Food Plot Construction: Forage Selectionon Jul 2, 2012
So you have made management goals for your hunting property and chosen the perfect location for a new food plot, now it is time to select what type of forage to plant. This is where the process gets a little more complicated. No worries though. We are going to go through all the options step by step to help you have the most successful food plot possible
First, take a look at your soil test results (you did do a soil test right?). The information contained in the soil test results is invaluable. Look at the soil PH. On a new plot, you will not have had enough time for lime to build up in the soil, so if the PH is lower than ideal for the forage you want to plant, you will want to plant a variety that will perform well in the conditions you have currently, and then use lime to raise the PH to the level you want in order to plant a different forage in subsequent years. PH is by no means the only factor to consider though. For example, one of my soil testes this year said that my PH was 6.9, which is near perfect for clover. However, clover would not be a good variety for this area, because the soil is very sandy and does not hold moisture very well. Clover needs a much heavier soil to thrive. A soil test will tell you what type of soil you have via the organic matter levels. The higher the organic matter level, the heavier the soil. Generally anything below 4-5% is a well drained soil. A 7 or 8 is a high level. An easy way to get a good idea without a soil test is the color of the soil. The more black the soil appears, the more organic material it has in it, and generally the heavier the soil is.
The right forage selection can definately mean the difference between a successful food plot and one that fails to produce the results you're after.
A perfect PH is 7.0, and if you are lucky enough to have something close to that, then you can plant pretty much whatever you want provided you pay attention to soil type. When I have a soil of 6.5 or higher that is heavy (high organic matter) I plant clovers. With the same PH in a moderately well drained (loamy)soil I often add in alfalfa with the clover. This is because alfalfa has an enormous root system. The taproots go very deep and the feeler roots spread out and cover a lot of area. Alfalfa has the ability to store quite a bit of water in its root system, allowing it to survive in less than perfect soil conditions. This helps the clover as well. The clover roots will actually attach to the alfalfa's root system when the weather is dry and draw water from the alfalfa. If I have a good PH (6.5+) but the soil is very well drained (sandy), then I favor either brassicas like turnips, beets, forage rape, or radishes or a legume such as soybeans or peas.
Proper fertilizing is crucial to a new food plot.
Any lower than a 6.0 and I start leaning towards annuals until I can raise the PH to where I want it. There are some great annual clovers, chicories, hairy vetch, and some brassicas that can do well in lower PH soils. The key is to follow the fertilizer recommendations on the soil test. Most will provide the perfect fertilizer ratio for your plot based on soil and what crop you intend to plant. Fertilizer is expensive, but doing it right will pay off in the long run. A local co-op should be able to custom mix fertilizer right off of your soil test. Each forage variety also has strengths and weaknesses. I much prefer blends as opposed to one single variety in a plot, for several reasons. First, it gives the deer more options, and thus more reasons to visit my plot. Second, if one forage doesn't do very well, then there are other varieties to help the plot remain attractive instead of losing the whole plot. Lets take a moment to identify the most widely used food plot forages.