Most deer hunters have an internal clock that lets them know when it is time to plant their food plots.  Labor Day usually serves as a wakeup call for them to begin working to provide extra nutrition for wildlife while also improving hunting success. It is important that hunters avoid common mistakes that can waste precious time. Common sources of error that can affect food plot success involve soil, seeds, and armyworms. 

The sources for this column are the Mississippi State University Extension Service publications “Avoid Common Oversights When Planting Food Plots”, “Supplemental Wildlife Food Planting Manual for the Southeast,  and “Fall Armyworms in Hayfields and Pastures”.

Soil 

Great food plots begin with fertile soil.  Failing to apply timely and accurate amounts of lime and fertilizer can lead to unproductive food plots. A study performed by the MSU Deer Lab showed that deer are eleven times more likely to visit properly fertilized and limed foot plots.  

Soil sampling serves to provide a perfect prescription for agricultural lime to correct soil pH issues. Soil tests will also reveal the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizer needed for food plots to reach their potential. Refer to the MSU Extension publication “Soil Testing for the Farmer” for complete instructions on soil sampling.

Seeds

Without the correct amount of properly planted seeds, food plots will not be successful.  If too few seed are sown the plants will be sparse.  If too many seeds are sown the plants will be over-crowed. 

To determine how much seed to purchase it is important to combine information from seed bag tags with recommended per acre seeding rates.  Useful information listed on seed tags includes the percent of pure seed and total germination percent.  Hunters should learn how to use these figures to calculate pure live seed (PLS). PLS is the percent of seed that can be expected to germinate in a bag of seed.  The formula is as follows: PLS = pure seed percent x seed germination percent/100. 

I examined a Durana white clover seed tag to serve as an example.  The pure seed percent was 64.6 percent, and the germination was 90 percent.  PLS of this seed is 64.69 percent x 90 percent/100 = .58.  The amount of seed to purchase can be determined by dividing the recommended amount of clover seed to plant per acre by the calculated PLS. The recommended seeding rate of Durana clover is eight pounds per acre.  Using the previously calculated PLS, 13.74 pounds of Durana clover should be planted per acre.   

Armyworms

Armyworm damage in hayfields and pastures has been a terrible year.  The devastation to grass crops can be expected to continue until the first frost of the year nears.  

Hunters that plant food plots in September containing wheat and oats should expect to have armyworm damage.  Young seedlings can be ravaged by this pest.  Hunters should scout food plots regularly and have spray equipment ready to use. The same insecticides recommended for hayfields and pastures should be used to treat armyworms in food plots.  The short grazing intervals of these products will not harm deer and other wildlife. Please note that bifenthrin is not labeled to be used in hayfields, pastures, or food plots. A complete list of insecticides and application rates can be found in the MSU Extension Service publication, “Fall Armyworms in Hayfields and Pastures.”

It is time to begin planting cool season food plots! Hunters should not waste a second by making mistakes associated with soil, seeds, and armyworms. Contact James Shannon at 662-769-0547 for more information on this topic.

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