1 | Use Lime and 19-19-19 Fertilizer If You Don’t Do a Soil Test
Soil tests are important. You can’t know what the soil needs without one. But we know you’ve waited until the last minute to plant your food plot and a two-week soil test turnaround is out of the question. You’ve got a three-hour window between your child’s first football game and grandma’s 80th birthday party. Seed is getting in the ground pronto. If that’s your situation, apply a healthy dose of lime and 19-19-19 fertilizer. This is the best-case remedy if you don’t take a soil test.
Photo Credit: Josh Honeycutt
2 | Plant Something That Will Last Three or Four Years
Not every food plot species you plant will need to be replanted every year (in theory). Unless your food plot simply fails, planting one of numerous perennials and you’re set for at least two or three, maybe four years. Keep that in mind when you’re shopping around for seed. After all, that's two or three less food plots you’ll end up having to plant. Sounds like a shortcut to me.
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / PP2017
3 | Plant a Legume So Nitrogen Isn’t as Much of an Issue
Certain plants such as soybeans and clovers are legumes. They create their own nitrogen. Come time to fertilize, while you still may need to apply some, it isn’t as big of a worry since these plants put that back into the soil on their own. That said, in a perfect world where you don’t take shortcuts and you do everything correctly, apply nitrogen along with other fertilizer components.
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Bobex
4 | Plant a Throw and Grow Type Seed Blend
All seeds need seed-to-soil contact in order to grow. Simply tossing seed on the ground usually doesn’t work (the right conditions for frost-seeding and top-sowing excluded). So, don’t just throw it and expect to grow it. There is still other work involved. But, most times, these types of blends you find on the market are typically composed of seeds that don’t need to be put deep (½-inch or deeper) into the soil. In fact, many only need to be planted at soil depths of ¼-inch, 1/8-inch or even top-of-soil contact to germinate.
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Photo Credit: Craig Watson
5 | Plant Something Unique Rather Than Volume
Volume attracts deer herds. The more food the better. But not everyone has the land, resources or time to accomplish that. Instead, plant something unique to add extra appeal to your food plot. Choose something deer can’t get anywhere else within that general area. You’ll be surprised at how many (and often) deer visit that food plot.
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Rusla Ruseyn
6 | Drill the Seed in Instead of Broadcasting It
Drilling the seed into the ground might not seem like a shortcut, but it is. There’s essentially no reason to disk if you spray herbicides properly prior to planting. And as those who’ve disked ground know, that’s usually the most time-consuming step in the food-plot process. Cut down on planting time by drilling in the seed instead. It’s also beneficial because you don’t lose any soil moisture this way. When you disk, that temporarily dries out the top few inches of the ground. Also, you don’t need a big, fancy drill to get it done. They make small tractor implements that are plenty capable enough.
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Kira Volkov
7 | Till and Disk the Ground If You Don’t Spray for Weeds
Spraying herbicides is important if you want to maximize yield. That’s food plot planting 101. It reduces the competition and helps reduce the chance of a failed food plot. But we know not everyone out there is going to spray their food plots. If that’s you, it’s important to not only disk thoroughly but also till the ground prior to that. Cutting the soil deep (and turning it over) and then cutting it shallow will help cut down on the number of grasses and weeds that sprout back quickly. It won’t eliminate all of them. But it will increase the odds a little of a successful food plot.
Photo Credit: Josh Honeycutt
8 | Drive Over the Seed Instead of Disking Cultipacking It
Not all seeds need to be disked or cultipacked into the soil. Some seed-depth needs only range from ¼-inch to top-of-soil. Driving over the entire planted area with truck, tractor or ATV tires will typically be enough to ensure seed-to-soil contact for most of these seed types.
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Photo Credit: Realtree
9 | Hinge-Cut Around the Perimeter Instead of Improving the Habitat
Habitat is key. Food plot shape is key. Food plot location (in conjunction to bedding and water) is key. There are many other factors to consider in addition to those. If the habitat around your food plot isn’t up to par, it can take months or years to get it where it needs to be. But a short-term fix to create additional cover is to strategically hinge-cut around the perimeter of the food plot to give it a screen and then additional areas around the outskirts that deer will feel comfortable bedding in and traveling through.
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Photo Credit: QDMA
10 | Using Hair and Other Deterrents Instead of Exclusion Fences
Some food plots are overgrazed before they can reach maturity and can serve as a food source or be hunted over. Others are completely consumed right after germination. In such areas with limited food sources and high deer density, it’s important to limit the deer activity in that plot until the food plot has reached a certain point. The best way to accomplish this is with an exclusion fence or some type of enclosure. But if you don’t take the time or money to do that, the only other option is spreading human hair or spraying repulsive chemicals around the perimeter of the planted area. (Note: some market products work okay and others don’t work at all.)
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Boris
11 | Bonus: Plant Trees Instead
The biggest, longest-lasting shortcut on this list is my favorite one of all. You do it once, and after a few years (species depending), it produces food for a lifetime. And, unlike several “tips” on this list, it’s actually a good thing do. Planting trees is a good habit — unlike the bad habits of not spraying, not taking soil samples and not spreading fertilizer (when necessary).
Photo Credit: Craig Watson
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