Habitat & Conservation  |  03/24/2023

Evaluating Your Food Plot


Checking in at different times of year can help guide future planting

By Charlie Holtz

Planting season is rapidly approaching as winter yields its frozen grip, which means it’s time to start planning for food plot seeding projects. The first step is looking back at what’s worked in the past, and what hasn’t.

Hopefully you were able to visit your food plots when they are most needed by wildlife, such as after a blizzard or ice storm, or in late winter as wildlife are moving out of winter cover. Observations made during these times can inform your future decisions about food mix selection, location and timing.

Here are a few questions to consider:

At the end of the growing season did your food plots produce full seed heads, ears and/or pods? Weak production or late maturity might suggest earlier planting, a different seed mix, or fertilizer need to be considered.

During the growing season did you notice invasive weed presence? Weed competition in your plot can contribute to low production. Herbicide treatments, both before planting and after, can help combat this issue. Many food plot seed mixes label herbicides that can be used in conjunction with your planting efforts.  

During visits to your plot throughout the fall, your focus should’ve been on be wildlife use. Were target wildlife present in your food plot?  Was there evidence of presence (tracks)?  Did you flush any birds or other wildlife? What food contents did you notice in harvested birds? Was the food plot too dense to walk through or was it sparse where cover was lacking? These are all components when planning the following year’s plots.

When you visit your food plot after a major weather event or the accumulation of smaller events, your focus should turn to food availability and cover value. Increasing the size of the plot can increase availability of food, pending use from wildlife. Is the food accessible, or buried by snow?  Is the food plot providing cover (protection from predators, thermal insulation)?  Are there corridors from winter cover to the food plot? Consider if the location could be improved (nearer heavy winter cover, protected from winds) or if an increase in size, change in shape or different food species are needed. 

In late winter, return to food plots and evaluate if your plot still provides benefits. Do you notice standing cover, bent over stalks where birds can burrow under and through? Any fresh tracks? Any food left? Maybe more species are needed in your mix? Diversity at the correct rates can balance a plot so all beneficial aspects for wildlife are present throughout the season. All these observations can help in selecting your food plot type, size, shape and placement. 

Evaluating your food plot performance during times when it’s most used by wildlife will inform decisions as you plan for the coming year.  Want to learn more, order seed or talk with our wildlife biologists? 

Visit us at PFHabitatStore.com.  As always, Think Habitat!

Charlie Holtz is a Western Conservation Specialist with the Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Seed Team.