Summer may mean breaking out the grill and loading a cooler full of cold ones, but it also can mean added stress on the food plots you work so hard to make ready for the fall. Given the early heat and lack of rain these tips can help you protect those food plots so you have bountiful foliage come fall.
Avoid Clipping Food Plots
Many food plotters have a perennial clover plot incorporated somewhere into their food plot plan, and with that a mowing regime to make sure it looks perfect like their front lawn. However, when rain is lacking you may be doing more harm than good by clipping. When you clip your perennial food plots you put added stress on plants which forces them to draw nutrients from their roots to push out new growth. In order to accomplish this, they also need moisture. No moisture, no growth. Holding back on clipping food plots during periods of drought and rain will enable the plants to canopy the ground to retain soil moisture, lessen stress on the plants, and allow for food to be present for the fall. Once rain is back in the forecast you can go back to your clipping routine, but keep in mind anytime you clip no matter the weather one should never clip over 50% of the height as this causes dramatic stress on the plants.
When heat is blistering the earth, and rain is avoiding the area like a toddler to vegetables we must think outside the box to give our plants their moisture and nutrient requirements. One way to do this is to break out your sprayer and fill it up with water and a foliar fertilizer or plant food supply. Foliar fertilizer can be utilized rapidly by the plant without causing potential “burning” issues like traditional granular fertilizer has. In addition to receiving this needed boost of nutrients, the plants are able to get a much-needed drink of water as well. Weekly to bi-weekly applications of foliar fertilizer and water can be the difference of your food plot yellowing up and dying to being a luscious food plot this hunting season. Several companies make foliar fertilizers that can also double as tank cleaner as well. Just make sure to rinse out your herbicide tanks thoroughly or you will be doing more harm than good.
One item that many may not have access to, but should be thinking about in drought and heat prone areas is the use of no-till planting procedures. This process is well known to maintain higher moisture, create healthier soil, and reduce stress caused by drought conditions. If year after year you are seeing a burn out when tilling or disking your plots and planting you may want to think of going this route. Using rotational planting of grains and/or annual clovers with your fall blends can pay huge dividends. In the spring planting buckwheat, annual clovers (berseem, crimson, etc.), ryes, oats, etc. and then crimping them down for fall planting will help retain moisture. This process is very similar to thatching your yard after a new grass seeding. Crimping can be done by using professional grade crimpers down to a piece of pipe pulled behind your equipment. The other option is to rent or purchase a no-till planter where you can directly plant your seed into the soil with disturbing the ground which overall will keep your soil healthier and moisture rich. For those that are only capable of working the dirt with old methods, it is suggested you start using more of the rotational spring/fall planting to preserve moisture.
When getting a soil sample, you will many times see that there is a percentage of organics within the sample. Organics are a simple test to show your soil’s capability to retain moisture and nutrients. The less organics, the less growth potential you have. It is for this very reason that sand country is difficult for many food plotters. To begin building organics it is recommended to have a strict crop rotation with plants that require little nutrients, but push out large amount of growth. For this reason, we utilize many cereal grains and similar species in spring plantings, work into the ground without spraying, and then follow up with either clover or another grain rotation. The more plant matter you can work int the more you will build up your organics and thus build up your moisture and nutrient retention.
These are a few tips that you can use to preserve your food plots this summer short of installing your own water pivot system. For more information reach out to agronomists or professionals on planting procedures, seed blends, and/or how you can better protect the moisture in your soil to get through the summer heat.