American jointvetch (Aeschynomene americana), or aeschynomene as some refer to it, is a warm-season annual legume that is used in pastures as livestock forage, for hay production, or as green manure. It is also an excellent summer forage for whitetails and can provide great brood-rearing habitat for wild turkeys and bobwhites.
American jointvetch (I’ll refer to it as “jointvetch” hereafter) is one of the few quality food plot forages that is native to the Southeastern United States and can be grown with good success in essentially the eastern half of the country. With proper management, it performs well in a variety of soil types but grows best in sandy loam to clay soils and can tolerate low soil fertility. Historically, many deer managers tried to confine jointvetch to low-lying sites with high soil moisture. However, jointvetch can also perform very well on upland sites or even sandy soils.
Jointvetch can reach heights of 5 to 6 feet depending on soil fertility and browse pressure. It has pinnately compound leaves that look like “feathers,” and the flowers are yellow.
Jointvetch is considered a moderately preferred forage for deer. The overall nutritional quality of jointvetch is excellent, with crude protein exceeding 20 to 25 percent and acid detergent fiber (ADF) below 25 percent, meaning it is highly digestible. In terms of forage production, it ranks near the top and can produce 3 to 4 tons of dry matter per acre throughout the growing season, which easily compares to other popular summer forages, such as soybeans, cowpeas and lablab. In a study conducted in Louisiana to examine jointvetch as a deer forage, researchers found that it comprised nearly 33 percent of the dry matter in deer diets on the 2,500-acre study area during summer.
Another positive feature of this forage is that it can withstand heavy grazing pressure, making it ideal for smaller plots where growing soybeans or cowpeas is difficult because of their sensitivity to early grazing pressure. Jointvetch is also one of the better choices for semi-shaded environments, including firebreaks, skidder trails, woods roads, and “take-out rows” in thinned pine plantations that don’t receive much sunlight during the day.
One knock against jointvetch is that initial germination and growth is relatively slow. This can be problematic if you have weed issues, and who doesn’t? Nonetheless, there are some options for weed control that will be discussed later.
Although jointvetch can withstand relatively low soil fertility and acidity, optimal production and deer attraction will only be achieved with a neutral soil pH (6.0 or higher) and nutrient levels (N, P, and K) in the high range.
Soil testing should be conducted to determine how much lime and fertilizer is needed to make sure soil fertility and pH are desirable. This will ensure deer and other wildlife on your property are provided with a quality stand of highly nutritious and attractive forage to help them through the rigors of summer and early fall when naturally occurring food sources are scarce.
Like other legumes, jointvetch does not need nitrogen fertilizer applied because it produces its own. Phosphorus and potassium are important for optimal growth, nutritional quality, and attraction, so be sure to apply these at the levels recommended from the soil test.
Finally, be sure to create a smooth, firm planting surface before broadcasting seed. This will promote optimal germination and growth, resulting in a healthier stand that can better withstand harsh weather conditions, diseases, grazing pressure, and weed pressure. Conversely, if no-till planting, kill the existing vegetation with glyphosate a few weeks prior to planting to eliminate weed competition.
When planting jointvetch in pure stands, broadcast 20 lbs./acre or drill 10 to 12 lbs./acre at a maximum depth of ½ to 1 inch. In the South, it should be planted in April to May. In northern regions, planting dates should be extended to May and June. Also, although most legumes are typically sold pre-inoculated, be sure to inoculate with strain EL (same as cowpeas) if planting un-inoculated seed. Doing so will enhance nitrogen fixation and result in a more healthy and attractive stand.
In most cases, however, planting a blend is recommended to extend the life of the food plot throughout the growing season since different species emerge and grow at different rates. As previously mentioned, jointvetch is relatively slow to establish, so including a species that establishes more quickly, such as cowpeas, soybeans, or buckwheat will attract deer to the plot earlier and increase available forage through the summer/fall as jointvetch emerges as the primary producer.
Below is a planting mixture containing jointvetch that I’ve had good success with. Note: This is the same blend provided in the species profile for alyceclover in the April/May 2015 issue of Quality Whitetails. Rates are given for broadcasting, with lower rates for drilling in parentheses:
Alyceclover – 10 (6) lbs./acre
American Jointvetch – 10 (6) lbs./acre
Iron-clay Cowpeas – 25 (15) lbs./acre
Perhaps one of the best uses of jointvetch is that it can be successfully established by no-till top sowing. This is an excellent option for those lacking access to large equipment or for those hard-to-reach plots. All you need is a sprayer and a seed spreader. Just kill the existing vegetation with glyphosate a few weeks prior to planting and broadcast the seed on top of the ground just before a rain. When using this technique, exclude the cowpeas from the mixture above and plant 10 lbs./acre jointvetch and 10 lbs./acre alyceclover.
Jointvetch is an excellent choice as a summer forage for deer. Aside from being highly nutritious and attractive to deer, it can provide excellent early season hunting opportunities. Jointvetch (along with alyceclover) provides quality forage until the first frost, making it ideal for patterning and hunting bucks during a time when few natural food sources are available. This scenario makes quality summer plots a magnet for deer and may help get your season off to a good start.