Fall food plot planting season is almost upon us, and most of us are making preparations to plant. While doing this preparation, it is equally important to consider work that needs to be done on existing perennial food plots. For the majority of hunters, this means perennial clover maintenance.
Feeding for growth
Just like any food plot, clover plots must be fertilized to maximize production. Soil testing during the summer will get you ready for this step, and it is important to follow these recommendations. This is especially important for clover, as any nitrogen in fertilizer you add will be wasted. I typically use a mixture of 0-45-0 and 0-0-60 to meet my phosphorus and potassium needs, respectively. It is best to make this application just before rain, as clover growth typically takes off after the first good rain of September or October, depending on your location.
Unless I have noxious weeds that are going to seed, I typically leave my clover plots alone during the summer. Despite the desire to maintain a clean plot, weed control efforts can typically be completed in two trips to the field. First, I get the sprayer set up to control any grass in the plot. While there are several grass-selective herbicides that can be used, I use clethodim. Clethodim takes a few weeks to work, so I leave the plot alone after spraying until the grasses are completely dead.
Once the grass is dead, I hook up the mower to take care of any broadleaf weeds in the plot. Some broadleaf weeds can be selectively controlled with herbicide, but in most instances I can achieve adequate control with mowing just before the broadleaf weeds produce seed. It is critical to cut the weeds before they set seed! Additionally, it is important to cut the weeds just above the clover. Many managers choose to actually cut their clover, but this only takes away forage from deer without any benefit. By cutting the weeds just above the clover, you can prevent them from setting seed until the frost kills them.
Maintaining your investment
Clover food plots can last for years if properly maintained, but often their lifespans are shortened due to neglect. It is not necessary to keep them trimmed and clean all summer, but a little work this fall can help insure they are productive in the future.