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EXTENSION CONNECTION: These are the 3 steps to successful food plots

Jennifer Bearden | Special to Gannett

When people put in food plots and are not successful, I normally see the following three problems as the causes. 

First, they didn’t consider soil pH or fertility. Second, they didn’t choose the right plant varieties for our area. Third, they didn’t manage weeds properly or at all. 

Following these three steps can help establish a successful food plot.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Office for Okaloosa County is located in Crestview.

1. Soil pH and fertility

Often wildlife enthusiasts ignore soil pH and fertility. If the soil pH isn’t right, fertilization is a waste of time and money. 

Different plants have different needs. Some plants need more phosphorus than others. Some need more iron or zinc or copper. The availability of these elements not only depends on whether they are present in the soil but also on the soil pH. 

"Test, Don’t Guess!" It takes a week or two to get the full soil sample results back and costs only $10 per sample. That’s a pretty cheap investment to insure a successful food plot. 

This clover food plot has an exclusion cage added to show the amount of forage that has been eaten.

2. Variety selection

Cool season food plots are generally used as attractants for hunters. They do provide some nutrition for the wildlife as well. The goal is to select forages that are desirable to the animals, as well as use forages and varieties that grow well in our area. 

Some great choices include oats, triticale, clovers, daikon radish and Austrian winter peas. We recommend a blend, because it extends the length of time that forages are available to the animals, as well as decreased risk of food plot failure. 

For more information on recommended cool season forages, go to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag139.

3. Weed management

Often tilling the food plot prior to planting is enough to manage most weeds. This is OK when you have native weeds on relatively flat land. If erosion is an issue or if more problematic weeds such as cogongrass are present, a different weed management strategy is recommended. 

Glyphosate is a good choice as it is a broad spectrum herbicide that will not negatively affect the food plot. Spray the area with glyphosate 3-4 weeks prior to planting to give it time to kill the weeds. 

Also, remember that many herbicides are not effective during droughts, so we either need to wait until we have rainfall or work with your extension agent to find a solution that will work for your situation.

These three steps are crucial to successful food plots. 

First, get your soil pH right and then fertilize properly. Next, choose the right forages and varieties to plant. Then control the weeds so they don’t choke out your food plots. The next step is to enjoy this hunting season. 

For more information on wildlife food plots, you can contact your local county extension agent.

Jennifer Bearden

Jennifer Bearden is an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.