Perennial Clover |Spring Food Plots
Establishing a food plot is an investment. It is an investment of your time, your money, and your effort. Most hunters devote to establishing a food plot in order to reap the benefits later in the year with the benefits, of course, being opportunities at a mature white-tailed buck or a long spurred gobbler. There is no question that if you enjoy hunting and harvesting wild game, that establishing and maintaining a food plot can greatly increase your chances for success. With spring arriving, spring food plots started now, can create exactly the opportunities you can expect.
Back to the Basics:
Contrary to popular belief, not all food plots are created equal. To think that you can simply toss some seed on the ground and have it be successful is simply not true. Like anything, the more time and effort you spend planning, installing and maintaining your food plot the better the results will likely be. Before you even break the soil, there are several factors that you’ll need to consider.
Where you decide to place your spring food plot is a critical step in the planning process. You want to ensure that you are creating your food plot in an area where wildlife can easily locate and utilize it, while at the same time ensuring that you are allowing yourself an entrance/exit strategy that works with the area. Establishing a food plot next or near bedding or roosting areas can be advantageous, but it can sometimes be detrimental as well. Most prefer to establish their food plot along clearly defined travel areas, where wildlife may already be frequenting. The other strategy is to simply create a “destination” feeding area where it works for hunting. By creating a food plot that has tremendous pull in attraction and size (a lot of high-quality food), you can make the plot work for your hunting strategy.
The size and shape of a food plot is often something that many who establish them will not really consider, but believe it or not, there is a “better” and a “worse” when it comes to laying out your food plot. When it comes to the shape of your food plot, long and linear will typically prevail over smaller and round any day. The reason for this is rather simple. Wildlife such as white-tailed deer and wild turkeys (among many others) are considered species of edge. They prefer to utilize transitional areas between various cover types as travel and forage areas. This is mainly a defense mechanism that will allow them to flee at the first sign of danger. A long, linear food plot provides a plethora of edge in comparison to a small, round food plot.
Not everyone has access to large farm equipment that can sometimes be required to establish or maintain a food plot. It really doesn’t matter how well you have planned out your food plot if you do not have the means to establish and maintain it. It is critically important to keep these factors in mind when planning your food plot. Being limited to small-scale equipment, such as those that can be utilized by an ATV can significantly play into what species of forage you wish to establish, so be sure to do your homework and plan accordingly.
When it comes to food plot forages there are two categories to choose from, annuals and perennials. Annuals consist of species like corn, soybean, milo/sorghum and wheat just to name a few. As the name implies, annuals are species that need to be planted every single year. These species are excellent options for wildlife food plots; however, from a cost standpoint they require an investment in time, seed, and effort each year to establish them. Perennials, on the other hand, are species that once planted will germinate year after year. Perennials would consist of species such as clovers, alfalfa, and chicory among many others. These species of food plot forages require an upfront investment of time and money however once established, annual maintenance can generally keep perennial food plots in excellent condition for several seasons. There is no question that in having a diversity of annual and perennial food plots on your property is likely the best case scenario, however, when time and money are limited perennials provides you with a feasible option that can help you grow, hold and harvest more game each and every year.
In terms of species to plant, research goes a long ways. Learning what species are out there for planting is a good way to start. However, you will quickly learn that most “experts” narrow their search and use down to just a handful of great plot species. One of the most common and effective spring food plots is clover. Particularly mixed clover plots (white and red) or straight ladino (white) clover plots work incredibly well. They are browse resistant, can take shade, and are hardy and require little in terms of establishment and maintenance.
The Clover Connection
Among all the species of perennial forages, clover typically ranks at the top of the list. There are multiple species of clovers available for use, however, when it comes to managing for wildlife the most popular variety used is typically Ladino clover.
Also referred to as “white clover”, Ladino clover is a perennial legume that actively grows during the cooler months of the year (spring and fall) and can be established easily and provide an immense wildlife benefit in a short amount of time. Aside from the wildlife benefits, ladino clover is relatively inexpensive and generally doesn’t require much maintenance to keep a stand looking great and providing an excellent source of forage for white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.
Regardless of whether you are establishing an annual food plot or a perennial food plot, everything starts with the seed bed. Taking the time to have a soil test conducted in the area you plan to establish your food plot is a critical step that many will simply skip. Ensuring that your soil is up to the task of producing what you are asking it to is important, so take the time to take care of your soil, and your soil will take care of you.
Once your soil test has been completed, it is time to prepare your seed bed. When it comes to seeding clover, having a well-prepared seedbed is important. It doesn’t matter whether you are using a disk, roto-tiller, or plot master to break the ground open when it comes to establishing clovers what matters most of all is how the food plot is finished. Having a smooth seed bed is optimal for establishing a clover plot, so be sure to do your best to remove all of the clods by running a harrow or culti-packer over the site prior to seeding. Once your seed bed is prepared, add any soil amenities as recommended by your soil test and you are set.
