Spring Plantings Offers Powerful Benefits

By Jon Cooner

All Whitetail Institute perennials can be planted in spring in most areas. The same is true of two Whitetail Institute annual forage products, PowerPlant and No-Plow. Planting food plots in spring can be an outstanding option if you accept that it takes commitment to do it right.

Planting food plots in spring offers heavy benefits. By doing so, you can offer maximum tonnage when fall arrives. Food plots planted in spring can also help you attract more deer to your property and hold them there. Another huge benefit of planting food plots in spring is increased protein availability when deer need it most. By now, most folks are already aware of how important protein is to deer, and that it’s especially important to them during spring and summer for antler growth, doe lactation and overall herd health. Adding high-protein food plots in spring will increase the amount of protein available to your deer during this critical time. To make sure you get the most out of your spring plantings, be aware of certain realities and that you are committed to dealing with them, especially during the first growing season. One issue you’ll face is weed control. When most of us think about spring, it’s usually with anticipation near the end of winter, when we’re ready for an end to the long winter cold. Our minds eagerly conjure up visions of the green color that will return to the barren landscape, signaling the arrival of new foliage. Some of that new foliage, though, will be weeds, and if you’re planning on planting a new area in spring, you’ll be better off if you can address weed competition before planting.

Weed Control During Seedbed Preparation

Herbicides such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup brand herbicides and similar generics, are a superb tool for removing most kinds of weeds and grass from a fallow site. Keep in mind, though, that glyphosate is a foliar-uptake herbicide, meaning that a weed must be actively growing to take in glyphosate. As a result, if you’re considering using glyphosate as part of seedbed preparation for a spring planting, you’ll need to compare the Whitetail Institute’s planting dates for the product you’ve selected to the arrival of spring green-up in your area. In the Deep South, for example, spring planting dates for Whitetail Institute perennials and No-Plow lie well before spring green-up, so spraying glyphosate before planting perennials in spring isn’t an option unless the site is sprayed the previous fall before weeds go dormant. The planting dates for some areas in the far north, though, occur late enough that you have time after spring green-up to spray, wait seven days after spraying (required by glyphosate labels) and still plant within your planting dates. With PowerPlant, though, spraying glyphosate before planting is possible in almost all areas. The reason is that PowerPlant should not be planted until soil temperatures are warm — at least 65 degrees, day and night, and by that time, spring green-up is well underway. Here’s how I use glyphosate as part of seedbed preparation before planting PowerPlant in a fallow site: Well before spring green-up, I perform a laboratory soil test to determine my lime and fertilizer requirements. As soon as I get the report back from the lab, I add lime to the seedbed and disk or till it thoroughly into the top few inches. Then, I wait for spring green-up to arrive. When grasses and other weeds have started to actively grow, I spray glyphosate. After spraying, I wait at least seven days, or later if necessary, for soil temperatures to warm to at least 65 degrees, and then fertilize and plant. One of the most important steps you can take to keep weeds from invading your food plot later is to make sure you address soil pH and fertility during seedbed preparation. That’s because weeds tend to show up in spots where the stand is thin, so the more lush, thick and healthy you can keep the forage stand, the less room weeds will have to invade. Soil pH and soil nutrients — such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium — are also critical factors in making sure your perennials grow vigorously. Whitetail Institute forage products grow best in soils with a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Most fallow soils, though, are acidic (with a soil pH lower than 6.5), and the soil pH should be raised by adding lime. Making sure that soil pH is 6.5 or higher is the most important thing you can do to assure food plot success. It can make the difference between the best food plot you can imagine and total failure. Yes, it’s that important. Levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the soil should also be raised, if low, by adding the appropriate blend and amount of fertilizer. To determine how much lime and fertilizer you’ll need, have a qualified soil-testing laboratory test your soil, and then follow the lab’s recommendations regarding lime and fertilizer. Again, be sure that you use a laboratory soil-test kit, not a do-it-yourself tester. Only a laboratory can tell you exactly how much lime and/or fertilizer you need to add to the soil for optimum forage growth. That way, you can be sure you’re planting in soil with optimum soil pH and nutrient levels, and you will save money by eliminating wasted expenditures buying lime and fertilizer you don’t need.

