I farm a lot of ground in Iowa, including a lot of deer food plots, and I get an increasing number of questions from fellow hunters how to plant food plots for deer, so I put together some information about each step in the process. I’ll cover herbicides, food plot seeds, and fertilizers. Good luck on your next buck guys!
Post emergents are herbicides that are used AFTER the plant/weed has germinated and there’s active, green growth exposed. They will kill everything that is growing, except for crops with a gene designated to be “ready” for that particular herbicide. For example, “Round-up Ready” kills all plants except the plant that’s “ready” (i.e. has the round-up gene). Post emergent herbicides only kill growing plants and are gone in a matter of an hour or 2. It MUST have at least 1 hour on the plant before rain, by the way. You’ll want warm growing weather while plants are growing so that they suck in the herbicide. Many post emergents below have pre-emergents added to them OR other adjuvants (chemicals added to increase their potency)… more on that below. Post emergents work most effectively when sprayed on areas mowed at least a week prior with tender growth coming back and with, warm, sunny growing conditions.
Glyphosate (aka Round-Up)
Glyphosate is the generic name. Then, it’s branded with any name from Buccaneer to Round-up to whatever. It will say 41% Glyphosate on the label. (Round-up max is slightly higher, 52%). *Glyphosate resistant weeds require other herbicides or higher rates. To be safe, apply Glyphosate at minimum 2 qts/acre. 4-5 maximum. *add other herbicides, etc for other reasons. *Should be $10-12/gallon bulk. Wash it off right away if you get it on you, it will cause sun burn badly, and it’s bad for you in a lot of ways. By the way, check out this other article if you’re interested in weed free food plots without Roundup. Best way to kill weeds with it is on smaller weeds OR a week after you mow – spraying newly & aggressively growing green plants (old un-mowed plants that are fully mature are hard to kill!) Same with Liberty below. Fall is the best time to kill weeds, it’s much easier than spring! The best time is on a warm day (over 50 degrees) in October, maybe November, once plants have gone dormant. Make sure you add a lot of crop oil & ammonium sulfate. Use a high rate of Glyphosate and spray stuff that’s been mowed a week or two prior, so it’s new growth you’re spraying. October/November is the latest you should be spraying and expect it to work. Same with spring, MAYBE late march BUT most stuff isn’t germinated so it’ll kill what’s there but much harder as new stuff coming up daily – you’ll have to spray a ton of times. FALL IS MUCH EASIER TO KILL THINGS VS SPRING!!!!!!!!
Liberty or Ignite (glyphosinate)
Works the same as Glyphosate (RoundUp) but it’s newer, less weed resistance to it (will kill round-up resistant weeds) but does have downsides. I like it much better than round-up – more potent and lower use rate so same price. Same thing with crops, kills everything actively green & growing & gone fast. Crops with genetic modification to tolerate will be left with Liberty sprayed on it. *Round-up will kill Liberty-Ready crops and Liberty will kill Round-up ready crops. Cheetah is a generic you can buy. Price range for Liberty is $40-75/gallon. Apply at 32-34 oz to the acre. So, you’ll use a lot less than Round-up but it’s more precise on measuring/applying. Spray weeds before they get too tall! Increase rate if tall or soak more. Add other stuff for various reasons below.
Clethodim is a generic name for grass killer on contact. Brand name is Select, Arrow, etc. You MUST mix Clethodim with crop oil or it will not work. Often used to kill grass in clover. Clethodim is applied 15-25 oz per acre and about 10-16 oz of crop oil (some crop oil more potent than others). *Usually sprayed in clover/alfalfa but technically could be added to any post-emergent to add to killing power. It’s also great for spraying around trees as it won’t kill trees like other things will (again, only kills grass). Rural King usually is cheapest for 2.5 gallon jugs – maybe $150 for 2.5 gallons (I’m guessing). Saturating tall grasses is needed here – as much herbicide on grass stems as possible – meaning, leave grass 12” tall for example and put higher water volumes through sprayer by a little bit.
