Maintaining your food plots
by Dan Eastman for
Vermont Sporting Journal
May 2005 Issue
In my last article I tried to give you some insight on food plots and what to expect from the various types of products on the market. Now that spring has all but passed it is time to focus on the maintenance of this year’s food plot or a perennial that you have planted in the past.
Maintenance of a food plot can mean the difference between years of growth from a perennial plot or planting the plot again next year. Just like owning equipment or a house you need to do some routine things to keep everything working ok.
For any perennial there are a basically two things that need to be done, weed control and fertilization. Lets start with fertilization since this is the easier of the two. You have two options when it comes to fertilizing an existing plot. You can either top dress the area with a bulk fertilizer or you can spray a liquid fertilizer right onto the plants.
Top-dressing fertilizer is cheep and easy to apply. You can use a hopper spreader or you can use an over the shoulder seeder. The disadvantage to this method is some of the fertilizer never reaches the roots where the plant can use it. Because the fertilizer is applied on top of the soil some will run off during rain storms and not get to the root zone where it is needed.
A much better approach to fertilizing is to use a liquid style fertilizer. Liquid fertilizers are sprayed right onto the plants leaves where the plant can absorb the nutrients and send them directly to the roots. This is a much more efficient way to get the nutrients to the plants. The disadvantage to using a liquid fertilizer is you will need a tank sprayer and a boom to make this process efficient. If you choose this style of fertilization than you should time your application so you don’t get a downpour right after. Also the plants uptake will be most effective either in the morning or evening hours of the day.
Now that we have covered fertilizing your food plots lets discuss how to handle weeds. Weeds are inevitable! You will never have a 100 percent weed free plot for a full 4 years. It’s best to understand where weeds come form first so you can late understand how to handle the problems.
Unfortunately weed seeds are located in the soil and can potentially lay dormant for up to 500 years (i.e. Raspberries) and by disturbing the soil you have already started the process for these weeds to grow. Depending on what characteristics the site holds determines what types of weeds may grow.
Some methods used to control weeds at the time of planting are century old techniques. Instead of directly planting a perennial try first using annual plants like rye, oats or essex dwarf rape as a cover crop. This will work especially well in reclaiming old fallow fields or pastures. These some of these crops can be planted at very high rates (up to 200 pounds per acre) so natural vegetation will not have the ability to grow. Not only does this method provide weed control but you will also put valuable nutrients back into the plot. The downfall to this is you need patients since you will loose part or all of a growing season to accomplish this.
A more modern method is to use herbicide sprays that kill the existing vegetation allowing you to grow a weed free plot. I caution you on this method since some herbicide sprays remain in the soil for extended periods of time. It has been documented that low soil pH can extend the length of time herbicides stay in the soil. Also some herbicides can kill the organisms in the soil that your plants need to live. Earthworms, ants, fungus and bacteria all can be killed reducing how well you plants will grow. Make sure you do some research on the particular herbicide you will be using so you understand the side effects. I would suggest mowing as your first line of defense for weeds. If you wait until the plant is flowering when it is mowed you have waited until the plant has exhausted most of its root stores on the flowering process. If this doesn’t work use an herbicide that targets certain types of plants. This will reduce the amount of herbicide that you will use. It is important you learn as much about what you plant and the weeds that are persistent so you know what to do for maintenance. The more you know the better you can accommodate for these pest that can overtake your plots.