Establishing Food Plots


Food plots can provide important food and cover plants — both planted and natural — in a particular area, increasing the abundance and diversity of foods available to a wide range of local wildlife species. However, because food is seldom the limiting habitat component for wildlife in Missouri, do not put food plots in natural communities such as glades, savannas, or prairies.

Food plot surrounded by forest along plot perimeter

Food plots come in two main varieties: grain plots and green-browse plots. Grain plots provide seed, brooding, and bare-ground habitat. Green-browse plots yield succulent vegetation for wildlife forage. In some instances, the two can be combined. On croplands, you can create food plots by leaving unharvested grain strips along edges of crop fields.

Grain Food Plots

Planting mixtures of grains rather than only one kind of crop will benefit a wider range of wildlife species. Plant early enough for the grains to produce mature seed before the growing season ends.


In general, grain plots or unharvested grain crop strips should be

  • a minimum of ¼ acres in size
  • at least 30 feet wide
  • a minimum of one plot per 40 acres

Because wildlife often exhaust seeds produced on small plots by early winter, consider increasing the plot size to 1–2 acres to provide longer-term benefits where possible. In general, you won't need plots larger than 4 acres.

Ideally, plots should be placed next to or within 70 feet of good woody escape cover and diverse herbaceous cover

Plots adjacent to woodland edges may need to be wider than 30 feet to receive enough sun and rain to be productive.


When possible, use no-till planting methods. The residue left by no-till planting methods will harbor insects beneficial to wildlife.

  • Create long, linear plots or strips to divide large fields.
  • Make block plantings where strips are not desired.
  • Plant on the contour to limit soil loss.

To maximize food diversity:

  • Establish a rotation where you leave half of the grain plots fallow each year. This allows native food plants (annual broadleaves and grasses) to establish.
  • Replant this fallow area the next year and leave the other half of the grain plot fallow.
  • Include a legume, such as alfalfa or annual lespedeza, in the rotation every 3–5 years to build and maintain soil fertility.
  • Provide adequate fertilizer.
  • Protect plots from livestock grazing.
  • Use limited weed control. The natural foods provided by annual weedy plants are important to many wildlife species.

Green-Browse Food Plots

Green-browse plots provide attractive and nutritious forage to go with native food supplies. They can also attract  insects that turkeys and quail eat in spring and summer.

What you plant depends on the wildlife you want to attract. An all-purpose plot of legumes within a thin stand of grass provides green forage for turkeys, deer, rabbits, and insects for turkeys and quail. Adding Summit, Kobe, or Korean lespedeza to the plot provides seed for quail and green forage for other wildlife in the summer when clovers may become dormant.

For deer or rabbits, plots of legumes, cereal grains, brassicas and other plants will produce much more green forage. However, such lush stands are not attractive to turkeys or quail.

  • Select a site which is open and tillable but adjacent to quality wildlife cover.
  • Stay at least 50 feet from any woodland edge to reduce competition with trees. Establishment a buffer strip of perennials and shrubs between the food plot and the timber.
  • Place plots on flat ridge tops, bottomlands, or along the contour of gentle slopes.
  • Green-browse mixes also can be planted on field roads, trails, and firebreaks.

For deer and turkey

  • Place plots about 1/4 mile apart, or one per 40 acres.
  • Plots should be a minimum of one acre in size.

For rabbits

  • Space plots one per six acres and about 100 yards apart.
  • They can be as small as 1/4 acre.

Prepare seedbeds for green browse plots in August thru early October. Fertilizer should be applied and worked into the soil at the time of seedbed preparation. However, it may be beneficial to apply lime several months in advance.

Correct fertilization is essential for successful plots. If possible, take a soil sample from the plots to the County Extension Office for analysis of fertilizer needs. Be sure to tell them the purpose of the food plot and which species will be used. Extension will provide recommendations for both initial fertilization and annual top dressings.

In absence of soil test recommendations, the following starter application should work:

Agricultural limestone

Apply 3–5 tons per acre if the site has not been limed before.