2,4-D (24D or 2 4D)
Nasty stuff. Kills all broadleaves & really most things that are NOT a grass. You can spray ESTABLISHED grass or specific corn heights with 2,4-d and kill broadleaves. *(used on your lawn for dandelions). Read label on rate as some are different. Spray carefully – it’s wicked stuff and bad for you! If you spray on YOUNG GRASS – you will kill it too. You can spray on corn but you have to spray corn when it’s 12” to 36” tall only or will damage. 2,4-D is available anywhere & use carefully. Cheap and works but nasty & hard on stuff. Kills trees too. **Also, 2,4-d is a contact killer – Post-emergent BUT it also has PRE-EMERGENT affects…. It generally will stay on soil for at least a week and won’t let much grow. It’s not gone instantly. Give it a week before planting any of your deer food plots if you choose to spray 2-4D.
There are a million other post-emergent herbicides out there for deer food plots, but above are the main ones. There are endless options and solutions for killing anything and/or spraying things to spare other things, so please comment below or contact us if you have questions about other specific herbicides!
Spray with a post emergent or some can only do at burn down before crops planted. Pre-emergents are sprayed to keep seeds from germinating or basically keep MOST weeds suppressed/stopped while desired crop can grow through them. It’s BEFORE plants emerge and it’s a HUGE element of what you spray, HUGE time saver and also helps the yields of your deer food plots immensely by keeping weeds away while you’re not there. Some stay from 30 to 90 days or even longer depending on rate and herbicide.
Atrazine in Deer Food Plots
Widely used for years on Corn, sorghum, switchgrass, Big Blue Stem, milo, etc. Does not control Foxtail well and a few other weeds. Higher the rate, more the control. On corn, 2-3 qts per acre (with S-Mechlachlor or Acechlor) & a burn down Post emergent. *Must be as close to bare soil as possible. (such as recently disced and cultipacked ground). Won’t work if doesn’t touch soil. It’s sticky. *Cannot run through electric sprayer like on UTV – will gum up motor, it’s thick and nasty (shake it!!). *Restricted use permit needed to buy, I have this. *Switchgrass, use 4-6 qts to the acre. ***Legal Limit on Atrazine is 2.2 qts/acre per year in Iowa. It could be possible I’ve done more in areas that are a one time spraying (establishing switchgrass), so IMO – no harm done. But, yes, legal limit is 2.2/acre due to vast areas being sprayed yearly getting into drinking water.
Plateau/Panoramic/Journey (all the same thing)
Amazing herbicide that’s used on: Native grass plantings like: Indian, Big Blue, Little Blue stem and selected forbs. On grasses, 12-16 oz per acre with burn down before planting. Lighter if certain forbs. Can use around tree plantings. Stuff is awesome. *Expensive but low rate. Works super well. If just Native grasses, go heavier. *Switchgrass will not tolerate Plateau except maybe 2 oz per acre which is pointless.
Dual II Magnum, Brawl, etc – all are S-Metolachlor
For sake of ease, let’s put Acechlor (WARRANT) in same category…. Added to Atrazine in corn. Used in beans as well – either. Both are applied at 30-45 oz per acre, I’d go heavier. Can do at burn down OR when you do your 2nd spraying with post emergent. Corn & Beans only. Helps keep away mainly grasses but also helps on weedy broadleaves.
BEAN HERBICIDE only, used at burn down before planting. Low rate (I think 5-10 oz per acre). Spray at burn down on bean ground only. I have seen crop injury from this SO I’m leaning towards S-Metolachlor. Always mix Prowl with as well…..
This is a pre-emergent on beans only… Keeps broadleaves like nasty pigweed, waterhemp, velvet-leaf down. Use it! I believe it’s a quart per acre? *can use and should use on tree plantings as well. Only use at burn down on beans. Tree plantings can carefully go around trees anytime.
This is the same thing as Atrazine ALMOST, just a lot weaker and doesn’t require Restricted permit. Skip it.
For Tree plantings. Mix with Prowl, Plateau, Atrazine & a post emergent (post emergent, BE CAREFUL around trees to not get on em).
Added to spray to make more potent for your deer food plots, make stick, make plants absorb more, help with less spray drift and simply make herbicides more powerful…. Ammonium sulfate dry soluble is bought in bags and is top of list. Don’t use through electric sprayers. Mix thoroughly so it dissolves or will clog sprayer. Second is crop oil. Can use in any sprayer. Both are examples that help greatly. Crop oil for example MUST be used with some herbicides, such as clethodim.