Seeding a spring food plot, in particular, is incredibly easy in terms of actually putting the seed on the ground. Clover seed is rather small and can be easily spread by hand or mixed with lime or fertilizer and established with a broadcast seeder attachment on the back of an ATV. Typically, clover species such as Ladino are seeded at a rate of 2 to 3 pure live seed (PLS) pounds per acre. Though the rate is important, what is even more important is ensuring that you have adequately covered your food plot location with seed, so be sure to pay close attention to your coverage area when establishing your food plot. In some instances, thicker seed rate for ladino clover…in the 5 lbs/acre allows for quick germination and ground coverage. This means the food plot is a thick carpet in just a few weeks. It also means that the plot can hold moisture better than a plot broadcasted with 3lbs/acre.
While seed bed preparation is a very important part of establishing a clover food plot, the timing of the seeding is an equally important part of the process. Without question, the best time of year to establish your clover plot is during the early spring or late winter months. Often referred to as “frost seeding”, starting your clover food plot during these months allows the daily freeze/thaw action of the soil to work the seed into the soil. If you are lucky enough to time your efforts in conjunction with a snow event, then you’re are set. Spreading the seed on top of a fresh snow aids in protecting your seed from being foraged upon by birds and small rodents, while also allowing you to more easily see any areas that you may have missed when seeding.
Ladino clover food plots require very little maintenance and care once established. Generally, all that is required to maintain a hearty forage base is a high mowing (if it’s a large plot >1 acre) to control annual broadleaves or at least one or two herbicide sprayings a year to keep the grass and other weeds at bay. While an ATV mower or brush cutter is typically the preferred method, raising the mower deck on your riding mower can be enough to do the trick. If you have a small clover plot meaningless than an acre, a lot of deer browse essentially mows the plot. Keep in mind, mowing drastically decreases the amount of food available to your deer, while at the same time opening gaps in the clover for weeds to sprawl up and moisture to escape.
The biggest competition to maintaining your ladino clover plot is generally grass encroachment. You can resort to a heavier-handed approach by using a grass selective herbicide (Clethodim or Sethoxydim) such as Select to help control the encroachment. A grass specific herbicide will only affect grass species, and will not harm the broadleaves such as clovers and other forbs and legumes you might have in your mix and will keep your clover food plot producing year in and year out.
Bucks, Beards, and Babies
So, aside from the return on investment why would you want to establish a perennial clover plot? The answer is simple; from a wildlife standpoint, these perennial legume plots provide a source of protein and other important nutrients that are important for the health of the white-tailed deer on your farm. From improving lactation in does to helping grow larger antlers in bucks, these plots will be utilized from the spring months all the way through the first frost. In addition to providing a forage base, these areas are also often selected by does as fawning locations and can help increase the fawn survival on your farm as well. Clover fills the gap where late season food sources finally are completely exhausted, and soybeans and other crops have yet to be planted. Essentially clover is the missing species that can provide the food and nutrition when it is likely not available.
There is no question that a clover plot is an excellent place to encounter a gobbler in the spring, and the reason is simple, ladino clover plots provide wild turkeys with an excellent source of forage as well. In addition to the forage that the clover itself provides, these areas also attract a wide range of soft-bodied insects which are an important source of protein for wild turkeys. In addition to adult wild turkeys, these plots provide an excellent brood rearing location for young turkeys as well. Ladino clover plots, not only help you to harvest more wildlife, but they also help you to grow more wildlife!
No matter if you are chasing a big buck or a long beard, ladino clover plots can help you to be successful. Wildlife will utilize these spring food plots all year long, which can really help you to monitor the wildlife on your property throughout the year. A clover plot is an excellent location to maintain a trail camera set throughout the course of the year. These food plots are perfect locations to utilize your trail cameras in conjunction with a ground stake. Have an “in the field perspective” can not only provide your with some excellent information pertain to the health of the wildlife on your property but can also provide you with some amazing trail camera pictures as well. Ground stakes provide you with a way of collecting the exact information you wish to collect and remove the issue of finding the perfect tree or trimming limbs and a clover plot is a perfect place to use it.
There is something about hunting over a ladino clover plot from a ground blind that is special. Ground blinds like a bale blind can often blind right into the surrounding vegetation and are perfect for these types of locations. During the early fall, when there is still ample foliage on the trees and undergrowth, archery hunting from a tree stand can sometimes be challenging, and with ladino clover food plots generally being areas of high use during the early fall, hunting from a ground blind can be an extremely effective approach.
If you are looking for a way to increase the number of white-tailed deer and wild turkeys on your property while at the same time, increasing your opportunities for success then consider establishing a ladino clover food plot, and begin reaping the rewards!