Jul 10, 2014

Planting in Highlands vs. Lowlands

By: Steve Jordan

Both highlands and lowlands have their advantages and disadvantages for planting food plots. Wisconsin has a variety of terrain and soil conditions. Food plots can be successful on almost any of these.

Highlands dry out easily and it can be very hard to grow things in drought conditions, especially in sandy soils. One advantage to the highlands is you can plant it earlier in the season because it dries out quicker than the lowlands that hold onto the spring moisture for longer periods of time. If your goal is to feed the wildlife with good nutritional food throughout the entire growing season, a highland perennial will accomplish this. Alfalfa is a good example of a perennial. It will be one of the first plants to green up after the winter. Alfalfa plants have long and stout tap roots similar to an oak or hickory tree, of course on a smaller scale. Alfalfa roots can go down more than fifteen feet to get moisture. Alfalfa can shut down in severe drought conditions, similar to a nice lawn, but both will green up after a good rain.

Winter peas or a mixture of peas will remain hardy in a mild drought. They have a nice mass of leaves to shade the soil. When a variety of peas are planted together, there may be one or two of that variety that excel in various extreme weather conditions. Peas are an annual that can be planted very early. 

Winter rye seems to grow good almost anywhere. If you have some areas that are burnt out from a drought, you can work up those areas and replant winter rye in late summer or fall. It comes up quickly and stays green all winter. Winter rye is also a very aggressive sprouter, so most times you can just spread the seed over an existing crop that is severely damaged by a drought or overgrazing. And the first rain will start the germination process.


A corn soybean mix does well in mild drought conditions. The corn helps shade the soil, and even if it is stunted, it will help the soybean plant with its shade. I mix my corn and soybean seeds together at a ratio of 75% soybeans and 25% corn. Then I work up the seed bed and broadcast my seed mix over the top. Next, I spread my recommended fertilizer and lightly disk to a depth of 1 1/2 to 2 inches to cover the seeds and fertilizer. The last step is to compact or culti-pack the plot.


Most food plots are planted in lowlands or other undesirable areas that farmers do not want to bother with. I have a lot of first time clients that think they have little chance for a good food plot on their land that is flooded or puddled well into June. I reassure them that those are my favorite areas to plant. Lowlands hold moisture well into the summer and fall where highlands do not. Wetlands are a jungle and full of wildlife. Hilltops are nice, but often are one dimensional. A deer will reside in a lowland most of the time. If you offer food in the lowlands, they will have little reason to leave and will be easier to pattern.


Some plants that grow well in lowlands are a good turnip mix, chickory, wheat and/or rye, late soybeans and even corn. Turnip mixes thrive in low, wet conditions. Because the recommended planting times for turnip mixes is mid-July to mid-August, this is usually timed perfectly for your lowland to dry out. Chickory is a perennial. It is very hardy and somewhat flood resistant. I experienced a minor flood in early June a few years ago. The chickory plants were only about four inches high, but they had more than a foot of water over the top that lasted about three days. I speared carp in that patch on one of the days. A week later the water had receded and the chickory was growing fast! 

Winter wheat or rye will thrive in the lowland also. Late soybeans will germinate quickly and start blossoming earlier due to the shorter days in late summer. Corn planted late in the year may not get cobs, but the deer will enjoy the cover and nibble on the new growth of plant. I have also noticed that the young corn stalks that do not reach maturity are sought after in the winter much more than the mature corn stalks. 

If you rent some of your land out to a farmer, try to work with him on taking an acre or two out of the field for food plots. Ideally, if you stake out about fifty feet on two or more of the sides of the field, he will be able to maneuver with his equipment easily around this contour. Many times it is hard to talk the farmer into doing this, but the results are amazing if you come to an agreement. You will have many deer along the edge of the fields by your tree stands, and the farmer will have a lot less crop damage in this field if you do a good job on your food plots. 

Whether you have highlands, lowlands, or somewhere in between, you will be able to have successful food plots if you just follow some of the guidelines I have pointed out in this article. Proper fertilizing, plant selection, and timing of the planting are the keys.