Planting spring and fall food plots can benefit wildlife in so many ways, and September is the beginning of the fall planting season. The cool-season food plot plays a critical role in most hunters’ playbooks since these food sources become prime stand locations during the season.
Preparing a lush, attractive food plot involves a long process of soil testing, acid-base correction and nutrient supplementation. While these steps will control the success and failure of most food plots before the seed ever touches the soil, the condition of the soil and the placement of the seed are often main culprits of poor germination and crop failure.
These components of food-plot production are critically important and too often skimmed over. It is not until later that hunters find out that their planting efforts failed, but it doesn’t have to work out that way. If soil chemistry has been adjusted properly and proper nutrients are available, there is no reason why a fabulous crop of clover, oats, rape, peas or chicory cannot erupt from the soil surface.
For starters, soil moisture is a critical requirement for planting. Too often, hunters plant their fall crop when they have time, regardless of the ground conditions. Even though deer season is open across both Carolinas this month, summer is still in full bloom, with hot temperatures and often arid conditions. New seeds require moisture for proper germination, and after the seeds germinate, the tender, young plants must have adequate soil moisture.
Moisture is controlled by rainfall, soil capacity and groundwater intrusion. Before planting, significant plowing and harrowing will be required to incorporate fertilizer, pre-emergent herbicides and the seed. Soil disturbances before planting are required and are very beneficial to planting, but they are also the culprit in drying out soils, releasing moisture into the atmosphere. Ideally, planting should be delayed a few days until a measurable rain event occurs.
Nevertheless, timing planting activities to moderate rain events is tough to accomplish. Fortunately, growers are in luck. If the site is left fallow for a few days after preparing the soil, groundwater will leach through and moisten the soil just below the surface as long as the site is situated where groundwater is within a few feet of the soil’s surface.
It is always better to wait until soils are moist; a few days will be well worth the effort. Don’t get in too much of a hurry; there will be plenty of warm growing days left to produce a fabulous food plot.
Second, planting failures result from improper seed depth; most often, seeds are planted too deep. Crop yield can be reduced by as much as 75 percent when the seeds are planted too deep in the soil.
Seeds have different requirements for depth and soil to seed contact. Grain drills and row planters are the most-efficient methods of planting and should be used when available. However, broadcast spreaders can be very acceptable for spreading the seed, especially when shallow depths are preferred. Broadcasted seed should be lightly covered with a chain harrow or a culti-packer to get the seed into the soil.
Typically, most seeds planted for food plots need to be in the top inch-and-a-half of the soil, with larger seeds — corn, peanuts and chufa — requiring just over an inch of coverage and the smaller seeds — clover, wheat and oats — only ½- to ¼-inch of soil coverage.
After spending months preparing for the fall planting seasons, be sure to avoid the most common follies when planting cool-season food plots.