Food plots one way to healthier, sustainable wildlife populations

In dense deer herd situations, food plots may not even grow well until the deer herd is reduced. (Submitted photo)

Food plots cannot substitute for sound wildlife and land management. Food plots are one of many tools that can lead to healthier, sustainable wildlife populations. To be effective, food plots need to be used with other practices, such as wildlife harvest strategies, prescribed burning and forest stand improvements, as part of a broader wildlife management plan. In dense deer herd situations, food plots may not even grow well until the deer herd is reduced.

Cultivated food plots may help sustain a wildlife population through careful planning and a large investment in time and financial resources. Alternatively, encouraging native food plots or rotating native with cultivated plantings is less expensive and provides a diversity of plantings that improves wildlife survival when other food sources are unavailable.

Successful land managers are willing to be creative and experiment with native and cultivated food plot designs, keep records of plant successes and assess wildlife use. This may entail sowing plant species that offer delayed nutritional value for critical times of the season when surrounding native plant species are less abundant. Another option is placing electrical fencing around food plots to keep out wildlife until planting are able to sustain heavy grazing pressure or until nutritional shortages occur.

There is no limit to the number of combinations and techniques for establishing and maintaining food plots. Developing a wildlife management plan and keeping records is necessary for understanding what works best for achieving your particular goals in attracting or sustaining wildlife on your land.

When planting a food plot, apply agriculture practices to your planting as much as the landscape and equipment will allow. Sometimes food plots can be several miles in the woods and inaccessible to tractors, so smaller garden tractors or ATVs designed to pull loads may be used instead. Hitching a disk or rigging a sprayer to a pickup truck, also works. In locations where tilling is not possible, food plots can be established using herbicides to knock down competing vegetation and allow cultivated or native plants to grow. Regardless of your circumstances, there are "low-tech" and "high-tech" ways to establish food plots, and both can be successful.

The key to a successful food plot is preparing a proper seedbed to ensure maximum seed survival. This requires advanced planning, i.e., more than showing up on planting day with a tractor and a bag of seed. Take soil samples in the top 6 inches and have them tested. Following the test results assures your plants will have the nutrients they need to grow. The Garland County Extension Office can provide assistance with interpreting soil samples. A basic soil test is available at no cost.

Are fertilizer and lime really that important for preparing a wildlife food plot? Not only are they important for plant growth, research indicates a relationship between soil fertility with wildlife abundance and health. If you want to grow good wildlife, start with good soil. In areas with poor soil, wildlife shows a preference for plants that have been fertilized and, thus, contain more of the nutrients wildlife needs for survival. Soil-plants-wildlife ... it's all related, and it's important to use soil amendments if you are serious about improving wildlife habitat. If you must reduce costs, either don't plant or reduce the fertilizer rate. Don't skimp on lime; it is that important to plant growth.

Note: The Garland County Extension Office located at 210 Woodbine in Hot Springs will be closed Thursday and Friday in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.

4-H information

There are 4-H clubs for Garland County young people who are 5 to 19 years old. For more information on all the fun 4-H activities that are available, call Sara Jackson at 501-623-6841 or email her at [email protected].

Master Gardener information

Master Gardener meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at the Elks Lodge. They're open to the public and guests are welcome. For more information, call Arin Shaffer at 501-623-6841 or email him at [email protected].

EHC information

Are you interested in joining an existing Extension Homemakers Club? EHC is the largest volunteer organization in the state. For information on EHC, call Alison Crane, family and consumer sciences agent, at 501-623-6841 or email her at [email protected].

photo Jimmy Driggers - Submitted photo