Fall Perennial Plantings Yield Big Benefits!

By Jon Cooner

 Spring can be an ideal season for planting Whitetail Institute forages in many parts of North America. But it’s not the only option. In fact, fall planting can yield benefits you may not have considered. Imperial forages are designed to be as heat and drought tolerant as possible. Two of our most drought tolerant perennial blends, Imperial Alfa-Rack Plus and Extreme, can put down roots as deep as three feet into the soil to find moisture.
Imperial forages are also specifically engineered to establish and grow quickly. Even so, planting in the fall can provide additional assurance that the roots of your forage plants will have had time to thoroughly mature before they face their first hot, dry summer. This can be a big benefit in years when summer heat and drought arrive unexpectedly early, as they have in many areas of North America over the last few years.

Also consider that forages planted in the fall are at their most tender right when hunting season begins. And when spring rolls back around, the perennials you planted the preceding fall will already be in place, providing a high-protein food source at one of the most critical times of year, before spring green-up when native vegetation has not yet reappeared. As winter starts to give way to spring, Imperial products are some of the first things to green up. Planting Imperial perennials in the fall also helps reduce weed and grass competition.

There are several important steps to getting the most out of your fall perennial planting — not only in the fall but also in the spring when you’ll need your food plot to produce abundant high-protein forage.

The first step is to choose a product designed for planting in the fall. All Imperial forage blends except PowerPlant are designed for fall planting.

The next step is to choose the forage blend designed for your particular application. This selection takes into account such factors as whether or not you will be able to prepare a seedbed by tilling the soil, and the type of soil and slope of your plot.

If you are unable to till your seedbed, the Institute’s No-Plow and Secret Spot annuals are superb choices for fall planting. They can also last past the end of winter to provide a forage source for deer into the following spring or even later. If you can prepare your seedbed, then you have the additional option of Imperial perennial blends. Which one you should select depends on your soil type and drainage.

All Imperial perennial blends will perform well in heavy, bottom-land soils that have good moisture holding properties. A soil with good moisture-holding properties is one that will stay together for a few seconds after you squeeze it into a ball with your hand. Imperial Whitetail Clover and Double-Cross are designed for heavier soils that are relatively flat. Double- Cross, a new Institute forage product introduced this year, provides all the benefits of Imperial Whitetail Clover, plus the additional quick establishment and late-season production of Whitetail Institute forage brassicas all in one planting. Imperial “Chic” Magnet and Chicory Plus are designed for heavier soils that are slightly to moderately drained, and Alfa-Rack Plus should be selected where the plot features heavier soils that are moderately drained to well drained.

If you will be planting in a lighter or sandier soil that is well drained, Extreme is the product to select. It is designed to flourish in such conditions, which would not be optimum for other perennial blends. And Extreme will tolerate as little as 15 inches of annual rainfall, a level roughly half that required for other perennial forages. Extreme will also tolerate soil pH as low as 5.4, a level far below that required for other perennials to flourish. And Extreme is highly attractive, even rivaling the number-one food-plot planting in the world, Imperial Whitetail Clover. That’s why many field testers whose soils are good plant Extreme to give their deer variety.

A special note needs to be made about Imperial Alfa-Rack Plus, which includes the Institute’s proprietary Imperial Whitetail Clover,WINA-100 brand perennial forage chicory and X-9 technology grazing alfalfas. Many alfalfa varieties can turn brown once hard frosts arrive, and in many areas this happens right before hunting season. The X-9 technology grazing alfalfas in Alfa-Rack Plus are more cold tolerant than standard hay-type alfalfas, which is one reason they offer such a huge improvement when used in whitetail food plots. The Institute offers different regional blends of its perennial forages to ensure that customers have the best product possible for their particular situations. And they are extremely economical, lasting up to five years with a single planting. Once you have selected the Imperial perennial designed for your application, be sure to not cut corners when preparing your seedbed. Planting Imperial perennials is easy and only takes a few steps, but each step is critical if you want to get the most for your efforts. Imperial perennial blends should be planted in soil with a pH of 6.5 or higher, or that has been adjusted to that level through the incorporation of lime into the soil.

If possible, any lime required to raise soil pH should be incorporated (disked or tilled) into the soil several months before planting. In northern climates, the ground is often frozen during the months immediately before spring planting dates. By opting for a fall planting, northern planters have the option of incorporating lime during the preceding spring and summer months Prior to planting an Imperial perennial, the seedbed should also be clear of existing vegetation as much as possible, and planting in the fall can offer an additional option to accomplish that.

Once lime has been incorporated into the soil, smooth the seedbed and allow native vegetation to re-sprout and start to grow again. Then, spray the plot with Roundup Weed and Grass Killer. By spraying volunteer vegetation a month or so before planting in the fall, the seedbed can be cleared of existing vegetation. Most native grasses and other weeds are growing vigorously before our fall planting dates, but not in the cold months before our spring planting dates. Since Roundup must be sprayed on an actively growing plant to control it, controlling existing weeds and grasses with Roundup as a seedbed-preparation step is more available to the fall planter. And remember — Imperial perennials are not the only product options that provide the lush, tender new growth of a fall planting. Imperial Winter-Greens and Pure Attraction offer the same benefits, plus even faster forage availability. If you have any questions about spring or fall planting, how to choose the appropriate Imperial forage blend for your specific situation, or anything else related to deer nutrition or the Whitetail Institute, please give the Institute’s in-house consultants a call. Consultants are available any time from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Central Time, Monday through Friday, at our toll-free number, (800) 688-3030, ext 2.