March Wildlife In Mind

Devote a couple of food plots to a late-winter/early spring survival mix.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. | March 1, 2003

For deer and turkeys, March can be the toughest survival month in the calendar. Acorns, seeds and soft mast are usually gone by this time of year, and of course the green growth of native forbs and grasses has yet to return and won’t until April in most parts of Georgia. Yet, this is a time of year when does are carrying nearly-developed fawns and hen turkeys will soon be or already are laying clutches of eggs. Nutrition is needed but scarce.

If you didn’t put in winter grasses or legumes last fall that are still around for the deer and turkeys, then right now is a good time to devote a couple of food plots to a late-winter/early spring survival mix.

DNR Biologist Kent Kammermeyer is currently doing just that on many north Georgia WMAs-putting in crops to aid deer and turkeys during this “late-winter/early-spring stress period.” Kent’s stress-period survival kit includes a mixture of oats, wheat, arrowleaf clover and red clover.

Normally the fall is when you would plant clovers as well as small grains for winter food sources. But Kent has had success with this mixture planted right now. The oats, wheat and clovers all come up quickly if fertilized properly, providing immediate forage for deer and turkeys in March.

Of course, about two months later, the wildlife will have switched over to native plants almost entirely, but by then you will have accomplished your goal of providing early-spring grazing. The oats and wheat will be almost mature, and they will eventually provide seed for quail, turkeys and song birds during the summer. The clovers remain productive right on through the summer months and will be browsed along with native greenery.
Red clover is a biennial that will come back from the roots for two years, and the arrowleaf is a reseeding annual. By September, if the red clover is not still producing well, you can get both clovers to reseed with a light disk and a new dose of fertilizer.

But back to the original planting, why should you plant all four seeds that Kent named?

“Each acts as a sort of buffer against the others,” Kent said. “If you get a late severe freeze and it gets the arrowleaf, it won’t get the red clover. If the oats fail, you’ve still got the wheat. Each has its limitations as far as the weather goes, and this time of year the weather will be the main variable.”

This mixture will do well from one end of Georgia to the other, Kent said, but of course there will be some slight variation. The red clover and the wheat will be the stronger producers in the northern half of the state, while the arrowleaf clover and the oats will do better in the south. Kent said that he uses the Kenland variety of red clover because the other varieties, Redland III and Cherokee, are more expensive.

If you’ve got a spare food plot or two where you can plant this mix, go ahead, but keep in mind that starting in May and June, the time to plant summer crops for deer, including peas, jointvetch, corn, sorghum, and other crops, will arrive. If you are down to your last food plot or two, and you already have some late-winter crops out there, you might elect to save those empty plots for now.

To prepare a plot for a late-winter/early-spring survival mix, disk it thoroughly, anywhere from one to five times depending on your soil type. You want a smooth, soft seeding bed two to four inches deep.

Your seed ratio per acre follows: two bushels of oats (about 64 pounds), a half bushel of wheat (about 30 pounds), five pounds of arrowleaf clover, and five pounds of red clover. If you have a small food plot you can save money and the effort of splitting up bags of seed by planting three bushels of oats to the acre, mixed with 10 pounds of arrowleaf clover to the acre. These mixes can be drilled or broadcast, but if you broadcast the seed, lightly disk the plot afterwards or drag something over the scattered seed to smooth it under. The clovers don’t need to be more than a half inch deep to be able to germinate, and the grasses no more than 1 1/2 inches.
Of course, before you mix and plant, don’t forget to inoculate the clovers. Red clover can sometimes be bought pre-inoculated, but not the arrowleaf. Follow the instructions that come with the inoculant, and make sure you don’t overlook the expiration date. The inoculant contains live bacteria that are necessary for clovers, which are legumes, to be able to fix nitrogen from the soil.

Get this mixture into the dirt no later than March 15, and in the Coastal Plain don’t even wait that late if you can avoid it, according to Kent. Soon after planting, fertilize the plot with 300 pounds of 17-17-17 to the acre, or 500 pounds of 10-10-10 to the acre. You will fertilize again in the fall when you disk the arrowleaf for reseeding, but at this time you won’t need nitrogen. Scatter 300 pounds of 0-10-20 to the acre. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria are already present in the established clover, and if you add nitrogen you’ll only be helping the competition.

As far as weedy competition is concerned, with this March planting you won’t see much serious competition until June, when crab or Bermuda grass, or another grass depending on your region, becomes a problem. By this time the oats and wheat will be mature anyway, but if you want to keep the clover going strong you can overspray with a safe, grass-selective herbicide. Otherwise, your food plot will still make for excellent bugging grounds for quail chicks and cover for rabbits. Never forget diversity!

Fertilize That Honeysuckle
Speaking of diversity, whether you plant a “March survival mixture” or not, a relatively low-tech, low-cost technique you can use to boost the quality of spring browse on your land is fertilizing native vegetation. The word “native” doesn’t apply to Japanese honeysuckle, but this introduced vine is a favorite food of deer, and March is the month to fertilize it. Honeysuckle is an evergreen, so it has leaves right now, and you shouldn’t have trouble locating the patches.

Nitrogen does the most for honeysuckle of all the nutrients you can provide, so apply ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) at the rate of 150 pounds to the acre. You probably won’t be able to get a tractor and spreader, or even a lawn & garden push spreader, to most of the patches, so scatter it by hand or use an over-the-shoulder spreader. This is a cost-effective way to shoot nutrients straight to your deer herd, but if you’ve got a few extra dollars, go one step further and also throw on 50 pounds to the acre of super phosphate (0-46-0). You can use 10-10-10 on honeysuckle, but it will take three times as much fertilizer (and effort and money) to get the same results.

One tip: don’t fertilize a few, small patches of honeysuckle, because this will concentrate browsing on those patches and they will likely be overbrowsed. Choose several, large, scattered patches for fertilizing.
Another fertilizing tip is to broadcast 10-10-10 along woods roads, firebreaks, woods strips, and uncultivated field edges. Just load up the hopper on the tractor and go for a ride around your property. This boosts browse species like greenbrier, blackberry, partridge pea, and other native plants.

One caution about fertilizing wild vegetation: don’t overdo it. There have been cases where landowners used a spreader to cover literally every inch of woods. The result: deer came from all over to feed on the smorgasbord, and when it was all over, every green thing had been eaten to the roots, leaving a wasteland devoid of any browse at all. Habitat recovery, of course, took some time, and meanwhile the deer went elsewhere. Stick to edges, strips and roads and you’ll do fine.-

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