Seeds for Deer Food Plots – Planting Specific Crops
Not too thick. 1-3” deep. Careful, slow and make sure seed is in each furrow about every 10-20 mins. Ideally, disc up ground, cultipack OR no till into bare soil. Obviously disc under Urea before planting as well. BEFORE PLANTING: Spray 2-3 qts Atrazine + 40 oz S-metolachlor (or Acechlor) & you could use light 2,4-d if you wanted. I’d likely recommend a herbicide like Callisto (Mesotrione) at burn down with Atrazine & Dual II. N-P-K (if no soil test)… ACTUAL NITROGEN to ground per acre: 140-180 lbs. P= 60 lbs, K= 70 lbs. Pelletized lime: 200-400 lbs per acre. If need more sprayings, Round-up or Liberty (depending on which gene it’s meant for in corn) & possibly 2,4-d if it’s well before corn tassels. More atrazine & dual is an option as well. 30” rows or wider is fine, 30-32k seeds per acre. PLANT APRIL 20 to May 20. Other good pre-emergents are available and you should research what works well in addition to atrazine, Dual (and something like Callisto) & post emergent in your area.
180k-300k per acre (300k if super thick deer population). 7.5” or 15” spacing ideal. Burn down with Liberty or round-up, Ammonium sulfate (2 lbs mixed in sprayer per acre), crop oil, 2.5 gallons per 500 gallons if possible. Burn down, with the Liberty, AMS & Crop oil: add Prowl H20 & Sonic or S-Metolachlor instead of Sonic (My choice). 2nd spraying, Liberty, AMS & 40-45 oz of Dual II magnum (S-Melachlor). 1-2” deep planted. Treated is nicer if no beans been in a spot in a while. Inoculant on newly planted ground too is a must (bacteria that helps beans create N). If following corn fertilizer & crop: N-P-K, 10 lbs N, 40 lbs P, 45 lbs K. 300 lbs Pelletized lime. If not following fertilized corn: Actual: 10-70-80 & 400 lbs pelletized lime. (if no soil test). Plant May 5 to June 15. Can get Liberty or Round-up ready soy beans. For now, I’d do Liberty. Flexxstar & Cadet are also post emergents helpful for round-up resistant weeds. My burn down and second spray will both have S-Metolachlor or Acechlor.
By the way, NextBuk recommends using soybeans from Real World Wildlife Products for your deer food plots.
EGYPTIAN WHEAT, sorghum, milo….
Lightly planted seed rate, lots of N. Like corn, clean soil, load up Atrazine. There is a fussy & Specific method you could add Dual II to the spray BUT you need to treat the seed (ask me). Without dual II, weeds can be a problem later BUT most will outgrow the weeds. Actual N (P&K will help as well) – 50-100 lbs per acre (egyptian wheat is planted in 30’ wide sections so takes a lot to make an acre). Make sure to get treated urea or disc in. 2,4-d when egyptian wheat is a foot or taller if broadleaf problem. Plant May 1 to July 1 at very latest. Here’s another article we wrote about when to plant a fall plot screen.
Turnips, radish, brassicas…
Your deer food plots should contain brassicas! They are nitrogen lovers. Phosphorus and Potassium is important. Want 75-60-60 ideally. Now, if discing or planting into good quality clover, no N may be required. PLANT DATE: July 15 earliest, August 15 absolute latest. “Rain or shine, July 29” is target date. DO NOT SEED TOO THICK! Example of seed rate on turnips & radish (turnip seed is tiny, radish is larger so really, for each lbs of turnip, you’re getting at least 2 times as many seeds/plants)…. 3 lbs turnips, 4-5 lbs radish per acre. Turnips slightly longer maturity. Turnips do better later, Radish do better earlier. Both are good to have. Radish rot after hard frost. Turnips don’t. DO BOTH. Could drill at light rate and shallow depth. OR…. Burn down big time with Liberty (or heavy round-up), Ammonium sulfate & crop oil on stuff that’s been mowed at least a week prior. Seed same day – disc & cultipack in seed. Lightly broadcast. 3 weeks later (approximate) – come back for grasses with clethodim (20 oz per acre) & crop oil mixed with. Spray grass – done. Rotate below yearly- back and forth to help with disease & N production.
