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Food plots for wildlife require proper care to reward hunters

Posted: September 8, 2013 - 12:01am

Many hunters are making the transition to wildlife manager by investing in their hunting property. Planting food plots is an effective way to increase hunting yields. However, the cost involved with food plots can be substantial, and proper planning can help avoid waste and disappointment.

Some causes of food plot failure, such as weather factors, cannot be controlled. Many can be avoided with proper planting and maintenance. Some common reasons for food plot failure are:

Wrong Plant for Location: One of the first decisions to be made when planning a food plot is where it will be located. For many, choices are limited based on the amount of open land available. Careful consideration should be given to the chosen area’s soil, sunlight and drainage. These factors weigh heavily on the type of plant that will thrive. Every plant has conditions under which it will perform best.

Match the land’s qualities with compatible food plot plant requirements. For example, a plant that requires all-day sunlight and dry soil is not compatible in a shaded field that has poor drainage.

Lack of a Soil Test: Without a soil test, it is impossible to know exactly what your food plot needs in terms of lime or fertilizer.

This simple and inexpensive step still gets overlooked often enough to make it one of the primary culprits for food plot failure. Soil testing costs $8 in Columbia County. Please contact the Extension Office for information on how to take a sample, or visit aesl.ces.uga.edu/soil/Georgia.htm for more information.

Improper Planting Technique: While many food plot pitfalls can be avoided in the planning phase, sometimes even the best laid plans still result in disappointing results. This is often due to improper planting technique.

One of the biggest challenges facing the average land manager is lack of necessary equipment. The fact is that many hunters don’t own a tractor and all the key implements necessary for farming. This leaves the options of renting, borrowing, or improvising on equipment.

It seems the latter often wins out, and the result is a poorly prepared seedbed with less than ideal germination or intense weed competition that eventually chokes out the plot. A properly prepared seedbed needs one or more herbicide treatments followed by thoroughly disking or tilling the area.

If a no-till drill is available, the seed can be drilled directly into the herbicide-treated field.

Lack of Maintenance: Once a food plot is established, the biggest threat quickly becomes competition from weeds. Weeds can be extremely aggressive and quickly take over a great planting. Depending on the seed mix used, occasional mowing and herbicides, when applicable, are the best ways to control weeds.

For example, mowing is an important management tool for clover plantings. Not only will two to three mowings per year help control weeds in the plot, it also thickens the legumes and helps to maintain high protein levels. Be sure not to cut it below four to six inches, and don’t mow during periods of hot, dry weather.

Applying proper herbicides can also be key to controlling weeds and maintaining a healthy food plot. Whether planting Roundup Ready Soybeans, brassicas, or a white clover mix, there are specific herbicides that will target the undesirable weeds in the plot. It is critical to know exactly what herbicide and how much before sowing the first seed.

Food plots can be rewarding for wildlife managers if properly prepared. Avoiding these pitfalls can result in a rewarding food plot year after year.

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