From the QDMA By: Ed Spinazzola
This article outlines a
frost seeding technique for establishing high-quality food plots
in small areas. It is the result of numerous trial and error
experiments dating back to 1982. My results have shown that,
with the proper equipment and techniques, high-quality "mini
food plots" can
be established with inexpensive hand held equipment.
Frost Seeding Basics
Basic frost seeding is a technique where a cool-season forage,
such as red clover, is broadcast over an existing pasture or
food plot where quality forage has been depleted. Like the name
implies, frost seeding is done while
the soil is still freezing and thawing. Late February through
early March is an ideal time in most areas.
In Michigan where I live, I wait for most of the snow to melt
and after a good freeze before broadcasting the seed. This also
is a great time to conduct a browse survey, look for shed
antlers, and scout for deer. Basic frost seeding over existing
pastures works best if it has been extensively grazed or mowed
the previous fall. This exposes the soil for the most important
ingredient for successful frost seeding - good seed to soil
contact. The freezing and thawing action helps ensure good seed
contact with the soil. Early spring rains make a slurry of the
soil surface, which further enhances seed to soil contact. The
existing sod helps prevent water and seed run off.
I have never been completely satisfied with the results of frost
seeding into existing sod fields. Almost always, the sod
provided too much competition for adequate germination and
growth, especially in the upland
areas where the soil quality or soil moisture was inadequate.
Since the lower soil elevations were usually the better soil
types and had better vegetative growth, it was obvious I should
concentrate my efforts there.
Through the years I have tried several variations of frost
seedings and sometimes the results would encourage further
experimentation. In the past few years, I have concentrated my
experiments to develop food plots for
secluded hunting sites. This has led me to the following type of
food plot, which I think will work well for those of you in the
These are the hand tools you will need: A backpack sprayer
(3-gal. minimum) with a hand pump which delivers pressure on
demand. It works better with a 20-inch extension, which allows
you to spray a 10-foot wide swath. I
would recommend removing the existing plastic flat spray nozzle
and replacing it with a stainless steel nozzle, which can be
purchased at most farm supply stores. This stainless steel
nozzle should last many years and has a larger spray volume and
wider spray path than the plastic nozzle. You also will need a
hand operated, over the shoulder broadcast spreader. This type
of spreader is used for both seed and fertilizer. It will
broadcast up to a 12-foot swath and can hold up to 35 pounds of
seed. Lastly, you will need a small to medium sized chainsaw.
Site Selection and Management
When considering potential sites, consider access, adjacent
habitat types, and soil quality. For your bow sites, clear an
area 1/8- to 1/4-acre (75- to 105-foot diameter) in size.
Another option is to create travel lanes leading to your bow
site. These open lanes need to be from 15- to 30-feet wide
depending on overstory. Your planting should receive a minimum
of 50 percent of the available sunlight. These cleared areas and
lanes can be created with your chainsaw. At this point, do not
be too concerned where the trees fall or about removing them.
This clutter can be helpful because it creates a sense of
security for the deer. An ideal spot for lanes are along
drainages or other existing natural travel corridors.
For your firearm sites, your shooting lanes can be longer and
straighter. If you decide to make the length of your shooting
lanes about the same as your maximum shooting range, you can
clear an opening at the far end as a feeding site. The size of
this food plot clearing can be from 1/8-
to 1/4-acre or larger. For these sites, you would need to have
most of the trees removed from the shooting lanes to minimize
trimming required for clear observation.
In many areas the necessary clearing for a "mini plot" already
exists. Patches of bracken fern can be converted to high-quality
food plots if sufficient lime is added to the soil to raise the
pH above 5.5. I wait until about the third week of May (until
the top leaf of the bracken fern begins to unfold) and spray
with a non-selective herbicide such as Roundup. I recommend
buying Roundup in concentrate form, which saves considerable
expense when compared to pre-mixed concentrations. Typically, at
1/4-cup of Roundup per gallon of water, you should spray at
least 2 2/3 acres per
gallon. This works out to around $20 per treated acre. Around
the end of June, you will have to spray again. A final spot
spraying around the middle of September will be necessary for a
complete kill. When applying the herbicide (whatever you use)
follow the label instructions carefully. It's always a good idea
to walk with the wind at your back or walk backwards to avoid
being doused in herbicide. You should always wear latex gloves,
a face mask, and change your clothes after spraying. Also keep a
gallon of clean water handy in case of accidental spills.
