Variety Maximizes ‘Flavour’ and Power of Food Plots

By Jon Cooner

Most of us have heard the old saying, “Variety is the spice of life.” Actually, the full quote is, “Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.” The author, William Cowper, wrote that line in 1785, so it’s doubtful he intended it as advice for food plotters. It applies nonetheless, because planting a variety of carefully selected forages can maximize how well and for how long food plots can attract deer.

Attractiveness to Deer: The Bedrock of Forage Selection

When folks plant food plots, it’s usually to attract deer and hold them on their properties. Many factors influence our success at achieving both parts of that goal, including food plot location, food plot structure and forage selection. Consider, though, that food plot location and structure only affect how safe deer feel using a food plot, and those factors are irrelevant if deer aren’t attracted to the food plot initially. That’s why forage selection is the most important major factor in making sure your food plots can attract and hold deer.

Forages for Maximum Sustained Attraction

Let’s start the step-by-step process of choosing forages for our forage group that will best attract deer and hold them on our property. Below, you’ll find a list of the steps to maximize the attraction and holding power of your food plots.

Step 1: Is the forage highly attractive to deer? The first step in making sure your variety of forages will attract deer is to consider only those that are highly attractive. If you’re wondering why I bothered to say something so obvious, it’s because attractiveness to deer isn’t the only factor we must consider if we also want our variety of forages to hold deer on our property and attract more. We’ll start addressing that with the second factor.

Step 2: During what part(s) of the year is the forage at its most attractive to deer? You’ll need to consider the purpose for which you’ll be planting each plot, such as attracting deer specifically during fall and winter, attracting them and providing an abundant source of protein for antler growth during spring and summer, or providing highly attractive, nutritious food year-round. Almost everyone plants at least some of their food plots specifically to attract and hold deer during hunting season, so we’ll use that as our example. Let’s assume hunting season in your area runs from Oct. 1 through December. That means that any forage to be included in your forage group should be at its most attractive to deer during those months. Summer beans and peas satisfy the first factor, as they’re highly attractive to deer. But they’re generally killed by the first frosts of fall, so they might not be the best options for a October-through- December hunting plot in most areas of the country. In contrast, good options would include oats for the early season and, later, some varieties of brassica. In the same vein, oats and brassica wouldn’t be the best options for a food plot intended to provide abundant protein for deer during spring and summer.

Step 3: How long does the forage remain in a highly attractive state? This is where we really start getting beyond the initial matter of attracting deer and into the broader goal of holding the deer we initially attract and continuing to attract more. Even the most attractive forage won’t help hold the deer we initially attracted and attract more if it’s only attractive for a brief period. That’s why you should also consider how quickly the forage can grow, whether it stays highly palatable if it matures and whether it can tolerate heat, drought and cold. After you’ve completed these steps, you will have chosen forages that are attractive and at their most attractive stage when you need them to be. By doing so, you’ve already pushed the attractiveness and holding power of your food plots beyond the basics. Even so, there’s still a lot of room at the top of the attraction ladder. If you want to push the attraction and holding power of your plots as far as possible, move to Step 4.

Step 4: Determine which of the forages you’ve selected can be planted together to maximize the attraction and holding power of the plot. I’m going to give away two of the secrets for the exceptional performance of Whitetail Institute’s seed products. Here’s the first: No matter how good a single plant variety is as a forage for deer, a carefully researched and tested blend of complementary forages will almost always outperform it. That’s why almost all Whitetail Institute food plot products are blends of complementary forage types. The only exception is Chic Magnet, WINA-100 perennial forage chicory, which started as and remains a component in other Whitetail Institute seed blends and was only later separately packaged as a single variety product. Again, I’m not talking about just throwing various seeds into a spreader and planting them. There is a lot more to it than that, at least if you want to realize the full benefits a properly formulated seed blend offers. The forages to be combined must be carefully selected based on their ability to provide top performance in many categories related to initial and sustained attraction. As mentioned, these include attractiveness to deer, rapid establishment, early seedling vigor, nutritional content and tolerance of heat, drought and cold.

Step 5: The final forage components you selected in Step 4 must be combined with each other in ratios that provide maximum performance. That’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that the only way you’ll be able to do that with great attention to detail is to put the seeds together in different ratios, plant them in real-world conditions and then observe the results to determine which deer prefer and that show the best ability to tolerate a wide range of planting and growing conditions. The good news is that you don’t have to do that yourself. And that’s the second Whitetail Institute secret: The components of each Whitetail Institute seed product are blended in the exact component ratios that Whitetail Institute testing has shown to be optimum, and testing continues on existing products to make sure they are improved anytime the Whitetail Institute finds a way to do so.

