Summer Plot Work
A little work in the summer can really pay off in the fall and winter.
June 05, 2009
Notice to all you deer managers big-time or small: Your food plots are in and coming up green and you won't plant your cool-season fields for a few more months. Time to chill and do a little fishing and golfing, eh? Yeah, gotta love the summer man, but don't forget to set aside a couple more weekends for work detail. More sweat now means more shooter bucks on your 50 or 500 acres this fall.
Mow the Clover
Deer will keep mini-plots of half an acre or less browsed down (often too low), but larger fields should be mowed at least once with a tractor or ATV with a pull mower. Cutting helps to control weeds, and the plant tops re-grow more tender and palatable for the animals.
"Mow when the clover, weeds and grasses reach 10-12 inches tall," says Steve Scott of the Whitetail Institute. "Mow everything down to 4 to 6 inches high." He says to remove clippings if possible because a proven clover like Imperial Whitetail (30 to 35 percent protein) does not have to re-seed to grow for up to five years.
If you planted a seed blend of, say, clover and chicory, "don't mow it too low, just clip the tops off the plants," notes Biologic's Bobby Cole. He says you're generally okay in June and early July, but don't cut your plots too much or too short or you'll risk burning them when it's hot and dry in late summer.
On the way into or out of your plots, bush-hog a few strips in grassy roads, pasture edges and berry/brier thickets-mow these low. Native plants will pop back up tender and green after late-summer rains, and the deer will love them. You can't create too much feed.
Kill the Weeds
All plots, no matter the size, should be treated to control unwanted grasses and weeds. Spray plots when weeds are 4 to 12 inches tall. Your local farm co-op can recommend a good selective herbicide. The Whitetail Institute has tested and recommends the Arrest and Slay herbicides. "Arrest is used to control grasses and Slay is for broadleaf weeds," says Scott. He notes that both herbicides curb weed/grass growth within 48 hours of application.
You fertilized your plots in spring. Do it once more in early fall with a 20-20-20 or similar fertilizer. Apply fertilizer when plants are dry.
Do two things to make your cool-season plots better than ever. Disk spots where you'll plant several times in two-week intervals prior to sowing the seeds. This will not only work the soil, but also help to reduce weeds and grass that come up later. And take some of the fresh dirt for a soil test (see sidebar) to see if you need to lime. The sooner you lime, the better your fall plants will grow.
Fire Up Your Chainsaw
Cut dead trees from roads and ATV trails, and thin out saplings/brush on the edges of plots to let in more sunlight. While you're at it-and this is major-cut some access roads into your plots. Say a west wind will pre-dominate come hunting season. Okay, come in from the east with your saw and loppers and clear lanes to the best trees where you'll hang your stands. Your work and noise won't bother the deer now. When you come back to hunt in a couple of months, sneak quietly in from downwind and smack one of those bucks you've been growing.
Build Your Skills
To do a soil test all you need is a spade, a bucket and some Ziplock bags. Walk across a disked plot and take six samples from different areas to get a cross-section of the soil. Remove grass clumps and rocks, and dump the fresh dirt into the bucket. Stir and mix, and then shovel some in a baggie. Repeat the process for each plot you'll plant since soil characteristics can vary from spot to spot.
Take samples to your county extension office. For a small fee they will do the same soil test that they do for crop farmers. Give them a list of the wildlife seeds you're thinking about planting. The lab will make recommendations and tell you how much lime and fertilizer you need.