What to do when food plots fail

So it hasn’t happened to you ……… yet. If you’re a food plot farmer you’ve either experienced failure or you’re going to, no 2 ways about it. So what do we do? It’s not the end of the world and there’s ALWAYS something you can do to get something growing and not lose all before hunting season. I’ll give you some ideas many of us have used when we failed the 1st go around.

It might be a good idea to start off by apologizing to your wife. I’ve tried it and trust me the plot didn’t fail because of her. Ok we got that out of the way. There are a lot of different factors that cause a plot to fail. Maybe it was out of your control , no rain, too much rain etc. I don’t think I have anywhere on my property that’s level. If I plant new seed, the ground is kind of dry and we get some of that horizontal torrential rain then I have got some serious problems. I’ve had plots completely wash away and there isn’t anything I can do about it. Sometimes the seed bed isn’t prepared right , seed is planted too deep or who knows how many other reasons. I could write forever about it but the fact is we fail sometimes and need to do something asap or we won’t have anything growing  when the season opens.


A couple things to consider when deciding if it’s time to push the red button. There are different ways to handle this and it depends on when you plant, Spring vs. Summer etc. and what you planted that isn’t growing. Obviously if this is a Spring planting then you have more time to save this plot and more options to choose. If you planted something in July/August for a hunting/kill plot then you don’t have that time. I’ll try to explain both and share what I’ve done.

Spring Planting: usually when we plant in the Spring we’re planting clover or some mix with clover in it. Alfalfa is another one but maybe we’re doing beans/peas etc. I’m going to concentrate on the perennials , meaning clover or any clover mix. 1st thing to keep in mind is clover grows SLOW. Clover will spend a lot of energy at the start growing a root system. You can’t see it but it’s usually happening and we get worried nothing is going on. While the roots are growing we may very well start seeing weeds show up. Won’t be long and it might look like we planted weeds. With any clover/alfalfa type plant we have to try to stay patient and let things happen as they’re supposed to. The weeds don’t look good but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed , not yet anyway.

The single most important thing you can do to help this plot right off the bat is keep the weeds mowed. Nothing helps a plot with weeds like mowing does. I don’t mean you have to mow every week but you should probably mow it every 4 weeks especially after planting. This won’t hurt the clover/alfalfa and it will do wonders to control the weeds. Give it 2 months and see what you have. If your plants are struggling and not showing signs of making it then it might be time to consider making a move. One thing I would NOT do is spray any herbicide on a new plot. Clover will not react well to that in the 1st year, that’s my experience anyway. Spray next Spring , but not in year one. Keep in mind I’m talking about all this assuming you have fertilized and done all that the seed company requires for these plants to grow. I say this because there are no shortcuts and if you skip something like fertilizer or seedbed prep then your plot will fail. 


Last Spring I decided to plant clover and alfalfa together in part of a field I’ve been planting nothing but brassicas for years. I needed more food for the Spring/Summer season so I figured this would be easy. I’ve been planting there for years , the soil is ready to go so how could I screw this up? Well I did everything I was supposed to do and headed to the golf course. Only one problem with this idea of mine , it didn’t rain for weeks. Great for golfing but not so good for growing my new seeds. Before long I had garbage growing in there that I’m sure no one could even identify. Now I’m getting nervous ,my handicap is going up and life is not good right now. I considered everything and decided to do nothing , nothing but mow. Of course this is all after I blamed my wife. This is a 1 acre plot and it appeared as though the middle of it didn’t even have a seed planted there, it was THAT bad. So I mowed , 3 times in 3 months and prayed for rain and a miracle. Seemed like 10 years later but it was finally August and it started to look like a food plot. I set up a camera and soon realized the deer were hitting this mess and actually seemed to be enjoying it. When Sept. rolled around this plot was taking shape and the weeds were losing their grip. By Oct. 1 this plot was green and filled with food from one end to the other. I was amazed the middle of the plot was filled with plants when a couple months earlier it didn’t even look like I seeded it. This was one of those times where laziness paid off. I just didn’t feel like working that ground again after taking my time and thinking I did everything right. Anyway, it’s an example of what can happen when you keep the weeds down and give the plants time to take hold and grow.

What to do when mowing doesn’t help and the plot is a legit failure?  Since we’re talking about a Spring planting we have some time. If you’re ready to throw in the towel you still have some great options to make sure there is food in your plot when the season opens. If you want to make a move by the end of July you still have plenty of time to plant brassicas. Assuming you’re up north like me this would be the timeframe to consider. If you’re down south I can’t help you since I know nothing about planting dates down there. When planting brassicas up north you can plant them anywhere from mid July – mid August and will have plenty of food for hunting season. I’ve planted many varieties of brassicas and always end up back at the same place because the results are always the best. I plant Big-N-Beasty from Frigid Forage every year and will never change. I also plant Honey Hole from Antler King every year. I mix the seeds and spread them on both of my brassica plots and never regret it. I’ve planted Wintergreens from Whitetail Institute many times with mixed results at best. My experience is Wintergreens is the most attractive brassica available, deer love this stuff. The problem is the germination rate is horrendous and I’ve proven it more times than I need to. I never experience any problems with the other brassicas I plant. work your soil, get some fertilizer , roll/pack your seed bed, spread the seed and roll it again. Food will be on the way and you can get back to slicing your driver all over hells half acre …. like me.

Fall Planting:  If you’re still with me God Bless you. By Fall plantings I’m referring to brassicas you planted in mid to late summer. In this scenario you have little time to make a decision and mowing isn’t going to help. If you haven’t planted brassicas before there is one thing to know that will help deciding if you bombed out or not. If I plant brassica seeds on a Saturday in good conditions I expect to see plants out of the ground on Wednesday. It happens that fast if everything is right. If you can’t see plants out of the ground in a couple weeks you may have problems. If you’ve had no rain since you planted then wait for a few days after a rain and see if anything is happening. Brassicas are really fast growing plants and if they’re going to grow you should know it pretty soon. No matter when you plant brassicas up north it’s my experience you have until Sept.1 to make a move if you failed. I say this based on growing time left and what you can grow to save your season.

Fortunately there is an ace in the hole that will always bail us out but timing is critical. When a Fall plot fails it’s my opinion there is but 1 option left, plant oats! I don’t know if you’ve ever planted them but I can tell you if oats don’t grow then it is definitely your wife’s fault! Oats will grow on a sidewalk and deer will always eat them so don’t lose sleep yet. When we plant the oats is important because if you plant too soon the deer won’t eat it. Like brassicas, oats grow fast, real fast. If you plant before Sept. up north you run the risk of the oats growing too high , to the point the deer won’t like them. Ideally your oats should be about 8-12″ high when the 1st frost is going to hit. When they get into the 16″ range you can pretty much forget it. I plant oats every year on Sept 1 and it always works. I’ve planted Buck Forage Oats , Forage Oats and last year I planted Pure Attraction from Whitetail Institute. Pure Attraction is a mix of oats and some smaller brassicas and it’s a great seed blend. The deer loved it and I’m going to plant it again I’m sure. 

Well there ya have it. Food plots fail, it isn’t the worst thing in the world even though it seems like it at the time. Be patient when time allows , make a decision and move when time doesn’t allow. Thanks for stopping by , I hope this gives you some ideas while reminding you it happens to all of us. Good luck and don’t forget to write and say hi when you have time.   mj

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