Last-Minute Plot Success

 By David Hart

 One minute, you’re sitting on the beach without a care in the world. Before you know it, school’s back in session and deer season is right around the corner. And you haven’t even started on a single food plot. Where does the time go?

“Life often seems to get in the way of the best food plot plans, doesn’t it?” asks Whitetail Institute Vice-President Steve Scott. Hey, it happens to everyone. Don’t panic. There’s still time to get a few food plots in the ground. You’ll have to make some adjustments, of course, and you’ll have to work fast. The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. It’s now or never. Or is it? The last recommended planting dates vary by region, and Scott says you may still have more time than you realize. “Check our website or on the product’s bag itself for the planting dates,” he says. “Hunters in the south can plant some products as late as mid-November and still have a good food plot. Of course, the last recommended planting dates are quite a bit earlier in the north, but you may still have more time than you thought.”

Cutting Corners, Saving Time

A ticking clock might make some food plotters skip a step or two. Should you cut corners? Depends, says Scott. Some steps must be completed, no matter how much or how little time you have. “All of our products have general recommendations for lime and fertilizer on the bag and on our website in case you don’t get a soil test for whatever reason,” says Scott. “However, I never recommend skipping a soil test. Spend the extra money to have your soil test overnighted to our lab. They have a fast turnaround time, usually 24 to 48 hours, so if you can get it to them in a day or two, provide them your email address, you can have your results back in a few days. Using the exact recommendations a soil test provides can mean the difference between a decent food plot and a great food plot.” You may have to skip some site preparation steps. Depending on how little time you have to spare, killing off existing vegetation with a non-selective herbicide may have to wait until next year. Herbicides will kill plants quickly even though they may not look dead for several days or even weeks. However, spraying the same day or even a few days before planting your seed can certainly harm your plot plants.

Don’t Skip

Of course, tall grass and weeds will shade out new seedlings, so you’ll have to do something to reduce the competition. A close-crop mowing will help. Cut the existing vegetation as close to the ground as possible, then make a few passes with a disk. In fact, if time is limited, consider skipping the mower and going straight to the disk. A few passes with a heavy disk may be good enough to knock down taller weeds and cut them into small pieces. Disking will disrupt them enough to at least slow their growth. Disking will also complete another mandatory step: exposing the soil. “You absolutely have to have seed-to-soil contact,” says Scott. “Whether you use a disk or a garden tiller or a rake, the seed must come in contact with the soil or it will not grow.” Take the time to complete another mandatory, must-do step, whether you’ve conducted a soil test or not: Spread lime and fertilizer. Every Whitetail Institute product comes with recommended fertilizer and lime rates. “Follow the recommendations from your soil test or follow the general recommendations printed on each bag to give your seeds the best possible chance to germinate and produce,” says Scott.

Annuals Win?

But germinating is one thing. Growing large enough to produce ample forage? That’s a completely different story. Many perennials, like Imperial Whitetail Clover and Alfa-Rack Plus, for example, are slower to establish than annuals and they likely won’t have enough time to produce enough tonnage to attract and hold deer that first fall and winter if you wait until the last minute to plant. They’ll sprout, but once cold weather and shorter days arrive, their growth will slow and eventually they will go dormant in anticipation of spring. Some annuals will continue to grow. That’s why annuals win, hands down. Larger cereal grains like Whitetail Institute Oats Plus will germinate quickly and produce lots of forage and do so quickly. They’ll keep growing during all but the coldest weather. Not all annuals are great last-minute choices, admits Scott. Some, like Tall Tine Tubers, may not have enough time to develop a full leaf system or a large tuber. Deer eat both. However, turnips and other members of the brassica family excel when they have ample time to grow. That typically means they need to go in the ground in late summer or early fall depending on the region you’re planting in. Once cold weather settles in, they won’t add much to their leaf or root structure. Of course, deer will eat them even if they are only a few inches tall, but the plants will likely be too small to last very long. Not sure what to use? “Whitetail Oats Plus is a great choice, but I also like blends as a lastminute food plot option,” says Scott. “Whitetail Institute products like No-Plow, BowStand and Secret Spot are all annuals, they contain numerous types of plants that grow fast and are ideal for last-minute food plots.” There’s nothing wrong with making your own blend, either. A great last-minute combination is a mix of Imperial Whitetail Clover and Whitetail Oats Plus. The clover may not produce much forage this fall, but the oats will. Even better, the clover “fixes” nitrogen in the soil and the oats, which require nitrogen to grow, will flourish. Since the oats are an annual plant, they will be gone by next spring and the clover will be sending roots deeper into the soil and will be producing tons of high-protein forage. “Once the annuals are finished for the season, you can spray the clover with herbicides like Arrest Max to control grasses and Slay to control broadleaf weeds when they are actively growing in the spring,” suggests Scott. Whatever you use, just make sure you don’t wait any longer. Get something in the ground, even if you have to skip a step or two. Any food plot under your tree stand is better than nothing?