Weed Control After Planting

If you’ve planted a perennial in spring, make sure you also control any grasses and other weeds that appear in the plot after planting. That’s an important step in maintaining any perennial forage stand, whether you sprayed glyphosate before planting or not. This can be critically important with perennials planted in spring, especially if you planted in an area of the country where spraying glyphosate before planting isn’t an option because the planting dates are set before spring green-up. Approach grass and weed control from multiple angles. Keep in mind that keeping grass and other weeds in check should be approached from multiple angles for best results. We’ve already talked about a very important part of weed control in the section on seedbed preparation — making sure soil pH and levels of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the soil are at optimum levels so the forage stand is as lush and thick as possible. And we’ve also talked about the best tool you have available for doing that: the Whitetail Institute’s laboratory soil-test kit. Periodic mowing is another important step in keeping grass and weed competition under control in Whitetail Institute perennial forage stands. Make sure you mow at the right time and that you mow correctly. As for timing, make sure you mow Whitetail Institute perennials any time you see anything in the plot (forage plants, grasses or weeds) starting to flower or put on heads. That will help some perennial plants such as Imperial Whitetail Clover be even more lush and thick, and it can help with weed control by preventing grasses and weeds from reseeding. It takes a little while for the seeds in weed heads to become viable, so by mowing the heads off as soon as you see them, you can prevent production of the next generation of weeds. In most cases, mowing a couple of times in the spring and summer is sufficient. Of course, don’t mow when the forage plants are stressed, such as during periods of extreme heat or drought. How you mow is also important. For best results, just mow enough off the top of the plot to take the seed heads off. If you take too much foliage off the forage plants at once, you can stress them, and you can speed evaporation of moisture from the soil. The Whitetail Institute also offers selective herbicides for keeping grass and weeds in check after planting. The Whitetail Institute’s Slay herbicide can be used to control most kinds of broadleaf weeds in Imperial Whitetail Clover and in any other clover or alfalfa stand. The Whitetail Institute’s Arrest Max herbicide can be used to control most kinds of grass in any Whitetail Institute perennial, and now it can even be used to control grass in PowerPlant. Sure-Fire Crop Oil, also offered by Whitetail Institute, satisfies the adjuvant tank-mix requirement of Slay, and it can also be used with Arrest Max to make it even more effective at controlling tougher grasses.

But What if Weed Control Isn’t Possible?

In some cases, it might not be possible to spray for weeds or mow. For example, if your new spring plot site is too remote to access with equipment, or you live too far away from your hunting land to make a forage-maintenance trip in spring. If that’s your situation, the Whitetail Institute still has you covered. Just plant No-Plow. No-Plow is the Whitetail Institute’s second longest-running forage product, and like all Whitetail Institute products, it has been continually improved through the years. There are lots of reasons folks like No-Plow so much. It attracts deer like crazy, it can be planted with minimal seedbed preparation, and because it’s an annual, no forage maintenance is required. And that leads me to what I think is the best news about the Whitetail Institute’s spring planting lineup: Whether you’ll be planting in spring or in fall, you’ll almost certainly find one or more forage products designed for your needs.


Planting Whitetail Institute food plots in spring offers many benefits, including attracting deer to your property, holding them there, and providing the abundant protein needed during spring and summer to help improve antler growth and produce better quality deer. Planting perennials in spring also allows a full growing season to maximize tonnage for fall. Just make sure you commit to controlling the weeds and grasses that usually show up after a spring planting. Finally, remember to put your trail cameras out later in summer near your food plots and on trails leading to them. And when hunting season arrives, be sure to fill your quiver. For more information about the Whitetail Institute’s seed products, go to whitetailinstitute.com, or call the Whitetail Institute at (800) 688-3030.