For spray, I actually spray above turnips & radish with clethodim & crop oil and then I load sprayer up with heavy round-up or Liberty (can have clethodim in there, won’t hurt anything – we want to kill everything on this area anyways), AMS & crop oil. Ideally you are spraying this on MOWED areas that were re-growing after being mowed at least a week prior. Actual: 70-60-70. Disced in or treated urea. 200-400 lbs pelletized lime. All if no soil test. Can drill all at once – happy medium on depth for variety of seeds is 1/4″, possibly ½”. Or can disc, THEN, spread big seed: rye, oats, peas – then LIGHTLY disc so they get inch deep. CULTIPACK. NOW: spread small seed: clover, radish, alfalfa, etc, cultipack again. Done. Make sure everything is dead as can be when seeding. DONE. SEEDED: August 22-Sept 15 at very latest. Sept 1 would be about perfect. This will be a thick mat of clover & alfalfa next spring after you mow. Which in turn will feed deer in spring and fix Nitrogen…great for your deer food plots! Rotate to above brassicas the following July-Aug while leaving 10-20% of the best clover/alfalfa or clover/alfalfa that’s in erodible locations you don’t want to tear up. Seed rate, flexible, can’t go wrong with: WINTER RYE: 50 lbs, Oats: 30-40 lbs, Windham or Austrian winter peas: 50 lbs, iron clay or cow peas: 10-15 lbs, radish: 3-4 lbs, clover/alfalfa: 8-20 lbs depending on type (I prefer: 3-4 lbs red, 5 lbs whites which can be any of: Ladino, Durana, Kopu II or Alice white or all, 10 lbs alflalfa, 4-5 lbs alsike clover). You can add on top of this some Triticale or winter wheat if you like, won’t hurt. Next spring, in late June, catch & mow or kill before goes to seed but after fawns are out of it bedding.
Sugar Beets, Sorghum/milo (unless want for pheasants, etc), etc.
Things I’d skip BUT I sure can tell you how if you’re interested….
Burn down 4’ wide rows in mowed areas in FALL before. I personally would spray in fall and in spring again…. Heavy round-up or liberty. Pre-emergents are HUGE!!!….. Surflan: 1-2 qts/acre, Atrazine 3-4 qts/acre, Plateau 10 oz per acre, Prowl: 1-2 qts acre (IN BACK PACK SPRAYER, this probably means about a cup of each except Plateau which is lower use. Can translate into UTV sprayer with gun as well. Tree planter, spade, shovel, dribble bar, WHATEVER. Plant IDEAL TIME IS: April 8-16 to catch good rains, critical! Early may is absolute latest I’d do & I’d be nervous. If spraying around trees, especially if budded, for post emergent, use clethodim in place of round-up or liberty unless you are incredibly careful & Accurate not to hit foliage on trees). Trees susceptible to fungus, bugs, etc – general fruit tree spray and other systemic fungicides (infuse for example) as needed. No fertilizer 1st year, next year a little N-P-K is good if able. Water if drought! PROTECT from critters!!!! Screen on trunk if apple, pear, persimmon, chestnut for rabbits. Cage for deer or some trees can do tubes & some trees critters don’t mess with. Most tree plantings fail because: overtaken with weeds, drought, killed by critters, attacked by bugs & fungus, etc. Tree preference for variety of reasons & Shrubs (& I only plant the oaks on my land that are lacking or non-existent)…. Food type: Variety of more disease resistant apples & pears. Chinese chestnut or Dunstan if I grow from seed (deer can’t tell difference, Chinese cheaper by far). Persimmons. Dwarf chinkapin oak. For cover or other reasons: Eastern Red Cedar, Swamp oak, hybrid poplar & willow (fast growing), Wild plum, high bush cranberry, hazelnut, gray dogwood, serviceberry, Elderberry, etc, etc, etc (look at iowa dnr shrub choices for example).
NATIVE GRASSES & WILDFLOWERS (CRP).
