Dr. Deer: How to Properly Plant Your Whitetail Food Plot
May 05, 2015
Although food plots and articles about them have become pretty much old hat, I still am amazed how many mistakes folks make in establishing a food plot. Chief among these is improper planting of seeds. Since spring-summer planting season is on the way, I thought I would go back over the right way to plant your deer crop.
First of all, the seeds produced by each plant species have been "designed" by eons of natural selection to assure the propagation of the species. Seeds come in all sizes and shapes, depending on the strategy being used to reproduce.
For example, fruits usually have nutritious coatings, not because the plant wants to help the animals that eat its seeds, but to lure them into eating the fruit and transporting the seed somewhere else! Since plants do not have legs, it is a pretty sharp idea.
Seeds also are produced with very hard outer coatings to assure germination at some future time, which may be the next year or several years later after the coating decays. Other seeds have to undergo a period of cold dormancy before they will germinate. Therefore, in order to be successful in your planting program, you will have to simulate what Mother Nature intended. Here are some suggestions.
First, the size of each seed tells you a lot about its cultural requirements. In general, very small seeds are intended to be deposited either on top of the ground or just under the surface. Planting such seeds too deep will result in loss of your crop, or, in the case of very hard-coated seeds, germination at some time in the future.
Subsequent soil preparation such as disking, might bring to the surface seeds planted long ago, allowing them to germinate. Plants such as clovers often produce seeds with variable coatings so they will germinate over time, thus assuring success to the plant. So, clovers can be pretty foolproof because of this characteristic.
Larger seeds often indicate they must be planted at a greater depth. Cereal grains and large-seeded legumes are good examples. Most cereal grains should be planted at depths ranging 1.5 to 2 inches.
Make sure you're planting in soil that is conducive to growing. Dr. Deer discusses what you can do to improve your food plot soil:
Cereal grains such as wheat and rye will germinate on top the ground; and, oats may also germinate if the seed is in direct contact with the soil surface. But, cereal grains germinating in this manner often lack drought or cold hardiness.
Legumes are famous for having the ability to take atmospheric nitrogen out of the air and turning it into useful compounds such as ammonia, ammonium nitrate (nitrite) and urea. They do so with the help of bacteria that attack their roots. Some of these bacteria already are in the soil, but in most cases you have to add them to the seed before planting.
Each legume species or species group requires its own strain of bacteria. You can purchase bags containing bacteria-laced powder, granules or liquid. Some seeds come already inoculated within a seed coating, but you have to be careful with these.
Remember: inoculants are living organisms and they have to be treated with care. It does not make sense to coat your seeds with dead bacteria! So, when you purchase your bacteria, they should come in a cold pack or be kept within a cooler at your seed dealer. Never let your inoculants be exposed to high heat or direct sunlight.
There are several ways to apply inoculants. The best way is to use a "sticker" material such as those provided by the dealer, but some producers use plain old syrup or even sugar soft drinks. Be sparing with the sticker, since you do not want your seeds forming clumps in your spreader or seeder.
The rule of thumb is to have just enough sticky material mixed with your seed to allow an even coating of the inoculant. You should inoculate just prior to seeding and keep unplanted, treated seed in a cool place. The problem I have with pre-inoculated seeds is you never know how long the seed bag has been in storage and under what conditions it has been stored.
I have been to farm stores that keep their seeds in the back, where temperatures could reach 140 degrees! Always check the seed tag to confirm it indeed is this year's seed.
The next thing to consider is probably controversial to some commercial producers of food plot seeds. Obviously, given the different requirements of each plant variety, it is difficult to plant seed mixes. Again, check the tag and see what varieties are included. Also, look at the seed mix itself to determine the variation in seed size.
Frankly, there is no way to properly plant a seed mix, other than direct seeding on top of properly prepared ground.
If your planning to plant both annual and perennials for digestible energy, here's how you can do it effectively:
Another problem I see commonly is improper seeding rate. Always check the per-acre suggested seeding rate on the bag or at an agricultural extension service or university Web site. You have to know how big your plot is before you plant.
If the recommended seeding rate is 90 lbs per acre, and you have a quarter-acre plot, you will have to plant 22.5 lbs of seed.
Lastly, you have two choices in planting your seeds: drilling and broadcast. There is a different seeding rate for each method. Drilling requires less seed per acre than broadcasting. If you drill, be sure to calibrate the seeding rate and check the planting depth before planting your plot.
The success of your planting program will depend on paying attention to details. I once had a fellow call me, angry because his clover plot did not grow. After discussing how he planted, we both discovered he had disked the tiny seed in at four inches!
Consider my recommendations and I promise your plots will not end up like this fellow's.