One of the most common questions we get on social media and through our Ask QDMA webpage goes something like this: “I have X acres where I hunt to plant a food plot. What should I plant?” And while I wish there was one “magic bullet” food plot mix we could share that would provide deer with year-round nutrition and suit every every deer hunter’s needs, it simply doesn’t exist. There are lots of variables that go into choosing the right food plot mix for any given location and situation, including the amount of sunlight and moisture the site receives, the region’s temperature range, soil type and fertility, and even the goals of the would-be food plotter.
So, while I can’t supply you with a magic food plot mix, I can lay out several options for various scenarios that will hopefully get you started in the right direction and provide you with the resources to figure out exactly what mixes are best suited for your particular situation.
Food plot plantings fall into one of two categories — warm-season or cool-season. Warm-season plantings are typically planted in spring and grow throughout the summer and into fall. These include forages such as soybeans, corn, grain sorghum, lab lab, and cowpeas.
Cool-season forages, on the other hand, are planted in the fall or early spring and depending on the species, can grow throughout the year. This includes forages such as wheat, cereal rye, oats, clovers, chicory and brassicas.
Warm-season forages are typically annuals, while cool-season forages can be either annuals or perennials. Annuals, by definition, germinate, grow, mature and die back in a single growing season. The benefit is the plant germinates and grows quickly, providing attraction in a relatively short period of time. Examples of cool-season annuals are wheat, oats, rye (cereal rye, not ryegrass), and brassicas. Perennials on the other hand, are typically slower to establish, but they re-grow from their root systems for two or more years, meaning you don’t usually have to replant the food plot every year. Cool-season perennials include most clovers and chicory.
The purpose of your plot or plots will help guide you in determining which species to plant. If you are looking for an early season kill plot, or to provide nutrition while bucks are actively growing antlers and does are lactating, then a warm-season forage or mix will be your best bet. If you want a kill plot for later in the season, or to provide excellent forage during the nutritionally stressful winter and early spring, then a cool-season plot may serve you better. If, however, you want the best of both worlds and the opportunity to provide year-round nutrition to the deer herd, then it’s a good idea to plant some of each.
With hundreds of seed mix options available these days, there is no way I could cover even a fraction of them in one post, so I’ve laid out a few that should cover most scenarios for both northern and southern white-tailed deer hunters. Most of the mixes listed below are commercially available from seed vendors such as Mossy Oak Biologic, Tecomate and Whitetail Institute. Buying premixed can be beneficial for those planting small plots where it doesn’t make sense to purchase individual bags of seed to mix yourself. Just be sure to check the label before purchasing a commercial seed mix to make sure the species included are suitable for your area and will cover the acreage to be planted.
Note: Regardless of what you decide to plant, take the time to pick up some soil sample bags from your local extension office and get a soil sample from each potential food plot location. Once you’ve received the results from those tests, lime and fertilize accordingly. The cost of the test is minimal and skipping this step could result in food plot failure.
Two Cool-Season Mix Options
Southern Cool-Season Mix
Northern Cool-Season Mix
Wheat 40 lbs./acre
Austrian winter peas 20 lbs./acre
Forage brassica 4 lbs./acre
Read more about these mixes in a previous article on cool-season food plot mixes.
Two Warm-Season Mix Options
Iron-clay cowpeas 50 lbs./acre
Lablab 10 lbs./acre
Peredovik sunflowers 5 lbs./acre
Iron-clay cowpeas 60 lbs./acre
Corn 8 lbs./acre
Read more about these mixes in a previous article on warm-season food plot mixes.
The above mixes are based on the assumption you are planting in an area with adequate sunlight and moisture, which is not always the case. For those of you with less-than-ideal food plot sites, it may take putting together a more creative mixture. Conditions like heavy shade or an overly wet site can require special seed selection to have a successful food plot.
mixes for Less-Than-Ideal Conditions
Southern Shady Site Mix
Crimson Clover 5 lbs./acre
White Clover 6 lbs./acre
Subterranean Clover 3 lbs./acre
Rye 50 lbs./acre
Northern Shady Site Mix
White Clover 8 lbs./acre
Rye 50 lbs./acre
Wet Site Mix
White Clover 6 lbs./acre
Crimson Clover 10 lbs./acre
No Equipment, No Problem (sort of)
Many of the people who contact QDMA about planting a food plot lack the necessary equipment to put one in by traditional methods. Fortunately for those folks, there is still an opportunity to provide a nutritional benefit to the local deer herd and improve their deer hunting with a minimal amount of equipment. This can be accomplished by killing the existing vegetation with an herbicide application, giving the vegetation a few weeks to die back, and then broadcasting a mix of small-seeded species, such as clovers, alfalfa or brassicas. The best time to plant is right before a rain, so the water will carry the seed into the soil where it can germinate.
Another similar option for those lacking equipment is to frost-seed. Frost-seeding is simply broadcasting small-seeded species like those mentioned above on top of frost- or snow-covered ground. The freezing and thawing of the ground will pull the seed into the soil, where it should germinate once the soil reaches the appropriate temperature. Frost-seedings often require a selective herbicide application once warm-season weed growth begins.
For more information on planting food plots, check out our full selection of articles at qdma.com/manage/food-plots/. If you are serious about your food plots and want to take yours to the next level, then I would highly recommend going a step further and picking up a copy of QDMA’s Quality Food Plots book.