I will be the first to say “There is no magic seed”. Given that, have you ever wondered why there are so many mixes available for your food plots? It does seem expensive to buy mixes when you can buy individual seed for different plants. For small plots the mixes may make sense and you may want to consider them.
If you are starting out, I would say the biggest barrier to your success will be weed control and proper seed bed preparation, not the cost of the seed itself, but this issue does keep coming up, so I thought I might talk about it.
There are a lot of individual varieties of any plant you are wanting to plant in your food plot. When you are starting out, it is difficult to know what variety is most liked by the deer, grows the best in your region, and has a more leafy structure.
Most whitetail deer food plot mixes are aimed at maximizing peak production, nutritional value and taste for your food plots so you don’t need to overwhelm yourself with the information on varieties etc.
This means that you can take advantage of this knowledge to keep deer coming to your plot all year long. Keeping it interesting, tasty, and nutritionally superior will help you feed and attract those big bucks. This is where the compatible planting comes in. Below is a little demonstration on what is in the mixes to help you out.
The cool season annual legumes such as arrowleaf, crimson, subterranean clover will typically peak in production in late winter or early spring, and remain palatable into the mid spring or early summer. Perennial clovers such as ladino and red also work well here. Chicory and Australian winter peas also work to provide the cool season plots. They then go to seed and die, leaving fallow ground.
A follow up crop of warm-season annuals may be used in this interim between the early summer and fall. Nutritional demands for antler growth are high at this time of the year and the does are nursing. Warm season plantings can also provide good bow hunting attraction until the first frost. Good summer plots include cool season perennials such as alfalfa.
Planting a mix of small grains such as oats, wheat or rye will produce well in the fall and into the winter. By spring though, these small grains are going into seed and the palatability goes sour for the deer.
The leafy brassicas, such as rape, kale, canola and turnips usually increase in flavor after being hit with frost. This makes these plants the best choice for winter nutrition especially in northern climates.
You can see why mixes were developed, to decrease the confusion in food plot planting. When you have a farm or ranch and are involved in growing for a living, it can be a lot easier to access the resources necessary to combine plantings, find the individual seed etc. When you have a small hobby plot, who needs the hassle. The biggest cost in a plot is rarely the seed. It is the time it takes to select your plot location properly, seedbed preparation, planting preparation, fertilizer and weed control after planting, not to mention maintenance of the perennial plots.
If you want more information about weed control and seed bed preparation see our resources section. There are articles and podcasts you can download there.