As the trees, shrubs, and grasses explode into bright, green foliage this month, the dark and dreary landscape erupts with life, a quick reminder of the arrival of spring planting season. With soil temperatures beginning to rise, April is the time to begin spring planting.
To make sure the animals get the best out of any food-plot efforts, land managers need to match seed varieties that are most beneficial to conditions because not all seeds grow well in all conditions in the South.
Warm-season plantings are often overlooked by many deer-hunting enthusiasts, but they shouldn’t be. Warm-season plantings offer wildlife a wealth of resources at a pivotal time when fawns are taking their first steps and bucks are growing their antlers. From May through July, warm-season food plots need to be in full bloom and ready to feed the herd. Warm-season food plots can boost the quality of wildlife populations on the local level and can benefit hunters in the coming season.
Instinctively, deer will be drawn to these protein-rich sources to fuel antler production, lactation and to nurture developing newborn fawns. Land managers should choose palatable seeds with protein levels in the 18- to 35-percent range. Most mixes with legumes, including soybeans, lablab, joint vetch, peas, alyce clover, ladino white clover and peanuts, are loaded with highly digestible protein.
Seed varieties are not created equal. Some plants are more tolerant of shade, acidity and moisture level than others. Site and seed choice are critical and should be chosen wisely, paying close attention to preferred chemical and physical requirements of the seed.
With many planting mixes and seed varieties available, wildlife managers can customize their plantings to the physical and chemical characteristics of each prospective plot site. Sites will vary tremendously in drainage, soil texture, acidity and shade/sun abundance. Match plot varieties to their preferred conditions before sewing the first seed.
Few plants will grow well in extremely dry or frequently flooded conditions. Overall, all prospective food-plot sites should be chosen for their ability to retain moisture in the soil for a long time without being saturated or inundated. However, seed varieties differ tremendously as far as preferred soil-moisture availability. Choose well-drained sites for the more drought-tolerant species, such as peanuts and lablab. Wetter sites with poor drainage and clay soils will be more beneficial for wet-natured varieties such as, deer vetch, ladino clover and red clover. Prolonged flooding will kill any of these food-plot seeds, so avoid plots likely to be flooded.
While soil moisture is among the most-important factors in establishing a food plot, having the proper pH is critical. It allows plants to utilize fertilizer better, depending on what fertilizer is best to meet the crop’s needs. Certain plants are more or less tolerant of soil pH. Most sites in the south have naturally low pH levels, and liming often plays into the picture. Some food-plot seeds are more acid tolerant than others. If liming is not a part of the soil-preparation plan, choose acid-tolerant seed mixes for low pH sites. For example, small burnett is a protein-rich forb that is drought tolerant and can tolerate soil acidity down to 5.0.
Last, plants need sunlight to photosynthesize, and very few plants can make it without full sun for at least a few hours of the day. The majority of food-plot seeds require five to six hours of full sunlight to reach full potential. Then again, some plants are more shade-tolerant than others and can be established on sites with substantial tree canopy. Prescribe shade-tolerant food-plot mixes on wooded sites with limited, prolonged sunlight exposure.
While a portion of the Carolinas remain flat, most of the counties in the two states have natural topography that can provide massive benefits for locating the right spot for a food plot planting variety. North-facing slopes are naturally cooler and wetter than south-facing slopes that are warmer and dryer. Landscape position in places with topography plays an important role and should always be considered when choosing food plot seed.
Some food-plot crops will cost more to plant and maintain than others. For the best results, land managers should invest their time and dollars in sites with the best combination of pH, soil moisture, and sunlight availability. Food-plot seeds will not flourish across all sites. Landowners should prescribe plantings specific to each planting area.