Whitetail managers often turn to deer food plots as a method to provide supplemental forage throughout the year. These plots are most important during the stress periods – summer and winter – when natural foods are lacking. Food plots are not a one-size-fits-all because many variable dictate the species that can be planted on a property, or even an area of a property. Many landowners classify food plots as either summer or winter plots, but they can also be labeled as either annual or perennial. Each has certain advantages and disadvantages over the other.
There are many perennial plants that white-tailed deer love. These work great in deer food plots during the spring and summer because perennials regrow from their roots every year. Seeds of several perennial native plant species including Maximillian sunflower, Engelmann daisy, bush sunflower, and Illinois bundleflower are commercially available for planting. Perennial food plots appeal to wildlife managers since they provide permanent vegetative cover and do not have to be replanted every year, lowering the cost of planting.
Research conducted on deer food plots in Texas – in an area that receives about 24 inches of rain each year – found that a mixture of the above mentioned species can produce 3,000 pounds of forage per acre! This is actually less than the amount produced by most annual plots, but these native forbs are high in protein and well-adapted for plots because perennial plants set deeper roots and require less rainfall than annual plants. That being said, the establishment of perennial food plots can be expensive, ranging up to $125 per acre just for seed. In addition, food plots planted to perennials are management-intensive, which further increases costs.
Another important factor to consider with perennial plots is the soil compaction that results from concentrations of deer. Compaction results from deer feeding through the plots year after year. Soil compaction can cause some food plot problems, especially during rainfall events because of decreased water infiltration, which means less water for plants.
Lastly, many of the commercially available perennial seeds have very small seeds that require shallow planting depths. They also cost a lot per pound because the seeds are so small. But do not be discouraged as a little goes a long way. Shallow-planted seeds can be difficult to establish in dry regions or on thin or sandy soils because soil moisture is seldom adequate to support seed germination and/or seedling growth at shallow planting depths. As with any plot, timing is important.
Maximillian sunflower, Engelmann daisy, bush sunflower, and Illinois bundleflower are highly desired by white-tailed deer and other wildlife species, but the benefits these perennials offer should be weighed against that of annuals commonly found in whitetail deer food plots. It is recommend that 1/4 to 1/3 of the plots planted on a property consists of a perennial food plot seed mix, with the remained of the areas planted to summer and winter food plots.