Since this type of food plot construction includes clearing and
spraying, do not plant during the year of spraying. The May
spraying starts the decomposition of the vegetation (tops and
roots) and the additional spraying assures minimal native
vegetation competition. By next spring planting time, there will
be plenty of exposed soil to ensure good seed-to-soil contact
and just enough dead matter to help keep the soil cool and
moist. This practice is similar to spreading straw over newly
planted grass seed.
The following late winter or early spring < preferably the first
half of March - broadcast your seed. You can also broadcast the
first application of fertilizer at this time. Broadcast 200 lbs
of 7-27-27 (or similar) per acre when seeding legumes. If not
seeding legumes, broadcast 200 lbs of 16-16-16 per acre. You may
have your own preferred seed type or you can. When in doubt
contact your county extension agent for recommendations. But,
whatever you do, plant a seed type that can germinate without
being worked mechanically into the soil (legumes, brassicas like
rape and turnips, and grasses).
Recommended Seed Mixes
My preferred legume mixture consists of 3 lbs of ladino clover,
3 lbs of red clover, 3 lbs of alsike clover, and 3 lbs of
birdsfoot trefoil per acre. As with other legumes, you will need
to inoculate the seeds prior to planting. You will need one type
of inoculant for the clovers (ladino, red, and alsike) and a
different one for the birdsfoot trefoil. Many of the common
varieties of inoculants are available at most farm supply stores
and some stores will even inoculate and mix the seed for you. My
legume mix works well in most lower-elevation soils and can
tolerate somewhat acidic soils (5.5 pH or higher).
The ladino clover is the most sensitive to soil acidity, but the
most preferred by deer. Ladino is also self-seeding. Ladino is
nothing more than the common white clover in your lawn, which
has been improved to a hybrid
variety that produces better. Red clover is short-lived (2
years), but is a good first year producer and nurse crop. Alsike
clover also is very hardy and palatable.
Birdsfoot trefoil is one of my favorites. It can take a long
time to establish itself (3 to 4 years) but once established, it
can compete with aggressive native grasses. It is easily
recognized by its yellow blooms that persist all summer. It
resembles alfalfa in appearance but is not as
sensitive to site selection. Birdsfoot trefoil is more than a
substitute for alfalfa. It will grow in moderately acidic soils
(5.5 pH), can get its feet wet, reseeds itself, grows during the
summer and d
ry years, is non-bloating, less stemmy, and has similar
nutritional value as alfalfa. If well established, birdsfoot
trefoil is long lived. From my years of close observation,
checking actual plants consumed, and watching deer graze it
readily, it appears to be preferred.
Planting in the woods in the cluttered lanes does not allow for
mowing and this will affect legume productivity and longevity.
Likewise, heavy browsing by deer will affect longevity of the
plot. However, there?s a good chance deer will hit it hard
during spring, ease up on it during the summer, and then hit it
again in late summer and fall. That summer break is critical for
the food plot to catch its breath and recharge itself. If the
summer break does occur, it?s a good sign that deer have access
to other nutritious
As with all food plots, fertilization is strongly encouraged. In
addition to the initial fertilizer application at planting, I
recommend another 200 lbs. of 0-27-27 applied around the first
of August. The first application is for the deer. The second one
is primarily for you. It improves your chances of seeing deer
during the hunting season. If you apply fertilizer once, be
prepared to broadcast at least 100 lbs per acre of 0-16-16 in an
emergency dry period.
If you have the time and resources, I recommend five
applications (this is more important in sandy soils). Apply 100
lbs of 0-27-27 on the first of April, May, June, July, and
August for a total of 500 lbs of 0-27-27. Fertilizer encourages
the plant's root system to make more efficient use of water.
Your food plot will have a spurt of growth in spite of an
apparent lack of moisture. The more burned out your food plot
looks, the more it could use fertilizer. Liming for a minimum of
6.0 pH in these trashy food plot lanes is difficult and much
more expensive. Lime is inexpensive ($40-$70 per acre) and easy
to apply when done in an open field with a commercial spreader.
This isn't the case if done manually with pelletized lime.
Manually broadcasting 4,000 lbs. on your one-acre food plot is
and labor intensive and can cost $200 or more per ton of
pelletized lime. Though lime can be expensive, having the proper
soil pH is essential to the success of any food plot.
These techniques for "mini plots" were the result of my
experiments here in Michigan over the course of nearly two
decades. Your own experimentation will help you fine-tune these
techniques to the soils and plants that grow best in your area.
The results of your hard work and experimentation will be
high-quality food plots that greatly benefit the whitetails on
your land. They also provide great hunting opportunities when
deer season rolls around