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Plant Food Plots In Late Winter for Deer

By Laura Martin

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's white-tailed deer face hard times during the winter and early spring, but planting food plots during this time of year can provide the nutrition they need.

Dean Stewart, wildlife specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service said the spring and summer are critical times for white-tailed deer when protein is needed for antler growth for bucks and reproduction of fawns. Planting food plots in late winter or early spring can play a critical role in providing the nutrition they need.

"A lot of people plant food plots during the fall and not the spring, but planting food plots is important in the spring as well as in the fall," Stewart said. "Planting in the fall assists in meeting their nutritional needs and managing hunting success and deer populations. Planting during the spring is important for the development of antlers, having a healthier body weight and producing healthy fawns."

Different types of crops should be planted in the spring that are not planted in the fall.

"There are only a few select crops that we recommend to plant in the springtime," Stewart said.

Stewart recommended these options for deer plots:

* Soybeans are high in protein, but deer tend to over browse them. Unless a big field is planted, soybeans may not be effective. Planting dates are from May 1 to June 1.

* Corn will last through late fall. Deer and other wildlife gain energy and fat from the grain. It matures later than other crops and holds up well against feeding pressure. Plant corn between April 1 and May 1.

* Alyce clover is a good nutritional forage crop. It holds up well to feeding pressure and will last until a hard frost. Planting dates are from May 1 to June 15.

* American joint vetch is a fern-like plant that needs a moist site. It produces abundantly, but seed can be expensive and in some cases the crop requires extra care. Plant Jointvetch from March 1 to June 1.

* Cowpeas are legumes and come in several varieties which are very attractive to deer. It doesn't hold up as well as Alyce clover, and can be planted with other legumes. Plant Cowpeas between May 1 and July 1.

* Lab Lab is a fast-growing, drought tolerant, legume similar to soybeans but has a more vine-like appearance. Planting dates are from April 15 to June 15.

Before planting, test soil quality for acidity by collecting soil samples. Planting food plots without proper fertilization and liming wastes time and money, and in most cases, is of little value to wildlife. Soil tests help determine the efficiency and performance of the fertilizer.

Disk the area thoroughly. Broadcast seeds and go over with a drag that will disturb the soil and cover the seeds. Using a seed drill is also effective.

People who don't have access to farm equipment can plant food plots on a field or area where grass is not very thick, where timber has been harvested or on fallow ground. A process called frost planting can be used now and is best done in February. Seeds must come in contact with exposed mineral soil so they will germinate. Crops can include red clover, birdsfoot treefoil, arrowleaf clover and winter hardy forages, Stewart said.

No one particular supplemental forage variety can meet all the needs of any one wildlife species on a year-round basis. However, combining different forages in food plantings, including warm and cool season forages, is an excellent way to maximize benefits. Experiment with different varieties and planting combinations.

Most food plots planted for deer will be used by other smaller animals, including rabbits, raccoons and birds.

Small landowners providing feeders filled with shelled corn in their yard will attract deer and other species. However, the animals may come back and can damage landscaping plants and other vegetation. A more detailed explanation of planting food plots is available in the Extension Service's Wildlife Food Planting Guide "For the Southeast."

Released: Jan. 31, 2000
Contact: Dean Stewart, (662) 325-3177

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