Why I Plant in Spring

By Dean Weimer

Planting food plots in spring is a superior option for hunters looking to offer up an established, attractive, and nutritional food source for their deer in the warm season and beyond.

After all, bucks in particular need to replenish lost reserves from their skeletal system and overall physiology as a result of the stress-heavy process of antler growth/calcification, in conjunction with the rigors of the primary rut, followed by the grueling winter months in the middle and upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

Food sources, natural and agricultural, have been depleted at a time when deer need them most during the cold winter months. Does, too, are coming out of winter and are entering their most stressful period of the year, all the while carrying future members of the herd. Therefore, a highly nutritious food source that is available as early in the new season as possible is very important to help alleviate the problems mentioned

There are many reasons why planting in spring is perhaps the best time, and in this article we’ll take a look at the top reasons to do so. Perhaps the best reason to plant food plots in spring, especially those warm-season varieties of legumes like Imperial Whitetail Clover, Imperial Alfa-Rack, and others, is because that period leading into spring is tailor-made for plot preparation.


The window for establishing a quality base for your plots is much longer in the early season than it is at any other time of the year. Later on extremely dry conditions can be a food plot killer. We’ll touch more on this further on. In late winter, weeds, grasses and other types of food plot forage competition are still in their dormancy, and this is a great time to till up the soil and begin the process of addressing the needs of your soil.

This can be done in the northern latitudes as soon as your soil is thawed and dry enough to get your machinery in your fields. The sooner you can get your lime in the soil the better. This is why getting your soil samples in as soon as possible is so important. Planning your lime and fertilizer purchases ahead of time is also extremely helpful. Another advantage early preparation has is that dormant weed seeds can be stirred up into the topsoil to allow them to germinate and begin growing prior to the actual planting of the food plot seed. That way you can stop many broadleaves and grass plants as you can spray them just before the planting of the preferred species. Or, if you’d rather, you could simply continue to disc your plot several times, effectively minimizing competition without chemicals in the weeks prior to planting.

This can greatly aid the control of such plants later on in the growing season when rain and the sun’s more direct rays can be focused on your food plot plants, and not their competition. To be sure, weeds and grasses can be an issue, at least to a certain extent, but killing many of them early on can help tremendously.


Arguably, the best time to soil test is at least several weeks before the planting of your chosen food plot species. Soil tests can even be taken in late winter when the ground is still cold, and even a bit wet.

You don’t want to send mud in for a soil test, but a little moisture in the sample isn’t going to hurt anything. Interestingly enough, it is the extremely dry samples that can actually cause more false test information than wet ones. 

This past spring I sent a soil test into the Whitetail Institute in March. It was cold the day I drew the sample and the plants were still brown. I put the sample on a piece of plastic in my garage for a few days and let it air dry before I sent it in.

Getting the lacking nutrients and lime mixed into the sub-surface soil is also critical for plants that will be rooting down into this zone in the coming months, thus benefiting plant and deer alike. It amazes me how many well-meaning food plot enthusiasts skip these vital steps prior to starting their new, springtime plantings.

Skipping these early steps is like a serious fishermen buying the best rods, reels, line, and top-dollar fishing lures only to buy the cheapest snap swivels you can find.

If you’re serious about improving your forage and overall habitat for your deer, and are willing to spend good, hard-earned money on Whitetail Institute’s quality seeds, then you owe it to yourself and the deer you’re hunting, to skip no steps in the entire process. It’s definitely worth the extra time, money, and effort.


All the ingredients are starting to come together for the ultimate springtime food plot, and so far we’ve discussed the proper steps to take while waiting on the proper planting time frame. While waiting on the planting date it is very important to get the freshest Whitetail Institute seed that you possibly can. Make sure you buy seed that has a current test date on the bag. If you find an untagged bag then it’s best to steer clear of it. And it’s not just the seed that needs to be ultra-fresh. You also want to make sure those seeds have the freshest coatings. 

