Extreme: Fine-Tune Your Mowing

By Jon Cooner

Like all Whitetail Institute perennials, Imperial Whitetail Extreme is designed to attract, hold and grow bigger and better deer for several years and from a single planting. All it takes is Mother Nature’s cooperation and a little maintenance on your part. While the general maintenance goals for all Whitetail Institute perennials are the same, Extreme can benefit by fine-tuning the timing of maintenance mowing in some cases.

Specifically, mowing Extreme as part of maintenance should be timed, first and foremost, to prevent any annual weeds or perennial grasses in the plot from having the chance to flower (make new seeds). Again, that is your first priority when timing maintenance mowing. If you don’t have such weeds in your Extreme stands, though, then consider waiting to mow Extreme until after it flowers and the seeds in the flowers have dried (and so become viable). Mowing then can shatter the seed heads and spread the seeds for new forage plants across the plot, thickening the stand.


In his article, “Integrated Weed Management” (Whitetail News, Vol. 18, No. 3), the Whitetail Institute’s Weed and Herbicide Science expert, Dr. Carroll Johnson, III, classified the Whitetail Institute’s recommended perennial-maintenance steps into three categories:

1. “Cultural Practices” are those that help maximize the ability of the forage plants to thrive. Examples include choosing the correct forage for the plot’s soil type and slope, adding lime to the seedbed if necessary to achieve or maintain optimum soil pH, and fertilizing.

2. “Physical Practices” are those that mechanically destroy or remove a weed or its propagules (seeds, rhizomes, etc.). Examples include hand-pulling weeds, repeated ground tillage, and mowing weeds to prevent them from flowering.

3. “Chemical Practices” means spraying herbicides (only appropriate in certain, specific circumstances).

In the same article, Dr. Johnson also identified a single, end goal of all forage maintenance practices: promoting forage health and vigor.

“Any crop production practice that enhances crop growth and uniformity also improves the ability of the crop to compete with weeds.… Uniform crop growth is the single most powerful form of weed control in any cropping system, including food plots.” — W. Carroll Johnson, III, PhD

That’s why each maintenance practice, whether cultural, physical or chemical, should be approached in a way that best serves the main end goal when you’re maintaining your perennials: keeping the forage stand as healthy and vigorously growing as possible. That’s also why all the maintenance steps are interdependent; they should be considered and, if appropriate to the situation, performed in a way that will best promote the end goal with the other steps. In the same article, Dr. Johnson described that concept as a three-legged stool, with cultural, physical and chemical practices each being one leg of a three-legged stool. All the legs must be “integrated,” or working together, if the stool is to remain stable.

It can be easy to miss that point and focus too narrowly on the result of a specific maintenance step instead of the end goal. For example, when asked what benefit mowing perennials provides, a quick answer we often hear is, “mowing before the forage plants flower helps keep them even more lush, nutritious and attractive”. Generally, that’s true for two reasons: First, mowing to prevent flowering helps prevent the parent plants from making the huge energy expenditures it takes for them to flower. Second, mowing can generally stimulate plants to add more foliage at their lower levels. What may be missed, though, is that these effects vary in degree among different plant types, and understanding the differences can help you really fine-tune your maintenance efforts in some cases.

The energy expense of flowering, for example, is much greater in some types of plants than others. If you want to see the negative effects clearly, take a close look at the ordinary white clovers that appear in most of our lawns each spring. Bend down and take a close look at them before they start flowering and make a mental note of the size of the leaves and the tenderness of the stems. Then, check again after they flower, and you may be surprised at how much smaller the leaves and how much tougher the stems are. Other perennials, though, don’t suffer such drastic negative effects from flowering. If you were to try the above experiment with Imperial Whitetail Clover, for example, you probably wouldn’t notice much difference, since it remains lush, nutritious and attractive even if allowed to flower. And while mowing correctly can stimulate forage growth in a plant’s lower levels, the effect here is again greater with some types of plants than others.

