessibility. The second relates to the role you want the forage in that site to play in the context of your overall food-plot system.

In this article, we’ll talk about the second group. For example, if your goal for the forage in a particular site is to provide year-around nutrition and attraction and early availability in the spring before natural forages reemerge, a perennial forage is the way to go. Or if you want the forage in that particular plot to provide abundant, highly nutritious growth for fall and winter, you might select an annual. In both cases you’ll want that site to meet a targeted need. Since this article is about using annuals to complement perennials, we’ll assume that you already have perennials planted and focus on ways to complement them with fall annuals. The Whitetail Institute’s perennial forage blends are Imperial Whitetail Clover, Double-Cross, Alfa-Rack Plus, Chicory Plus, “Chic” Magnet and Extreme. Let’s look at why using annuals to complement these perennials can be such a great benefit, and how to get the most out of the combination.

Increased forage variety. Have you ever noticed that most Whitetail Institute forage products are blends of different plant types? There’s a reason. Whitetail Institute forage research, development and testing are completely goal-oriented. Specifically, existing and potential new forages are developed and evaluated by how well they fulfill a host of goals, each of which is directly related to how well they will perform in whitetail deer food plots. These goals include early seedling vigor, heat, drought and cold tolerance, disease resistance, and of course high nutritional content and attractiveness to whitetails. Rarely will a single plant type excel in all areas. That’s one reason most of Whitetail Institute’s forage products are blends — each Imperial forage product is designed with the best possible components and in the right ratios so that the resulting blend performs at the highest possible level in all categories.

Using Imperial annuals in conjunction with existing perennials can magnify this benefit even more. In effect, by using annuals to complement your existing perennials you are increasing the number of different plant varieties available to your deer. Consider Imperial Whitetail Clover, for example, which consists of annual clovers as well as the Institute’s proprietary Advantage and Insight perennial clovers. Annuals such as Pure Attraction and Winter-Greens contain completely different types of plants. The forage oats in Pure Attraction provide a burst of high-carbohydrate food for deer in early fall right when they need it most as they try to store energy for the coming winter. Later, the brassicas in Pure Attraction and Winter-Greens become even sweeter with the first frosts of fall and stand tall in the snow, providing abundant forage for deer during the cold winter months.

Broader-Based Attraction and Increased Tonnage. There is no question that Imperial perennial forages are highly attractive to deer, and they stay that way all year or most of the year at a minimum. Whitetail Institute annuals planted in the fall can boost attraction even further. Because of the unique requirements of a deer’s small-ruminant digestive system, deer seek out only the most tender forages, such as newly emerged shoots, leaves and buds in early spring. Annuals planted in the fall are extremely tender and attractive to deer, at a time of year when nature offers little to nothing in the way of highly attractive forage sources. Fall annuals also boost tonnage over that produced by even the best perennials alone. Generally speaking, fall annuals tend to establish and grow even more quickly than perennials.


When it comes to structuring your food-plot system for your own specific needs, the Whitetail Institute’s lineup of forage products has you covered. Planting all annuals or all perennials can be superb options in many cases depending on the situation. A third option is to plant both annuals and perennials, and if you decide to go that route, here are two ideas that can help maximize your returns: plant the annuals in separate plots near your existing perennials, or actually plant them on top of the perennials. Both can provide an effective complement to existing perennials if done correctly.

Planting Annuals near Perennials: One of the key benefits of this approach is that it helps maximize “linear edge” to help deer feel safer using the plot during daylight hours. In the food-plot context, “linear edge” basically just means “where the food plot meets cover.” The more linear edge you design into the plot, the safer deer should feel using the plot during daylight hours. The cover that linear edge borders may be actual cover — something that both humans and deer recognize as cover, such as a tree line or brushy area. However, it may also be something that deer only perceive as cover — something that they feel camouflages them enough to feel safe. For example, that might even be just a 10-foot wide strip of tall grass between two plots. A great way to take advantage of linear edge is with larger clear areas such as pastures and cutovers with bedding areas in the woods around them. By planting forages in sections of the clear area and leaving strips between them, you can increase the amount of linear edge without giving up much of the area actually devoted to forages. This gives you an excellent setup to add annuals right next to your perennials.

Three superb choices for planting by themselves, whether near existing perennial plots or not, are Pure-Attraction, Winter-Greens, No-Plow and Secret Spot. Pure Attraction features the high early season tonnage and attraction of Whitetail Institute forage oats and winter peas. Later in the season, the brassicas in Pure Attraction and Winter-Greens can provide an abundant food source for deer during the cold winter months when perennials may slow production or be buried by snow. No-Plow and Secret Spot provide the benefits of early-season and late-season plant varieties in products designed for minimum seedbed preparation.

Top-Dressing Annuals into Existing Perennials. Even if you lack the room to plant annuals right beside your perennials, you can still get many of the same benefits simply by top dressing your existing perennials in the fall with No Plow or Winter-Greens. Imperial perennial forage blends come with some annual forage varieties in them. These annuals are there to fulfill a very specific purpose: to get the plot up and going as soon after planting as possible, and start drawing deer right away. Generally, when seeds germinate the first thing they do is start building some of their root systems before they appear above ground. Imperial perennial forage plants do that very quickly. Imperial annuals often do it even more quickly because they have less root to build before they show up above ground. Once the perennials start coming up, the annuals have done their job, and the perennials take over.

In some cases, folks may want to add annuals back into their existing perennial plots in the fall. Doing so can be a great way to boost attraction, and it can be a great way to get your plot full of forage plants again if Mother Nature damaged the stand over the summer.Winter-Greens, No Plow and Secret Spot can be planted without ground tillage and do not need to be covered. They can just be broadcast right over an existing perennial plot. If you are planning to do that, though, keep a few things in mind.

Once thing to remember and plan for is that Slay, the Institute’s broadleaf herbicide for use in maintaining Imperial Whitetail Clover and any other clover or alfalfa, has a soil residual in it. The residual is there to help control weeds long after the plot is sprayed. In the same way, though, the residual can also delay you from planting the site in certain forages. How long you have to wait after spraying to plant depends on what you are planning to plant. The herbicide label contains a full chart, but if you plan on overseeding an existing clover or alfalfa plot in the fall with Winter-Greens, No-Plow or Secret Spot then don’t spray it with Slay the preceding spring.

Another thing to remember is that you should try not to exceed the recommended seed rate when planting any forage. If you think about one square yard of your food plot, you can understand that having too many plants growing in a confined area can cause the roots to battle each other for space. This can result in the forage plants being less drought tolerant and perhaps even smaller than they would otherwise be. Accordingly, if you plan to overseed an existing perennial with Winter-Greens, No-Plow or Secret Spot, keep the seed rate at no more than 1/2 what it would be if you planted them alone.

When it comes to fall annual plantings, the line of Imperial forage blends has you covered. Plant them alone for superior attraction and nutrition all season long. Or plant them in conjunction with your existing perennials to add attractive, nutritious new growth. Once you’ve covered the few planting and maintenance issues I’ve mentioned, the only real limit on how you use these outstanding fall annuals is your imagination.