Legumes for Whitetail Deer Food Plots


There are many choices for a manager to make when it comes to planting food plots for deer. There are annual and perennial plots, winter plots and summer plots. In addition, there are “normal” plants and then there are legumes. One of the values of growing legumes is that they form a relationship with certain bacteria which live in association with the plant roots. These bacteria take nitrogen from the air and release it in a form that plants can use.

Lab lab, soybeans, cowpeas and clovers are all legumes. Their seeds must be inoculated prior to planting to deer food plots. The inoculant that is contains nitrogen fixing bacteria and ground up peat moss. The peat moss containing the bacteria is mixed with the food plot seeds before planting. Once the seedling emerges, the bacteria form growths on plant roots called nodules. Presence of these nodules indicates that the bacteria are alive and producing nitrogen.

Clovers are Legumes - Deer Food Plots

Deer respond readily to plots planted to legume because these plants are lush and high in protein. However, legumes do take a little more planning preparation. When preparing to plant legumes to plots, inoculant should be stored in a refrigerator because the bacteria can die when exposed to excessively warm temperatures or when the peat moss dries out. Fertilizing the soil before or after planting with nitrogen may reduce nodulation. When planting food plots to legumes, fertilizers low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus should be used.

Mixing inoculant with seeds to ensure proper seed coverage is absolutely essential. To aid in making the inoculant stick to the seeds, managers often use commercial tackifiers or liquids such as soda pop, pet milk, or other sticky substances. Inoculation may not be needed in deer food plots where the same plant species have been planted for several years with inoculated seeds because the soil contains sufficient bacteria from the previous plantings. Keep all of these factors in mind when planting legumes on your property. It takes a little more effort, but it’s worth it and the deer will benefit greatly.

4 thoughts on “Legumes for Whitetail Deer Food Plots”

  1. Food plots can help, but they are not always the answer for everything. We use food plots but also manipulate habitat, conduct population surveys and are patient on the trigger. The best food plot is the one that grows in your area and that deer use!

  2. We are interested in supplemental food for deer and thinking about food plots. When is the best time for planting legumes? Thanks for the information.

    1. Hector, it will depend on where the property is located. Early to mid-spring is best… anytime after the last frost.

  3. I’ve planted legumes such as cowpeas and beans for years in my spring food plot plots in Louisiana. The deer here absolutely love them, but I also lime and fertilize as needed. The bucks have been getting better for sure, but we also harvest based only on age.

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