Spring planting isn’t far around the corner, and for those looking to improve conditions for wildlife on their property, a number of options are available to help attract, hold and foster wildlife of all kinds, from huntable game to songbirds and pollinators; all while providing added benefits to the environment. Going beyond the traditional, there are many kinds of plots that hunters and land stewards can explore this season.
The traditional food plot usually consists of a few swatches of corn left over from a nearby field planting, but there are more options to plot planters than just providing yellow gold to resident wildlife. A fast-expanding cover crop that provides a strong draw to upland game is sorghum, also known as milo or millet. In addition to its tiny seeds loaded with carbohydrates and protein, the plants provide a leafy ceiling about three feet high which gives birds like pheasants a perfect hiding place from predators and a loafing location that’s loaded with food.
For deer, dual food plots are becoming all the rage. Cover crops like clover are the first portion, providing a quick-growing summer food-source that establishes a feeding pattern and location. As the season wears on and the first frost hits, a second crop such as turnips or sugar beets keep them coming back. As the frost forces sugars down from the leaves, it is not uncommon to see deer dig up the energy rich roots below the just-frozen ground.
If the option is available, experiment with a few smaller plots using varieties of seed mixes, dual seedings, or the plants that have worked in seasons past. Locate plots near cover such as sloughs, brush or other habitat where you desired quarry can access them with ease.
Another planting that is receiving a lot of buzz in recent seasons is the pollinator patch. Consisting of a wide variety of native wildflowers and other flora that are beneficial to bees, butterflies and insects that help with the process of pollination, these areas also provide good nesting habitat for game birds and resting cover for deer. In addition to providing a planting that shifts from one vibrant color to the next as different blooms occur throughout the warm weather season, these patches also help secure soil and increase its nutrients. Of course, they also help sustain local populations of farmed and wild bees which have suffered large population drops in recent years.
Other pollinator patches focus specifically on butterflies, and there is no bigger bellwether than the migratory monarch. The most recognized butterfly in the Midwest isn’t nearly as common as it used to be, as a multitude of factors have combined to drop its populations by over ninety percent in the last 25 years. The most impactful factor is the decline of milkweed plants which serve as the rearing habitat and food source for the monarch’s caterpillar. Many pollinator patch seed mixes now include region-appropriate milkweed species to help buoy the current populations of monarch butterflies.
In addition to food plots, all wildlife need cover, and a stand of corn provides little if any. But a strip of five-foot-tall grass and undergrowth will provide a home for deer and birds making their way to and from food sources and a nesting and rearing cover for upland birds as well. Adding a grassy buffer to a cattail slough provides a transition area giving wildlife a corridor to travel along with ample cover to avoid predators as they move from feeding areas to thermal cover. Additionally, it gives you a guide for your hunting adventures as well.
For all these plantings and more, a number of resources such as area conservation groups like Pheasants Forever or the Quality Deer Management Association are available with field biologists and troves of information to help answer questions and provide seed options to put planting plans into action. Additionally, agencies like area soil and water conservation districts and even state wildlife agencies like the state DNR or Game and Fish have experts on staff as well to help make the most of any spring planting plans…in our outdoors.