Time to start preparing deer food plots

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 6, 2011

With fall fast approaching it is time for deer managers and hunters to start working on their deer food plots. Presently, female deer, does, are dropping and raising their fawns while the bucks are growing their antlers. As we get into late summer most plants for the deer to eat start drying up and getting less palatable and nutritious, and the deer start looking for alternate food sources. Now is the time to soil test your food plots, start bush-hogging and disking the plots and applying lime if necessary.

To take a soil test of your plot you will need to bring in a pint of soil from the top six inches of your soil to the LSU Ag Center Office. The cost of the test is $10 and will take about two weeks. To get a good representative sample from your plot, take about three to five soil samples from different spots in your plot and mix them in a five-gallon bucket or similar container. Remove grass clippings and other debris. Take one pint of soil from the bucket mix for your final sample. You may need to take different samples from each food plot if you have fertilized and limed them differently, if the other plot is a different type of soil or if there is more grazing pressure on the other plots. Plots grazed more heavily will require more fertilizer and possibly lime. The soil test will tell you how much fertilizer and lime you will need to add to your plot.

If you need to add lime to your plot, you need to get it in the ground as quickly as possible for it to benefit your fall/winter food plot. Lime may usually take about three to five months before plants show a good response to it. Lime is usually purchased in bulk form and applied with a lime truck or with a lime cart or buggy. The lime cart can be picked up at the agriculture supply store and pulled by truck to the land. It can then be transferred and pulled by a tractor. Many times, instead of a true lime distributor, fertilizer carts are used to apply the lime, and you will probably need to get in the top of the cart and help get the lime onto the distributor assembly line. If you do not want to use bulk lime, then you can purchase pelletized agriculture lime in 40 or 50 pound bags. The pelletized lime is usually easier to distribute but may cost four to five times more than the bulk lime. It may also not react as quickly as powdered bulk lime, but it may last longer depending on your soil type. If you cannot get a lime truck or cart in to the food plot, then you may have to use the more expensive pelletized lime.

To prepare your food plots for planting, you will first need to bush-hog the weeds and grasses that are presently growing. One mistake you may want to avoid is killing off everything that the deer presently have to eat. If you have some clover growing in your food plot, you may want to cut around it and leave it for the deer to eat. If it is perennial clover it will re-seed and continue growing throughout the year unless it is killed by drought. Never bush-hog the clover below 10-12 inches!

After bush-hogging the weeds you may want to wait one week and then come back with a glyphosate product and spray the weeds and grasses that you want to kill. Spraying a glyphosate product will greatly reduce the number of weeds that will germinate later in your food plot. The glyphosate works better when weeds are at an actively growing state. Waiting another week or two for the weeds to die before disking will make it a lot easier to disk the soil. If you do not want to spray glyphosate to help kill the weeds, you can simply disk the soil, but you will have to disk it more times to do a god job and to kill the weeds. Always disk the soil before you plant if it has been sitting for one to two weeks because some weeds will already be growing back. If you need to apply lime to adjust your pH, apply the lime when you first disk the soil. Incorporate the lime into the top 3-6 inches of the soil. If you do not plan to plant for one week or more, do not apply the fertilizer as you will just be fertilizing the weeds and encouraging their growth.

Before planting the food plots you will need to pull a culti-packer or harrow or another device such as a chain-link fence or trailer gate to help pack and level the soil. This will insure good seed to soil contact, prevent runoff and prevent the seeds from becoming covered with too much soil. The two biggest mistakes most people make when planting the seed is to cover the seed too much and to plant too much seed. Never use your disks to cover the seeds.

There are many deer food plot mixes available on the commercial market. Most will work well under most circumstances if planted and fertilized properly. Remember that deer are browsers and they like to eat a little of everything, so I would recommend you planting a mix of different plants.

Always include clovers and peas in your winter mix since they are legumes and they can manufacture nitrogen on their roots. This nitrogen can be used by the other plants. I would recommend that most food plots be planted by the third week of September since October is one of the driest months of the year. If your area has had a past problem with armyworms, be careful of early plantings.

For more information on deer food plots, you can visit the LSU Ag Center website at lsuagcenter.com and type “deer food plots” in the search box. Look for the publication “Food Plots for Whitetail Deer.” You may also contact David Pichon, county agent, at the St. John LSU Ag Center office at 985-497-3261 or by email at dpichon@agctr.lsu.edu.

If you have any questions, please contact your local LSU Ag Center County Agent. You can contact David Pichon, County Agent-St. John Parish at 985-497-3261 or by email at dpichon@agctr.lsu.edu.