Spring-planted summer food plots are a great way to provide supplemental food for white-tailed deer. Growing summer food plots provides much-needed nutrition for optimal antler growth in bucks and valuable nutrition for lactating does. These plots are quite valuable from a deer’s perspective, but the choices for warm season deer food plots are a little more limited compared to the many winter food plot favorites deer managers use. That being said, there are still some great warm season options out there.
When looking for suitable candidates for summer food plots managers want plants that are resistant to animal overbrowsing with high whitetail digestibility and elevated protein levels. Summer is a stressful period for deer, so any supplemental forage will go a long ways towards maintaining body condition. With these factors in mind, the best choices for spring and summer food plots include alyceclover, cowpeas, jointvetch, brassicas, lab lab, soybeans, corn and alfalfa. These plants will work great over most of the white-tailed deer’s range.
Lab lab is an excellent summer whitetail food plot choice that should be planted during the spring. Lab lab is a warm season legume that is widely used and noted for its tolerance to extremely dry conditions. It is a fast-growing plant that is actually a perennial, even though it does not readily reseed and in many cases will need to be replanted. The only real drawback about lab lab in deer food plots is that newly established plantings are sensitive to competition from other plants, which makes weed control necessary to achieve optimal results.
Lab lab is one plant that I would highly recommend for any summer plot for whitetail deer. The seeds can be drilled in at the rate of about 8 pounds per acre or broadcast at about 15 pounds per acre between April 15 and June 15. Make sure to get the soil pH between 6.5 to 7.0 and fertilize at the rate of 300 pounds per acre with 0-20-20. This is a good one!
Another top producing (annual) legume for warm season food plots is Alyceclover. This legume will produce abundant forage through the early fall and it can withstand deer browsing pressure better than many other choices. I recommend planting Alyceclover at 17 pounds per acre with cowpeas, another favorite warm season annual legume, between May 10 to July 15 to help prevent overbrowsing of the peas.
And speaking of cowpeas, they come in several varieties such as Iron-clay, Catjang, Tory, and Wilcox have a wide soil tolerance. In fact, they will grow and produce well even with a soil pH as low as 5.5. Regardless of the variety chosen, cowpeas make an excellent addition to any summer food plot because they are among the most preferred plot plants by whitetail deer. Plant at about 20 pounds per acre.
Soybeans are right up there with cowpeas when it comes to deer preference. Their high use by deer is evident by the fact that small plantings have almost no success for establishment in and area with a high deer density. It may have something to do with the fact that they can reach upwards of 40% protein! Deer love both the leaves and the beans. Soybeans can be row planted or broadcast into deer food plots from May 10 to July 15 at the rate of about 40 pounds per acre. For optimal results, keep the soil pH above 6.0 and fertilize based on a soil test.
Jointvetch is a reseeding legume that will grow on areas too wet to support most other deer food plot items. It is a fern-like plant that is well adapted to moist soils that will produce forage from June through November. It will usually reseed if disked the following spring and since it is a legume it does not require nitrogen. Jointvetch should be planted from April 1 to June 1 at the rate of 15 pounds per acre onto a good seedbed. Jointvetch requires a soil pH above 5.0 and should be fertilized at a rate of about 250 pounds per acre of 0-10-20.
An often overlooked food plot choice is corn. Corn is usually planted as a general crop for deer, doves, turkeys, and other animals. Though mentioning it while discussing summer plots, corn is really more of a winter food plot offering for deer. However, it must be planted during the spring or very early summer. Even though the seed matures in around 90 days corn is more important as a food resource during fall and winter. Yes, corn is low in protein (6-8%), but it is a good source of carbohydrates and energy, which helps deer put on some fat for winter.
In closing, the above plants are recommend for planting into summer food plots for white-tailed deer. The list does not include every possible plant that can be used, but these are the ones recommended for most areas. Depending on the location of the property and soil conditions, other warm season deer food plot options could include brassicas (rape) and alfalfa. Best of luck with your summer food plot, your deer hunting and deer management program.