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Food Plot Maintenance Tip: Don't Mow, Let it Grow

To keep weeds and grass in food plots in check, a better option than mowing is to use a chemical spray

Food Plot Maintenance Tip: Don't Mow, Let it Grow
Mowing wildlife food plots to control unwanted weeds and grass will only remove valuable biomass available to deer; there's a better option to keep plots healthy. (Jeremy Flinn photo)

With spring rains soaking the landscape, many perennial food plots will begin to produce large amounts of highly nutritious deer foods. But as desirable food plot species like clover and alfalfa grow, so too does undesirable weeds and grasses.

As much as we complain about it in the spring and summer, it seems to be human nature we want to mow. Of course, there is a big difference between pushing a mower across your yard, and riding a tractor or ATV/UTV through food plots. Contrary to what many believe, maintenance on your spring food plots should not include mowing.

So why do people mow their food plots anyway? Well, typically there are two justifications in their thought process. The first one is to control weeds and grass. As spring weather promotes growth of the food plots, the dormant grass and weeds also thrive. The old mindset is to cut down these plants to control their growth. With some annual weeds like ragweed, mowing can control them. But other, more stubborn broadleaf weeds can grow back after being cut.

Worse than weeds are all the different grasses. Like a yard, a single cut is not going to keep grass under control. With their more prominent root system, grasses will compete more with food plot species than annual weeds. There is nothing more likely to choke out a food plot than grass.

The second reason some people mow food plots is to promote new growth. The mindset here is new growth is higher in nutrition and cutting will remove older, less nutritious plant parts. Often where alfalfa is used for hay, there will be multiple cuts for hay. But we are talking about food plots here, not food for cattle.

Every time a food plot is cut, valuable biomass is being removed. Rarely do food plots reach a size that is producing low-quality deer food; the deer herd will likely keep it in check at somewhere between 8 to 16 inches tall.

So how do you control weeds and grass in food plots? The easiest and most effective way is through using selective chemicals. For grass, use something with the active ingredient clethodim or sethoxydim. Either of these will knock out stubborn grass without affecting clover, alfalfa and chicory.

If oats or wheat are planted in the plot, these will be removed by the chemicals as well. For broadleaf weeds, using 2,4-DB or Butyrac will remove broadleaf weeds in the plot without killing of food plot species like clover, chicory and alfalfa. It also would not affect any grass-like species such as oats or wheat. This will, however, kill off plants under the brassica family.

As you plan spring food plot maintenance to produce high-quality deer food all summer, think about this: Why cut a plot and remove deer food? By spraying the plot you can ultimately leave all desirable food available for deer.

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