Neither effect is very great with the perennial components in Extreme, Persist forb and WINA- 100 perennial forage chicory. In fact, mowing and flowering have so little effect on the nutritional quality and palatability of Persist forb that you can pretty much discount them as factors in deciding when to mow. The same is true of Extreme’s other perennial component, WINA chicory. That can give you an additional option for timing the mowing of Extreme if you don’t have perennial grasses and annual weeds in your plot that should be controlled as your first priority. In such cases, waiting to mow until after the Persist produces seed heads can add new Persist plants to thicken the stand.


(Editor’s Note: Several of the steps below include application of the Whitetail Institute’s Arrest grass herbicide. In all cases, check the Arrest label, which is available on-line at www.whitetailinstitute.com, to be sure Arrest will control the specific type of grass you want to control, and for mixing and application instructions. If you have any questions about how to use Arrest after reading the label, call the Whitetail Institute for assistance before you spray.)

While all maintenance steps have the same end-goal of keeping the forage stand as healthy and vigorously growing as possible, they differ greatly in the importance of timing. Grass and weed control are the number-one spring maintenance priority, and timing is especially important. That’s true of any perennial.

Priority One: As soon as spring green-up arrives, check the plot for signs of perennial grasses and/or annual weeds. If you find either starting to invade your plot, determine if any looks like it is about to flower (put on seed heads).

Grass: If you see grass coming up, identify the grass and check the Arrest label to make sure it is a type of grass Arrest will control.

If the grass is still young enough that flowering doesn’t appear imminent, then as soon as possible after the grass begins to actively grow, spray the plot with Arrest. It can also be a great idea to add Surefire Crop Oil Plus to the Arrest spray tank in the amount of 8-10 ounces per acre of spray solution, especially if the grasses to be controlled are perennial or mature.

If you find that you’ve waited a bit too long and the grasses and weeds are mature and starting to produce seed, then mow the plot right away to prevent that from happening. Then, wait several days after mowing or until you see the grass actively growing again (whichever occurs later) and spray Arrest.

Upright, Annual Weeds: If you see upright annual weeds coming up, make sure you keep them mowed to prevent them from flowering.

Grass and Upright, Annual Weeds: If you see both grasses and annual weeds coming up, then mow the plot to prevent anything from flowering. Then, wait a few days after mowing until you see the grass actively growing again, and then spray the plot with Arrest.

No Grass, and No Upright, Annual Weeds: Watch the Persist forb in your Extreme stand. Once it “bolts” (puts on a seed head), then wait for the seeds in the seed head to dry to a dark, reddish brown, at which point they will be viable. Then, mow the plot. Mowing will shatter the seed heads and spread the seeds across the plot, thickening the stand.


Again, it’s important to keep in mind that the end goal in performing any perennial maintenance step is to help the forage stand stay as uniform, healthy, vigorously growing and free from competition as possible, and live as long as it should. That includes keeping grass and weeds in check, so try to start your grass- and weed-control efforts as soon as grasses and other weeds start to actively grow each spring.

Also, weeds and grasses can, and usually do, return to our food plots at some point despite our best efforts, so try to keep a close eye out for weeds and grass during the rest of the summer. If you see grasses or annual weeds returning, then repeat the steps set out above. In many cases when Arrest is applied at the optimum time, one application will provide effective control all year. If necessary, though, Arrest may be reapplied a month after the initial application, again provided the grasses to be controlled are actively growing.

If you have any questions about controlling grass and other weeds in Extreme, give the Whitetail Institute’s in-house consultants a call at (800) 688-3030.

Editor’s Note: As Jon mentioned, our number- one goal when maintaining perennial food plots is “keeping the forage stand as healthy and vigorously growing as possible.” With that in mind, also remember that Extreme needs more nitrogen fertilizer than other Whitetail Institute perennials, both at planting and later once it is growing. It’s always best to perform a soil test through a qualified soil testing laboratory so you’ll know exactly how much and what blend of fertilizer to add. Absent a soil test, a good rule of thumb for best results is to fertilize Extreme every year with 250-300 pounds of 13- 13-13 or 17-17-17 per acre in the spring and again in the fall. At a minimum, fertilize Extreme at least once a year with 400-450 pounds of 13-13- 13 or 17-17-17 per acre.