The Basics of Food Plots for Wildlife

The Basics of Food Plots for Wildlife

Food Plot Benefits

  • 1 acre provides up to 50-75 acres of natural woodland forage
  • Higher quality forage than native or crop production growth
  • Increase deer density and carrying capacity of land
  • Improve overall herd health, reproductive success and antler development

Seed Blend Types

  • Annuals: These are fast-growing, high-yielding forage varieties that must be planted every year. They can typically be planted during the spring (warm season annuals) or fall (cool season annuals).
  • Perennials: Perennials take longer to establish but have longer survival rates, often lasting 3 years or more with proper maintenance. These plants have a high protein content and are easy to digest.
  • Annual/Perennial Blends: These blends provide the benefits of perennials and annuals in one food plot – with some plants that grow large quantities quickly, and others that provide consistent growth for several years.
  • No-Till: These user-friendly blends can be grown and maintained without the use of heavy machinery or disking. They’re highly adaptable and can grow just about anywhere.


Annual clovers produce high yields of easily digestible forage. Perennial clovers are typically mixed with other perennial varieties and consistently attract large numbers of deer.

Examples: arrowleaf, crimson, ladino, red, white


These true forage varieties can produce up to 30 tons of wet matter per acre and are high in protein.

Examples: canola, kale, rape, turnips


There’s a legume for every season and every planting schedule. Warm season annuals are planted in spring and perennials can typically be planted in either the spring or fall.

Examples: Alfalfa, cowpeas, lablab, soybeans, sunn hemp


Grains are usually annual crops that can be planted in the spring or fall. They produce high tonnage quickly.

Examples: Corn, sorghum, wheat, oats, ryegrass


Selecting a Location

The purpose of a food plot is to draw deer onto your property, so choose somewhere centrally located to keep them on your land (not your neighbor’s). The ideal planting site is secluded from public view and any foot traffic. This will ensure deer feel safe enough to visit regularly. The size of the plot will depend on the purpose: year-round grazing areas require at least two acres, while plots grown for hunting can be smaller. Avoid sandy/rocky soils and areas full of stumps.

Proper pH

Soil pH regulates how many nutrients plants can absorb. The correct pH varies by seed variety – typically somewhere between 5.5 and 7.5. Visit your local agriculture office to collect a detailed soil report.

People are often prone to apply fertilizer to a poorly performing plot, when adjusting pH is really the proper solution. Add lime at approximately 2000 pounds/acre to raise pH by one point. (This can take up to 6 months to take full effect.) High pH is uncommon, but can be corrected by adding sulfur.

Soil Prep

Before planting, make sure you’ve selected an area that is the proper pH and free of any weeds. This will prime the soil for proper growth and eliminate competition for water and nutrients.

  • 5 weeks before planting: Spray with Glyphosate herbicide.
  • 1 week before planting: Disk thoroughly, about 4-6 inches deep.
  • Week of planting: Spray with herbicide if any additional weeds have sprouted. Lightly disk again. Drag the seed bed to pack down soil. (A chain link fence with a 4×4 post on each end is an easy dragging method.)

Note: No-till varieties can be planted without the use of heavy equipment.

Planting Depth

In general, seeds should be planted at a depth of two times the width, or diameter of the seed. For example, if you have a seed that's about 1/16 inch thick, it should be planted about 1/8 inch deep. Large bean seeds, which can be up to 1/2 inch wide, may need to be planted at least 1 inch deep.

Planting Temperature

Seeds will germinate across a wide range of temperatures but as the temperature falls below the optimum range the length of time it takes for them to germinate increases, and the percentage germination rate falls. Long germination times also makes the seeds more vulnerable to disease.

As a rule of thumb, only plant seeds when the soil temperature reaches at least 60 degrees.

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