Multiple Whitetail Institute Products in The Same Site?

Hopefully you see some of the reasons why Whitetail Institute food plot blends perform at industry-leading levels. When it comes to providing a variety of food sources in one plot, the Whitetail Institute has already done the hard work for you. Most of our customers already understand the benefits properly developed seed blends offer because our in-house consultants regularly receive calls from customers asking questions about planting more than one Whitetail Institute seed product at the same site. In some cases, doing so can boost attraction even more, if it’s done the right way. There are two most-important issues presented by planting two or more forage products at the same site. First, make sure the two (or more) forages you select are optimum for the equipment accessibility, soil type and other conditions of the site. You can easily do that by going through the product selector at for each site, one at a time. Second, if possible, perform a laboratory soil test, preferably a few months before planting, to determine your lime and fertilizer requirements. One of the beauties of the Whitetail Institute laboratory soil test kit is the sample-submission form that comes with each kit. It lets you specify and get lime and fertilizer recommendations for up to two Whitetail Institute products per kit.

Planting side by side.

If you plan to plant two or more Whitetail Institute products at the same food plot, it’s better in most cases (we’ll cover exceptions later) to plant them side by side instead of trying to mix the seeds together or otherwise plant the products with one another. One reason goes back to what I said about seed ratios: The Whitetail Institute has already done the hard work of identifying the optimum ratios for each component in each product, and if you combine two or more products, those ratios will change. Second, if you mix two products together, you’ll need to adjust the seeding rates so you don’t put out too much seed and potentially crowd the available root space in the plot. Finally, remember why we’re planting multiple products at the same site: to increase variety. Arguably, the contrast created by planting two dissimilar products side by side presents the impression of variety even better.

Planting in the same seedbed.

There are two instances in which planting two or more Whitetail Institute food plot products in the same seedbed is a dynamite idea: when planting a nurse crop of Whitetail Oats Plus with fall-planted perennials, and to increase the attraction and longevity of attraction in PowerPlant stands. You’ll find an article on Whitetail Oats Plus as a nurse crop in this issue on Page 38.

The special case of PowerPlant.

A somewhat similar theory can also be applied to extend PowerPlant’s usefulness beyond its primary purpose, providing abundant high-protein forage for spring and summer, so it can double as an incredible harvest plot during the early season. PowerPlant is one of the Whitetail Institute’s most successful products. In fact, it’s so successful that it remains the only food plot product the Whitetail Institute sells strictly as an annual food plot product for spring and summer. Its main forage components include summer beans and peas, which produce abundant high protein foliage during spring and summer until they are killed off by the first frosts. Because of larger recommended plot sizes for PowerPlant and its unique structure, adding the variety of a fall annual to an established PowerPlant plot in late summer can make an excellent kill setup for early fall. For PowerPlant plot sizes, the Whitetail Institute recommends a minimum of one acre planted in 25 pounds of PowerPlant seed for areas of low to moderate deer density, and 1.5 acres planted in 50 pounds of PowerPlant seed for areas of higher deer density. These plot sizes, when coupled with how tall (about six feet) and thick PowerPlant grows, result in deer using PowerPlant as a food source and bedding area.

A killer PowerPlant setup.

To add variety to a PowerPlant stand for fall, find a stand location on the downwind (based on your most commonly prevailing wind direction during hunting season) corner or edge of the plot. Then, in late summer, mow a few lanes through the PowerPlant radiating out from the stand like the spokes of a bicycle wheel so you can see down them. Be sure that you don’t remove so much of the PowerPlant that you destroy its attractiveness to deer as a bedding area. Then, when your fall planting dates arrive, lightly till the PowerPlant clippings into the lanes, and then plant the lanes with a Whitetail Institute fall annual such as Pure Attraction, No-Plow, Tall Tine Tubers, Winter-Greens or Beets & Greens. For even greater variety, consider planting a different Whitetail Institute fall annual in each lane. This setup yields two benefits. First, the fall annual will help the plot continue to attract and hold deer long after the Power- Plant has run its course. During the early season, when the PowerPlant is still standing, though, deer will step out from the PowerPlant into the lanes throughout the day, making for a killer harvest plot. Again, this isn’t to suggest that you have to plant two or more Whitetail Institute food plot products at every site. Far from it. It’s just another idea for you to add to your toolbox of tricks to make your property even more attractive to deer.