What to Plant in a Spring Food Plot

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What to Plant in spring food plots

Summer is right around the corner and with all the rain we’ve been having is making everything grow and green up in our spring food plots like crazy.  If you are thinking about planting a new plot and wondering what to plant in your spring food plots, read on.

If you’ve been reading my blog and watching my youtube channel, you know that I advocate a two-criop rotation of annuals with some area planting in perennials.  This system ensures your land always has something for deer to eat all year.

Spring Food Plot Seed Choices

I was just checking a food plot I planted last spring to clover and chicory.  It was a disaster last year because of the severe drought that occurred all over the eastern U.S.  The clover looked terrible and I ended up planting buckwheat in the field to get some cover and keep it from going to broadleaf and grass weeds.  I was surprised to see some lush, tall, big leafed clover growing.  Much of the seed must have gone dormant and germinated in the cooler, wetter fall and grew well in the cool wet spring we are having now.

Spring is a risky time to plant clover.  It’s a cool season plant so it grows when soil temps are moderate and moisture levels are high.  It brings nutrients down to the roots in the summer heat.  So, two points about clover – plant it in fall and don’t rely on just clover.  Always have some summer annuals to feed on in the hot summer months.  Place clover in cooler, damper areas.  On my New York property, it is always wet in one small clearing.  The clover I have there is always lush because of the moisture and the shade of the adjacent spruce plantation.

I assume you stumbled upon this article because you have a fallow or newly cleared field and you are wondering what to plant.  Site preparation is a subject for another article.

Warm Season Annuals – the Choice for Spring and Early Summer Food Plots

Every time I read a book on food plots and study plants, I just get more confused.  So, in this article, I will just tell you what is a good idea to plant with few options based on my experience.

The best thing you could plant to attract and feed deer in a spring food plot is soybeans.  There are many maturation dates and and varieties.  Look for a maturation date that fits into your planting program in your region.  Up north where I am you want a 70-90 day soybean so its about done when you want to plant your fall seeds.

Cowpeas are in my mix along with something for them to climb up so that you get vertical structure and can grow more tonnage on an acre.  Sunflowers are a great choice as deer will eat the foliage and the seeds.  Tall sorghum is another.  If you don’t have grass weed problems you can get away with sorghum but sunflowers are a better choice when you have to spray for grass.  You can use certain herbicides like Prowl that won’t harm these plants.

Consider Planting all Legumes in a Spring Food Plot

I am experimenting with sunnhemp as a tall legume for peas to climb.  (update: I will not be using sunnhemp in the future – didn’t work well in PA at all.  Use all legumes in your summer plot if you have weed problems.   Then you can use a legume friendly herbicide and get a lot of soil building and N fixing done.  Lots of planters use Roundup Ready beans, but it is not necessary and cost a lot for seed.

American joint vetch is a preferred browse species that has indeterminate growth so it continues to provide fresh browse all summer.  Cowpeas are another summer annual legume that will produce a lot of forage.  Austrian winter peas always go into my fall plots but can be grown through the summer as well.

Mixing Warm Season Forages

I highly recommend planting mixtures of these forages in spring food plots.

Mixing the plants provide vertical structure, variety and plants do better when growing in a diverse mixture.  It makes them more drought and disease tolerant and grows more tonnage per acre.  Go heavy on the peas and beans and lighter on the climbing plants.

Here is what I am planting the first week of June when soil temps are high enough (over 60 deg) .  Twenty lbs each of beans and peas, 5lbs each of hemp and sorghum.  (update:  deer ate all of the hemp, beans and sorghum before it could establish itself in a small plot.  I replanted with fall blend of winter wheat, winter peas and brassica.  An e fence kept the deer off of it until it could establish.  Its a big draw for hunting season and should come up strong in the spring.)

If you insist on planting corn, then please use RR corn and  when it is in the 3-leaf stage, hit it with glyphosate and interplant a fall forage.  If you plant winter wheat and radish late enough, they will be in great shape in fall and winter.  Experiemts by Dr. Harper and my own experience show that you are better off planting pure stands of corn and other crops in other locations.  Unless you have lots of room and lots of time and equipment, leave corn to farmers and plant forage crops.

For more detailed and comprehensive information I suggest Dr. Craig Harper’s book:

Or Call me at; 814-360-4510


About the Author:

Wildlife habitat manager and consulting forester from Central PA. Studied environmental Agriculture specializing in wildlife management and Forestry. B.S. Agriculture, Masters degree in Forestry. 30 years experience in land investment, forestry and wildlife habitat improvement. Currently working as a Farm Bill Forester for Pheasants Forever on Game Commission and Golden Winged Warbler Initiative.

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