Controlling perennial weeds with expansive root systems can be very challenging and you usually have to use all control methods at your disposal.
Remember three key words: mow, till and spray!
In the case of bracken fern, if it is coming out of the woods and into the plot, it will likely take years of effort consistently applied. Try cutting and spraying, but don’t get your hopes too high in eliminating it. It is almost impossible to eliminate when originating from nearby woods, but steady vigilance may help you keep it from overtaking your plot.
In a food plot environment you can try the following approach:
- Spray in the fall the first year, when the plant is still green so it pulls some of the chemical into the root system.
- Then use tillage in the spring to remove the foliage and spray the regrowth.
- Then hit it again after the emergence and once dead, go with another tillage.
- Spray regrowth again.
- Then plants an annual species like chicory, rapeseed or forage oats.
So, three spraying the first year (fall and two spring-early summer applications).
For those of you with deer food plots, you may need to plant only Annual Forages on that plot for two or three years using multiple spring and early summer chemical applications to get control of the fern.
If you have had bracken fern or other perennial weed problems it is best to get started early this year with an early mowing, or a hard tillage pass – literally working the area hard followed by a chemical application after a good six inches of regrowth or so.
It is doubtful whether or not you can get the type of tillage completed, for that first pass anyway, with four-wheeler attachments. This will take a larger tractor and heavy tillage equipment – like a moldboard plow or a ripper. Then till the area again, which four-wheeler and attachments may work, as the second pass shouldn’t need to be as extensive and then spray the re-growth again.
Then you could then plant an Annual Forage in late July or the first week of August. Due to the root system nature of this plant they will have to do the same thing next year again. It will take a dedicated effort of weed control and using an Annual Forage for the first two years, at least. I wouldn’t fertilize yet, and just get what you can from the annual. If you fertilize it may stimulate further weed growth.
Check out our tips on planting food plot annuals at