Perennial Food Plot Pros and Cons

When ensuring optimal nutrition for your land’s deer population, your food plot is front of mind. Two things to consider when thinking about optimal food plots are seasonal availability and longevity. Based on your needs, budget, and specific land challenges (like soil types and nutritional levels), you can choose between a perennial food plot or annual. Sometimes you can even utilize both. 

The Differences Between a Perennial Food Plot and an Annual

Annual food plots live like their name suggests: They spurt from seed, grow for many months, reseed, and then die off before one year is out. Typically, annuals can be planted in either spring for the warm season or in fall for the cold season. The spring plants last until that same year’s hard frost—while fall plants persist through the following year’s summer. No matter the season planted, the timespan of life remains the same: less than one full year. 

Conversely, a perennial food plot will flourish from an established system for longer than one year. On average, perennials will last for two or more years. This can fluctuate depending on the species of perennial, geography, weather, insect population, soil type, presence of disease, and so forth. Red clover, alsike clover, alfalfa, chicory, and white clovers are all frequent perennial candidates. 

The Pros and Cons

For those avid in hunting and/or deer management, the choice between a perennial food plot and an annual one can come down to the prevailing pros and cons of each. Before deciding either way (or even combining tactics), there should be a deep consideration of which works best in providing quality forage at different times of the year. This consideration can even become the main deciding factor when all is said and done. 

Typically, annual forages excel at producing quality food plots during two main deer stress periods: later summer and winter. These two periods are typified by food scarcity, with late winter coinciding as a signature time for post-rut recovery. For this reason, planting cold-season annuals could prove beneficial, as it offers more food sources during this significant late winter stretch. However, only a few annual food plot varieties can adequately account for both stress periods. 

On the other hand, Perennial food plots work great at providing food sources in the spring and summer, when whitetails see rapid growth and development. The downside to a perennial food plot is its potential downturn in food production during the two stress periods. Luckily, the southeastern U.S. usually doesn’t see very harsh winters, so the late winter stretch isn’t as bleak in terms of food availability. 

When it comes to budgets, a perennial food plot tends to be cheaper depending on the species since there’s less seed needed per acre. However, this is not always the case, as annuals can mean less maintenance overall and may not need as many spray and herbicide treatments during the summer. Additionally, annuals need to be fertilized once per year, while perennials often require fertilization in both the fall and spring. 

What Works Best

At the end of the day, it’s hard to say. Both perennials and annuals have their benefits and trade-offs. That can make it difficult to decide which way to go. Sometimes, it’s even best to use a mixture of both types of food plots, given the soil type, kind of tract, and area-specific challenges related to deer management at hand. What works best for your tract often takes time, repetition, and agricultural ingenuity to ultimately figure out. 

Do you want to know more about land or deer management? Tutt Land Company can help in these endeavors—and all things rural land. Reach out to us if you want to buy, sell, or manage land, and we’ll be more than happy to get back to you and work something out!