For ease of discussion, put them in 2 categories if you are wanting to control weeds (and not mow) with herbicides…. 1) Indian Grass, big Blue little blue & (I think side oats grama, check??) are all highly Plateau tolerant – which is GREAT!!! (switchgrass is NOT!!!!)…. 12-20 oz of Plateau per acre before planting, all season control IF IF IF you have everything dead as can be sprayed the fall before OR coming out of beans for example. Label calls for max of 12 oz BUT on highly tolerant grasses like Indian & BB, I’ve doubled that with no issues. Ideally I’d love to burn down fall before with Post emergent, 2,4-D & 10 oz of Plateau. Following spring, So, let’s say May 10 you spray heavy round-up or liberty, 15-20 oz of Plateau and then drill, YOU ARE DONE if you don’t get a nasty flush of weeds. 2) Switchgrass, Big Blue stem (big blue can do both!!) (& I think little blue) are ATRAZINE TOLERANT. Not as robust and complete & powerful as Plateau but same approach. Needs CLEAN SOIL, unlike plateau which is more forgiving. Could have weed issues if you were not really good about keeping weed seed out the previous growing season. 4-6 qts/acre & heavy post emergent – sprayed around May 15. **If just switchgrass alone, or even in mix, ideally plant switch in February (frost seed). ***If planting ONLY switchgrass… You will spray twice in spring…. May 10, post emergent, 4-6 qts Atrazine & 1 qt 2,4-D. June 1-ish, as long as nothing is emerging (which is should not be unless it’s been extremely hot & wet)…. Spray post-emergent again + atrazine again, 2-3 qts/acre. If anything could have emerged, spray only Atrazine, bump up to 4 qts. If foxtail (bright neon green almost) is coming in, mix in Quinclorac with Atrazine. Mow if needed. Big blue & switchgrass… Big blue will germinate before switch so do sprayings earlier so you don’t hurt earlier emerged BB stem. (switch needs frost seeding to break down seed coat “Stratify” or it likely won’t germinate that year or some won’t). ALL GRASSES: 1/10th to ¼” deep. SHALLOW. Except switchgrass, you can seed this anytime conditions are right: Late November all the way through to June 15 at very very latest. Earlier the better. April is ideal for fluffies & anything else like wildflowers.
FLOWERS or forbs….
Can mix in and seed with grasses. 2 options… A bunch of grasses and forbs mixed together make great deer food plots, but they’re not all specifically tolerant to certain herbicides…. MOWING 2 times in summer (approx.) is solution. Now, you can buy forbs that are “Plateau Tolerant”, READ PLATEAU LABEL!!! GOOGLE IT!!! A few of them will tolerate high Plateau rates, most are 4 to maybe 8 oz per acre tolerant. You may have to mow once if using lower rate & Those forbs. Do yourself a favor and read through PLATEAU CDMS LABEL!!! Ask seed dealer about Plateau tolerant seeds and look at chart for tolerance levels. Some forbs I prefer (some are plateau tolerant, some are NOT (like Maximillian sunflower is NOT): Maximillian sunflower, cone flowers (purple, grey, etc), black eyed susan, Illinois Bundleflower, Partridge pea, light use of Crimson clover, purple prairie clover & other prairie clovers, round-headed bush clover, prairie blazing star, showy trickfoil, Canadian milkvetch, ox-eyed sunflower, prairie cinquefoil, Asters like Sky blue & New England (like sunflowers – get TALL), etc, etc. some are expensive so watch that. **SWITCHGRASS: Kanlow grows tall, slightly spindlier and not so bulky (which is ok in many cases), Cave in rock, Sunburst, etc good choices and I do some of each. OTHERS: Canadian & Virginia Wildrye have their place. Same as side oats Grama. Western wheatgrass is great for waterways that wash terribly. My top picks for deer food plots: switchgrasses, Big Blue, Indian, Sunflowers, Asters, prairie clovers, coneflowers, etc. I divide up and add in other things based on herbicide resistance. ***WATCH WEEDS – mow as needed. Eliminate weed seed the year before if possible!!!! Mess if you don’t!!! Worst weeds: Pigweed, waterhemp, foxtail, crabgrass (ok, short so not as bad), cocklebur, etc. WATCH & MOW AS NEEDED IN ANY SCENARIO!