All Whitetail Institute legumes are pre-inoculated with microbial Rhizobium bacteria so that germination is maximized, and later on to help produce maximum amounts of nitrogen for themselves. The fresher that inoculant, the better off your individual plants in your plot will be. Recently the Institute has begun to also add Rainbond to all their coated seeds. Rainbond holds 200 times its weight in water around the seed to improve seedling survival and reduce false germination from lack of moisture. This is just another aid in helping the survival of all your plants, which will only help those food plots in the future.

Perhaps the best time to plant a legume like Imperial Clover in my part of Indiana is from about the beginning of April to mid-May. In fact, this is a good time frame to plant your new plots in many areas of the middle latitudes. In my neck of the woods a springtime frost isn’t out of the question in early to mid-April, but clover seed is very hardy and will withstand some colder temperatures. 

If you live in more southerly latitudes be sure to read the optimum dates for planting your plots on the labels of your products. There is a window for planting for each of the Institute’s products that is specific for each region, or state/province.

What I like to do is have the fresh seed ready to plant, and when all of the other steps have been taken care of I’ll be ready to go sometime inside of this important window of planting. Make sure that you are planting as early as possible within the planting window suggested on your seed package.


It’s an old cliché: “Make your own bed, and lie in it too.” OK, so we aren’t discussing human behavior here so much. But, it’s super important to prepare your seed bed correctly to get the most out of all the work you’ll be doing up to this point in time. 

After you’ve disked the seed bed several times, and/or sprayed it with a glyphosate-type herbicide, it’s now time to prepare that bed for your seeds. This is another area in which many well-meaning food plotters can make or break their efforts.

When you are completely ready to put the seed out, it’s time to get the dirt ready one last time before the actual seed broadcasting. A cultipacker is really key in this instance. You can get away with using some type of homemade drag, but if you can borrow, or rent a cultipacker you’ll be better off in the long run. Before planting the first seed, you should cultipack the plot. Get that plot bed firm and uniform for your best

After this you are ready to broadcast the seed. I’ve found that a hand spreader works best on plots about an acre, or smaller. These plots are small enough and you can pinpoint your broadcasting efforts more easily. 

For larger plots a pull-behind, ATV-mounted, or other type broadcaster might save you some legwork. It’s critical to follow Whitetail Institute’s recommended per-acre seeding rates. When your seed has been planted it’s time to cultipack it one more time. Once that is finished you’re ready for Mom Nature to do her part.


Generally, spring offers the right amounts of rainfall to get a new food plot up and going properly. Having your particular field ready to go when the season’s first rains begin to harbor in spring’s new growth is critical to getting your plot in as good a shape as can be expected before going into the summer’s dry period.

Taking all of the necessary steps ahead of the rains of April, May, and also June will no doubt put the finishing touches on the perfect food plot. Getting Imperial Clover to root down effectively before summer's dry spell is key in getting the plot to become as drought tolerant as it is designed to be. After your new plot starts to grow, and the deer start to devour your offerings, you will finally understand what all the hard work was for. And believe me, those deer will come and eat this new, nutritious food item that hasn’t been available to them before.


Another benefit of establishing a quality food plot several months ahead of deer season is the power of the planting to draw deer to your particular property. My personal favorite reason to plant food plots is the sheer amount of nutritious forage that a properly maintained plot can provide to a deer herd. This really can’t be overstated.

It’s amazing to me how much a food plot that offers up something different to an area’s deer can really bring them to your property and keep them there more of the time.

For me personally, it is very rewarding to give back to the animals I hunt, and it is aesthetically pleasing to actually see them eating from a food plot that I have painstakingly created for them. When you realize that your plot can also be utilized in a deer hunting strategy as well, it is just icing on the cake.


Spring is perhaps the best time to plant a new food plot throughout much of the whitetail’s range. With proper preparation, planning, and timing you will be well on your way to producing the ultimate plot.

Paying attention to all the details in the steps to building an awesome food plot will go a long way in reaping the benefits that will come from the effort. Putting forth maximum effort and time will definitely help in your quest for the ultimate hunting on your slice of paradise. And it feels good to give back and ensure that your deer will have great nutrition for the next several years.