Whitetail hunters know the power of a really good food plot, but it can be very difficult to determine what to plant, especially considering the differences that can exist from one area to the next. Some properties are large enough that a perfectly suitable food plot location can be chosen, but many folks are limited with the areas they have to plant. Often times, these include thick, wooded areas with a high amount of canopy cover. This means a hunter must plant deer food plots for shade. Yes, shade areas are quite different than open areas, but shaded areas do offer certain food plot advantages too.
First off, I have planted many plants that grow great in one area but that struggle only a short distance away. As you might expect, proper planting effort, soil type, weather conditions and good timing can contribute to the success of your planting. That being said, deer food plots adapted for shade typically have the advantage when it comes to soil moisture and soil quality. Now this is not always the case, especially with food plots on sandy soil, but more often than not food plots in shaded areas use much less water than “normal” food plots. In addition, white-tailed deer love plots that are found smack-dab in the middle of a heavily wooded area.
First, all plants need some amount of sunlight. That said, some plants need much less than others. Though many hunters plant spring food plots, many more hunters plant winter food plots for deer hunting purposes. One of my favorite deer food plots for shaded areas is one that has a high percentage of subterranean clover. This clover is a cool season annual legume that can tolerate shade quite well, making it an ideal choice for plantings on narrow logging roads small forest openings in thinned timber stands. If you plant nothing else, make sure you use this clover in your low-light plot.
Another great option for shady areas is Ladino clover. The clover does really well in areas that offer very little direct sunlight. It can be planted in combination with subterranean clover or it can be planted by itself, although I always suggest going with multi-species food plots. This clover can be planted from the East Coast all the way out to East Texas. Other food plot seeds that will work for food plots in shade areas include winter turnip, chicory, ryegrass and plantain. Plantain is one species that many hunters are not aware of, but it is a tough broadleaf plant that grows under a variety of different conditions, making it a great choice for food plots found under shade areas.
Previously, I mentioned planting a food plot seed mix because I believe a blend of food plot seeds is preferable to planting single species, at least initially. This is because some plant species will probably outperform other species in the same food plot. This is dependent upon soil conditions, rainfall and the amount of sunlight present at the food plot site. After watching the plot grow, you will likely identify the plants that do best on your particular area. You may see others that do poorly, then you can adapt your mix (or do away with it altogether) to get the perfect whitetail deer food plot for your shade area. This is one of the best food plot tips that I can offer for any plot that you choose to plant.
To get ready to plant, the perfect situation is to be able to plow and disc the soil. If that is not possible, a good spray of Round-Up or a similar product will kill any standing weeds in a week or so, then you can easily work the soil. Although we all know that any seed will grow better in a well prepared seed bed, that is not always possible. If this is the case, then keep in mind that good soil contact is all that many seeds need. Try broadcasting the seeds and walking or driving over them with a 4-wheeler. Additionally, I’d recommend broadcasting your food plot seeds during a good rainfall. This works especially well with tiny Ladino clover because the rain will help plant the seeds.
In closing, my first recommendation for a shade tolerant food plot would be subterranean clover. The odds are that it will work the best for any area short on sunlight, but proper preparation is still required. Fertilize at the rate of 200 pounds per acre of 0-20-20 and maintain soil pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Inoculated clover seeds should be planted using a seed drill at 8 pounds per acre or broadcast at 15 pounds per acre. It should be planted September 1 through October 15 by itself or preferably as part of a whitetail deer food plot mix that contains at least 4 different plant species.