Planting fall food plots has fast become a great tradition in the south. To many, it's as much of an annual ritual as hanging tree stands, trimming shooting lanes or even the actual hunt. Many hunters get as much satisfaction out of growing food-plots and managing their whitetail herd as harvesting a trophy. We as hunters feel that the sooner we get the food plots up and growing the faster the deer season will get here. In almost any food plot discussion the question of planting annuals or perennials will invariably come up. So why do we do it, why plant the same field every year? In this article we'll look at the values of having annual food plots on your property.
Annuals are used with great success in the South because of the climate. With drought like conditions and 100+ degree days, perennial plots can take a beating in the summer. Some years you may wonder if your perennials will make it through. Hunters want some insurance as to whether the drought got the best of their plot. Planting warm season annuals such as lablab or a corn and bean field can provide your herd with high protein forage that will actually thrive in the heat.
Don’t overlook annuals. They produce a great deal of quality forage in a “short” time span.
Another big advantage to putting some of your property's plots in annuals is timing the weather. Being able to have your soil turned, seed bed preparation done, lime and fertilizer spread, and then being able to wait until right before a rain to get seed on the ground is a recipe for food-plot success. In case of an early lack of moisture or let's say - having to put in overtime at work, fall annuals can be planted late. Fairly mild winters in the South allow you to plant a cool season annual such as wheat, oats, or brassicas on into late October or early November. These plots can be great for a post-rut, late season hunting plot, but also provide quality food for the late winter stress period.
A corn and bean field does double duty by providing protein during the antler growing months and plenty of fat and carbs for energy in the winter.
Using brassicas as a cool season annual will provide tons of nutritious forage for your herd during the hard winter months.
LabLab is a great warm season annual loaded with minerals and protein for healthy does while raising fawns and bucks growing antlers.
Planting annual food plots will help with your hunting strategy by using plants that will be at the height of their attractiveness at key times during the fall. From early bow season, to the rut, to late firearm season, blends like Maximum have different cultivars that mature at different rates so there is palatable forage from September to February. The hunting season covers a four month period during which temperatures are changing, plants are changing, a whitetail's needs are changing, etc. To do well at consistently attracting whitetail to a food plot you need to provide the variety necessary to cover their needs regardless of the conditions. Besides protecting you from planting and growing failures, a "blend" of different cultivars assures a palatable food choice and "attraction" for the longest time-frame possible.
Sometimes the argument is made that annuals are fool proof to plant and easier to establish than a perennial. This is what most weekend food-plot warriors want. Whether you're planting spring and summer annuals for antler growth and a healthy herd or fall annuals for hunting season, they are made to perform. Annual plants are designed to come screaming out of the ground and produce as much forage as possible in a growing season. Our New Zealand brassicas are capable of producing 14 tons of forage per acre and beans and corn left on the stalk provide some much needed energy for weary bucks and does during those winter months.
People think they are going to save work by planting perennials because they come back year after year, but annuals actually require less work. Sure you have to plant them every year, but once you figure in mowing your perennials two to five times per year, treating it with selective herbicides twice and fertilizing at least once, perennials actually require more work - that is if you want to get multiple years out of the crop. Annuals actually require much less "tractor time."
Both annuals and perennials have certain characteristics that make for both nutrition choices and attraction selections. Plot location, timing of the planting and exactly which blends/plants accompany one another will dictate what use they will serve. A well rounded food plot program probably will have acreage devoted to both attraction and nutrition, and likely have both annuals and perennials in the program. However, where in the North you could say that perennials are possibly the "corner-stone" of a well-rounded food plot program, here in the South you just can't beat easily planted, dependable, tonnage producing, and highly attractive annuals.
Austin Delano is a Territory Manager for Biologic in Tennessee and Kentucky. Austin also manages Biologic's proving grounds and is an avid whitetail manager and hunter. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org 256-412-5385