Winter deer food plots — What to plant?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 13, 2011

After bushhogging and plowing your food plot, you will need to complete the final preparation of the plot and then decide what you want to plant. Final preparation of the plot includes final disking and cultipacking as well as applying the proper fertilizer and lime, if necessary. Remember to follow the recommendations from your soil test when fertilizing and liming your plot.

When the seedbed is ready to plant you need to decide what plants you want to plant. You can plant a mixture of plants together in the plot, you can plant individual sections of different plants in the plot, or you can plant just one type of plant in the plot. Since deer are browsers, meaning they like to eat a variety of plants, I would recommend that you plant a mixture of plants together in the whole plot or a mixture of plants in their own section within the plot. You can purchase a commercial mixture from the local feed store or you may sometimes find the seeds at the local Walmart. You can also purchase separate bags of each type of plant you wish to grow in the food plot. There is no one perfect plant to plant in the food plot for deer. Since deer are browsers, I would recommend that you plant a mixture of plants either together or separately.

Most commercial deer food plot mixes contain some type or a mixture of clovers, usually winter peas, either rape or kale or both and then usually a combination of wheat, oats or rye and possibly ryegrass. Make sure you read the label on the food plot mixture container to see the amounts, usually in percentages, of each plant seed in the mixture. If you are planting a large number of food plots or planting over five acres of food plots, then it may be better to buy the different types of seed and mix them yourself.

Clovers and winter peas belong to the legume family and have the ability to manufacture nitrogen on their root nodules. Nitrogen makes plants grow and gives them their dark green color. Legumes can add as much as 100 pounds of nitrogen to an acre thereby reducing your nitrogen fertilizer costs. For this reason every food plot should contain some amount of clover and winter peas. Perennial clovers are clovers that should come back each year, but they must be managed properly to allow them to reseed. Never plow under the perennial clovers in the spring, and only clip them to 10-12 inches in May.

The next type of seed in the commercial mixes is usually one or several of the cereal grains. Oats, wheat and rye belong to the cereal grain family. They generally have a sweeter taste to deer when they are grown in a properly fertilized food plot. Do not get rye, the cereal grain, mixed up with ryegrass. These are two entirely different plants. The cereal grains usually have a sweeter taste and produce more forage than ryegrass when the temperatures are colder during late December, all of January and February and early March. Do not make the mistake of planting wheat you bought from the grain elevator or from someone cleaning the barges on the river. Sometimes this wheat may have gone through a heat treatment and the seed may not germinate very well. It may be a hit or miss proposition, and you do not want to be planting late because your first planting did not germinate or it germinated poorly.

Ryegrass may sometimes be added to the seed mixtures. Ryegrass belongs to the grass family of seeds, and it germinates almost anywhere. It will produce more tonnage than the cereal grains during October, November, early December, late March and all of April, but it will not taste as good to the deer as the cereal grains – oats, wheat and rye.

If you have a food plot you cannot disk or till properly, then you may want to plant ryegrass in this plot. Just make sure you have cleaned the top of the ground enough so the seed can make contact with the soil. If you can keep the birds and turkeys away from it, then it will produce a good food plot.

Rape and kale belong to the same family as turnip greens and mustard greens. These plants appear to be favored by deer after a frost, which causes the sugars to rise in the plant. I have seen some rape and kale hammered by the deer in one food plot and then not touched by the deer about a mile away in another food plot. Possibly the human interference in the other plot as well as it being close to a corn feeder affected the decreased consumption of the rape and kale.

So what would I recommend you plant in your food plot? I would definitely plant a mixture of plants since deer are browsers. The mixture can be planted together or separately in the same food plot. I would not plant ryegrass unless it was in a food plot that I had trouble getting a tractor and a disk into or could not till with disks on a four-wheeler or with a tiller. Don’t forget to include the clovers and some winter peas to help with the nitrogen production. Always follow the recommendations on your soil sample when adding fertilizer and lime. Also, make sure you do not cover the seed with too much soil. If you cover the seed with too much soil, the seed will not have enough food within it to grow out of the ground once it germinates. It has to make it out of the ground to start the photosynthesis process so it can grow. Never cover the seed by disking. If you do not have a culti-packer, then use a chain link fence, the gate on your four-wheeler trailer, riding and packing with the four-wheelers or dragging the top of a pine tree to cover the seeds.

Get your food plots planted before the end of September since October is one of the driest months of the year. Also, if your neighbor gets his plots growing good before you do, he may draw the deer to his property. Never plow up all of the forage in your food plot since the deer may not have much of anything else to eat, and they may leave your property.

Make sure you build excluder cages in your food plot so you can tell how much forage the deer are actually eating. This is especially important when you have club members who think they know more about how to plant food plots than you, do not like you or want to make sure their food plot money is well spent. Sometimes it is hard to prove how much the deer are actually eating, and an excluder cage will prove to everyone the deer are eating the plot down and the plot is actually growing very well.

Remember all deer do not favor the same type of food. What a deer prefers has a lot to do with what is available or what is lacking in an area. Starving deer will eat almost anything you plant, while deer that have plenty of natural food may not want to eat certain things. Good luck and good hunting!

For more information on Deer Food Plots you can visit the LSU Ag Center website at and type in “Deer Food Plots” in the search box. Look for the publication “Food Plot Plantings for Whitetail Deer – Publication 2843.” You may also contact David Pichon, county agent, at the St. John LSU Ag Center Office at 985-497-3261 or by email at

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