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Food Plot 101 - 9 Easy Steps to Growing a Successful Whitetail Food Plot

Submitted by Member Jay Clawson (Claw79)

I am by no means a farmer or biologist, but being able to grow things from Mother Nature has always been fascinating to me. This year I decided to roll-up my sleeves, get my hands dirty and try to plant some small food plots to help enhance my Whitetail hunting success this fall. I felt I had done my homework, researched enough and had plenty of knowledge to give this a try. But I quickly learned that all the knowledge in the world would not help if you don’t follow a few critical steps!

After weeds started taking over my plots I wondered how that’s possible when I did everything I read about. Missing one step (or not knowing about a step) can cause months of work and preparation to be all for not.  For you beginners out there who are interested in planting food plots for the first time, I wanted to help you learn from my mistakes so you didn’t make the same ones yourselves.  So, here is a simple, step-by-step process you can follow to get your hunting food plots off to a good start!

1. Get a soil sample and determine your crop.  Neutralizing the pH of the soil is one of the most important determinants in planting a successful food plot. You need to have a fairly neutral pH to grow anything. Your soil sample will tell you the pH level and the amount of lime to add to neutralize it. Different crops do grow better when the pH is higher or lower, but rule of thumb is to shoot for a neutral pH. Most agricultural feed stores can do soil samples for you at a low cost (I got mine done at a local feed store for $12 dollars).

2. Mow the area where you want to plant the plot.  Mow it as short as possible without messing up your mower deck.

3. Spray the future food plot area with a commercial grade weed/grass killer.  I would use a grass/weed killer that has 41% Glyphosate. Your local home improvement store sells this type of product.

4. Wait 10 to 14 days and then spread your lime and fertilizer as recommended by your soil sample.  There are 2 different types of lime, pulverized and pelletized, and both have different affects on the soil. 

Pulverized lime is the most common type used in planting because it keeps the pH neutral for a few years. You should re-test your soil yearly to make sure it is at the level where it needs to be. You can get pulverized lime spread right on your plot by a lime truck. Your AG store can help with this.  Or, you can also get pulverized lime in bags, and that’s when you don’t need a lot or can not get a truck to your plot. If you are going to be planting food plots for many years, then pulverized lime is the way to go.  

Pelletized lime only comes in bag form and only neutralizes the pH for the growing season - which is typically about 6 months. You will need to add pelletized lime to your plot every time you plant something. I used this form on my first plot because it was in bag form and easy to spread. I will be using pulverized next year.


5. Disk the lime and fertilizer into the soil.  I used a small disk attachment for an ATV, but there are several options for doing this.  For example, if the plot is small then renting a nice size tiller could be a good option for you.  Or, if it is a bigger plot, some local co-cops will rent tractors and plows for this type of small, “one-off” project.  You might also try talking to your local AG store to see if they can get you hooked up with a local farmer who you could pay to do the disc work.  AG stores can be a great resource for helping you contact people willing to help.


6. Smooth the area to prepare a good flat seedbed.  I would recommend using a cultipacker if you can access one, but dragging a chain-link fence with weight or roller will do.


7. Wait 10 to 14 days for new vegetation to grow then burn it again with the same weed/grass killer.  When you disk the soil you are essentially re-germinating the dormant weeds. This is where I made the mistake on my first food plot and did not kill the dormant weeds. After this grass/weed burn do not disk or mess with the soil any further.


8. Wait 7-10 days then apply your seed.  You must get good seed to soil contact for your plot to be successful. This is where a cultipacker is highly recommended. The cultipacker will push the seed into the soil giving it very good contact. Plus the cultipacker will not disturb the soil causing more dormant weeds to grow. Doing this step right before a good rain will also insure good seed to soil contact — so check your forecast and plan accordingly. Finding and using a cultipacker was another step I did not properly prepare for on my first plot. I used a water filled roller and it worked ok, but I felt 30% of my seed never did germinate.


9. Watch you hard work come to life!  Once your plot gets going you may want to treat it with a grass herbicide such as Select, Arrest or Poast a couple of times throughout the growing season. This will help control weeds. Mowing will also help control weeds and promote new growth that is more palatable.  However, not all crops suggest mowing, so read up on your specific crop type before making that decision.  


I hope these simple steps help you get started in planting your own food plots and make you more successful next hunting season and for years to come! 

Got Other Tips, Techniques or Ideas To Share?… 
Please do so by sharing them in the comments area. We believe that the hunting experience is one to be shared, and that the smartest hunter in the world, is all of us together, sharing what we’ve learned.



Posted 1/17/2010
We use the "GroundHog" with our ATV's to plow. 2009 was our first year attempting food plots and we didn't have a lot of money to invest in equipment. The "GroundHog" is an inexpensive solution and works great!! Its highly recommended. I used an ATV to mow down the weeds, sprayed it with Round Up and tilled it four times with the Ground Hog before planting season. We tested the PH and needed a little fertilizer. We had the best looking food plots in our camp, hands down!!!! There are several guys that have been planting for years and ours looked so much better. I harvested my second trophy from one of our plots. Great success the first year!!
Trophy Room
Joined: 1/16/2010
Posted 8/2/2010
Great article Jay!

Trophy Room
Joined: 7/31/2009
Posted 9/29/2010
Pelletized lime can be purchased in bulk form. It is much cheaper this way too.
Trophy Room
Joined: 9/28/2010
Posted 11/3/2010
Would lime from a water plant work? If so I can ton's for nothing as I work for a city and could get what I need since we pay to have it taken away. It is more of a powder stuff.
Trophy Room
Joined: 11/1/2010
Posted 7/27/2011
Sorry it took so long to get back to you hoyt08 but pulverized lime would work great. Farmers use this type of lime because it stays in the soil for years and does not nee to be added like pelletized lime does. Pelletized lime is easier to spread if you don't have large equipment but is only good for 1 growing season. I would test your pH and then figure out how much pullverized lime you need.
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Joined: 10/12/2009
Posted 2/10/2012
Using a good fertilizer can help too. I read a study recently that showed how deer go for the most nutritious food first, especially when building antlers and also for doe feeding fawns. When it comes time to pack on the winter weight they go for the food with the highest mineral content again. A good fertilizer program can ensure your food plot has the most nutritious forage around and in turn up your odds of harvesting healthy deer.
Trophy Room
Joined: 1/27/2012
Posted 4/21/2012
Hey I know this discussion is old. But I'm thinking of trying to plant a small plot on my property. I only have 14 acres,but am sure that I could attract and keep deer coming back to eat daily. If you have any more tips on this subject I would like to hear them.
Trophy Room
Joined: 10/20/2009
Posted 7/29/2012
I am a dealer for Arrow Seed Company in Broken Bow, NE and we carry a blend called Krunch N Munch. It is a blend of turnips, radishes, alfalfa, clover, and oats. it is an easy plant with minimal equipment (hand tools) and has great plant diversity to keep deer coming in all season long. It can be planted spring or fall. Let me know if you are interested I could get some shipped to you direct.
Joined: 7/29/2012
Posted 6/18/2013
Hey bohnt - I would like some more info about your Krunch n Munch. I live in VA and will be planting some new food plots this fall and that sounds like a really good diverse type of seed. What size bags does it come in, what will that cover and how much does it cost (and the cost cost to ship to VA)? Thanks for your help.
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Joined: 6/18/2013
Posted 9/8/2014
Husband took shelled corn and poured mineral salt all over it. He takes out so much everyday to our back woods. the bucks seen on recent deer cams have some nice racks! will try this food plotting next spring. :)
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Joined: 9/6/2014
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