Perennial Forages For Deer Plots: Clover

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If your long term goals of deer plot planting are with the intention of providing year round food source availability for your deer herd, perennial clover should be part of that planting plan.  However, if you are only planting food plots for the fall deer attractant purpose, there are better choices than clover.

Perennial plots, such as clover, will provide better distribution of year-round forage growth more-so than with annual forages alone.  Perennial simply means the forage will last, if properly maintained, several years.

If you plan and maintain your clover plot accordingly, you should be able to get several years out of the planting. With a properly prepared seedbed, weed control in check and the soil ph and nitrogen in balance, the clover plantings we use on our farm will typically last a minimum of three falls before starting to deteriorate. By deteriorate, I mean that the quality of the forage declines and weeds began to take over the stand. Perennial clover for your deer food plots is more cost-effective than planting annuals year after year after year once you have established a weed controlled plotting environment.

Perennial clovers are most important in feeding deer during spring through early summer.  During this time, perennial clovers experience the bulk of their yearly growth, which in turn, provides its’ highest protein levels.  These high protein levels are perfectly suited for lactating does and for early antler growth development.

If you’re region does not already have an abundance of natural clover, nearby alfalfa fields, or other areas of legume, clovers should be part of your food plot planting strategy.  Your plots will then provide your deer herd with a spring and early summer high protein food source.

When considering a clover planting, you should plant as a blend.  The basic clovers are red, white and alsike.  While almost any clover will do well in the spring, a well-blended plot should perform well year-round under all but the most extreme conditions.  I have found a simple mix of three pounds per acre of each red clover, alsike and Ladino, a white clover, has worked well on our farm.

Another reason you should consider clover in your food plot planting program, is clovers fix nitrogen from the atmosphere.  Simply put, as the clover planting begins to deteriorate and weeds begin to take over your stand, you should consider rotating back into annual forages, such as chicory or rapeseed for a year or two.  These annual forages need nitrogen in order to grow and reach their maximum potential.  The clover, once tilled under, will provide some of that nitrogen need in the soil, thus reducing your investment necessary for commercial fertilizer.

Clover is also easy to seed.  Just be sure the weeds are gone.  The site prep steps before planting, if the site is following a year or two of annual forage, would simply include a spraying of emerging weeds about the middle of May.  A tillage pass should follow that application to bury any dead plant residue.  If more weeds emerge, a second spraying may be in order just prior to seeding.  You could conduct a light tillage just before you seed.

I try and plant my clover paddocks the last week of May or 1st week in June.  The seed can then be broadcasted, no need for a drill, and then just run a drag over it when you’re done seeding.

Clovers are where the food plot craze started, and, for good reason.  Over time however, mixes and forages have changed, advanced and been created to provide specific food plot need functions.  While fall attractants can provide a better hunting resource, and winter food availability in northern regions, clovers provide the optimum spring health development food source.
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