Even though natural food sources can provide them with adequate nutrition, most deer fail to receive a full complement of groceries in the wild to produce the characteristics hunters look for in a premium herd. If hunters are fully involved in their wildlife properties, food plots should comprise of around five percent of the total land cover, and food needs to be available year around.
Food plots can provide recurring nutritional inputs that are a critical component to landowners successfully achieving their goals, and perennial food are an easy way to provide sustainable resources.
Perennial food sources are a critical part of the full wildlife management system. But they need attention from time to time, especially during the winter, when intense browsing pressure cripples forage production. “Frost-seeding” winter plots of established clover are great options for landowners on a budget. Frost-seeding will promote and prepare the plots for the upcoming growing season.
Frost-seeding takes advantage of the physical properties of freezing and thawing soil to naturally plant seeds without any physical manipulation. When soil freezes, the moisture in the soil expands, pushing soil to the surface and forming cracks. As the freeze-thaw cycle continues, small seeds broadcast on the surface can slide into those cracks and make solid seed-to-soil contact when the soil warms and contracts. As the soil warms, seeds germinate and get a head start of the spring weed seeds.
Frost-seeding is most beneficial in new or existing clover plots. In the south, clover seeds germinate before most other weed seeds, and it’s weeds that often cause problems in spring and perennial plots of clover.
Both white and red clovers are great candidates for frost-seeding. Only 1 to 2 pounds of seed per acre is required for overseeding established plots.
New clover plots can benefit from frost-seeding, as well as new plots of chicory, oats and wheat. The seeds just need to be small enough to slide into the slivers of broken soil. The best sites for frost-seeding new crops are barren grounds with significant surface-soil availability and minimal existing vegetative cover. Former soybean, corn and turnip fields lacking weed cover are adequate candidates for frost-seeding new crops. A fallow field disked in the fall with nearly complete soil cover is a perfect option. For new crop plantings, the seeding rate should be equal to the broadcast rate on the label.
Frost-seeding doesn’t work everywhere, but in the Carolinas, the freeze-thaw cycle is a normal winter occurrence that makes it an option. As long as the soil freezes and thaws routinely, land managers can use Mother Nature to prepare spring food plots.
Timing is also an important variable to recognize for frost- seeding. Even though the seeds require warm temperatures for germination, they need adequate time to slide into the cracks. But if the seeds lie on the ground too long, they will get consumed by birds and other wildlife. For the best results, seeds need to be broadcast from the last week of January through the first two weeks of February.
One of the major issues with spring food plots are the spring weeds, and spring disking can fire off the weed production cycle. Food-plot plants such as clover and chicory will lose the spring battle to weeds and grasses when germinated simultaneously. Frost-seeding clover and chicory will put a damper on spring weed competition. The food plot will get a head start long before the weed seeds have decided to break out of their winter hibernation.
Last, frost-seeding only requires a broadcast seeder, eliminating tractor time cultivating soil, and it can reduce chemical applications for weeds. It is not only an effective way to establish new plots and invigorate existing ones, it is cost-effective.