Apply approximately 30 pounds of nitrogen (N), 90 pound of phosphorus (P), and 90 pounds of potassium (K) per acre. Applying 400 pounds per acre of 6-24-24 fertilizer will provide 24 pounds of nitrogen, 96 pounds of phosphorus and 96 pounds of potassium per acre.

Don't apply more than 40 pounds of nitrogen plant food; it will stimulate grasses and weeds which may crowd out the legumes.


All-purpose plots

  • Seed uniformly with 30 pounds of winter wheat and two pounds of orchard grass at the time of seedbed preparation.
  • At the same time or in early winter, overseed half of the plot with two pounds of Ladino clover and two pounds of red clover.
  • During January through March, overseed the other half with ten pounds of Korean, Kobe or Summit lespedeza.
  • If the soil within the plot is not uniformly productive, seed the clovers on the best sites and lespedeza on the poorer sites.

Deer or rabbit plots

  • Seed uniformly with wheat at 30 lbs per acre, along with five pounds per acre of inoculated alfalfa, ladino clover, red clover, or a mixture of these.
  • The wheat will die after the first year, but the legumes should persist and furnish succulent browse for three to five years.
  • If an annual cool-season plot is desired for deer, a mix of species like winter wheat, oats, cereal rye, Austrian winter peas, forage radishes, and turnips may be considered.
  • Consult a wildlife biologist for seed mix rates. 
  • Mow the plots each year between July 1 and September 30.
  • Top dress with 50 pounds of phosphate plant food and 50 pounds of potash plant food each September.
  • Omit nitrogen fertilizer if possible. If you must use a fertilizer containing nitrogen, apply less than 20 pounds of nitrogen plant food per acre.
  • Renovate and reseed when grasses or weeds have crowded out the desired legumes.
  • Plots can also be mowed from March 15 to May 1. It is recommended that only one-half of the plot be mowed annually, and that mowed strips are rotated, to increase plant diversity.
  • For maximum value to wildlife, protect plantings from excessive grazing.
  • Lightly graze during the last half of June to remove about one-half of the growth.
  • Do not graze during the fall or winter months.

Habitat Hints - Food Plots and Regenerative Planting

MDC's Jordon Beshears tells us all about food plots and also talks about regenerative planting.
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More Guidelines to Help You Get Started

Use the tables below as a guide for measuring your plots and determining what and when to plant. 


Field Measurements for Quarter-Acre Wildlife Plots

Number of Feet

Number of Steps

(2.5 feet/step)

Number of Yards

 105 × 105

 42 × 42

 35 × 35

 75 × 150

 30 × 60

 25 × 50

 65 × 170

 26 × 68

 22 × 57

 50 × 220

 20 × 88

 17 × 73

 40 × 275

 16 × 110

 13 × 92

 30 × 365

 12 × 146

 10 × 122

 20 × 550

 8 × 220

 7 × 183



Food plots should be open and accessible for establishment and future maintenance.


Food Plot Plantings Beneficial to Wildlife


Broadcast Seeding Rate* (Pounds/Acre)

Time of Year to Sow



 Spring, early fall



 Sept. 1 - Oct. 10



 Late spring



 Spring, late summer

 Cereal rye


 September - October

 Clover, alsike


 Winter to April

 Clover, berseem


 Spring, fall

 Clover, crimson


 Spring, late summer

 Clover, ladino


 Spring, fall

 Clover, red


 Winter to early April

 Corn (rows)





 Spring, late summer

 Lespedeza, annual


 Mid-winter to early spring

 Millet, German


 April - June

 Millet, Japanese


 April - June

 Millet, pearl


 April - June



 February - early spring; September   - October



 Spring, mid-July

 Sorghum, forage


 May to June 20

 Sorghum, grain (milo)


 June - July 1



 April - June



 April - June



 Spring, mid-July



 September - early November

 Winter pea


 Late summer