Fertilizers for Deer Food Plots
Soil Test Kit
Get a soil sample is the correct answer for all deer food plots, plants & fertilizer/pH needs! I wrote this up for those of you too lazy or not wanting to save money by getting a soil test. Soil test kits are available at most farm co-ops, and here are a couple good online sources:
N, P, and K are your 3 core fertilizers. Each is very important!
- N= Nitrogen
- P= Phosphorus or Phosphate
- K = Potassium or Potash
Fertilizer will be labeled with 3 numbers in the form of #-#-#. These represent the percentages of N-P-K, in that order. So, if you buy 13-13-13 (aka “Triple 13”), that means you have 13% of each of those nutrients in the bag. Let’s do some quick math:
If you have a 50 pound bag of 13-13-13, 13% of 50 is 6.5, so the actual pounds of each nutrient in that bag, in this case, is 6.5. It also means you have a lot of filler in there!
Make sure you’re talking about the ACTUAL amount that gets put down…remember, ACTUAL!! So be sure to do the math and figure out the actual pounds of each nutrient in the bag!
Let’s do another example scenario. A soil test calls for 60 pounds per acre of Potash (K or Potassium). You can buy straight Potash at your co-op and it’s usually 0-0-60, meaning it’s 60% potash. So, in a 50 pound bag, you’ll have 30 pounds of Potash (and 20 pounds of filler!). So, if you need 60 pounds per acre, you need 2 bags per acre! If you’re planting 5 acres, you need 10 bags of potash…simple as that!
N equals Nitrogen. All plants use it or make it. The following crops need Nitrogen most:
- Brassicas (turnips, radish, etc)
- Egyptian wheat
- Trees (yes, trees!)
How to Apply Nitrogen
Urea is the most potent form of Nitrogen: 46-0-0, which means it is 46% Nitrogen. Let’s do some quick math: at 46%, a 50 pound bag of urea will have 23 pounds of Nitrogen. So, if your soil test calls for 120 pounds per acre of Nitrogen, 120/23 = a little over 5 bags needed!
You must cover urea, or it will evaporate in 24 hours. Or, you can have your COOP treat it!!!! Treated urea can be outside on top for 2 weeks. No brainer, get it treated. Still nice to work it in. Anhydrous is what guys drag & knife in ground for corn – likely you’re not going this method. CLOVER & ALFALFA managed excellent – when killed off will leave 80-120 lbs actual N in soil. They make N. Nitrogen is a gas but it stays in soil and is made by plants with bacteria and plants like alfalfa and clover create it with Nitrogen Nodules utilized by other plants when that plant dies. Non-treated urea spread on top will burn plants badly. Nitrogen is usually gone after a year, it can leach below, etc. Plant things that CREATE Nitrogen & look for inoculants to add that help with this!
Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K)
Phosphorus and Potassium are both used by everything, for long list of reasons. Legumes, clovers, beans, alfalfa, and trees all use it! Yes, nitrogen lovers still need some of this, such as corn, etc. So, load it up. P&K is not a gas and doesn’t evaporate like Nitrogen, so load it up. This is money in the bank! 50-80 lbs each actual per acre can’t hurt, but, again, do a soil test! It takes a year to break down, and winter (freezing/thawing) is when it breaks down. But, put out asap when you have the opportunity.
Liming Deer Food Plots
Lime (limestone) adjusts the pH of your soil by increasing the alkalinity (decreasing acidity), allowing your plants to take in fertilizers. There are a couple forms of limestone you can use. Each has its pros and cons, but the main thing is to do it!
Pelletized lime needs to be redone yearly, BUT you only need 200-400 lbs per acre per year. It breaks down in 30 days and provides calcium to beans.
Agricultural Lime (aka Ag Lime)
Agricultural lime (also called ag lime or ag-lime) is usually applied several tons per acre (psss…soil test!). It takes a year to break down. You may need to hire out the application of it, but it lasts 5 years or so. Some farm co-ops, like the Eaton County Farm Bureau Coop, in Charlotte, Michigan, rent ag lime spreaders (they sell ag lime there too). Contact us for more info about how to do this.
Ask your local coop what they can mix in and tell them what you’re planting. Boron for example is great for Alfalfa. Sulfur can help beans, etc, etc, etc. Iron will help trees. Key take away here, get to know your local farm co-op and ask questions!