Creating a Wild Backyard - Crops for Wildlife
If you plant crops for wildlife, then you are technically creating
“wildlife food plots”. These plots not only provide food but also
shelter and nesting sites for wildlife. The best plots contain a
diversity of foods which accommodate the different needs of
wildlife. Depending on where you live and what you plant, you could
potentially attract deer, Wild Turkey, Bobwhite Quail, Mourning
Doves, cottontail rabbits, waterfowl and/or grassland songbirds to
Before beginning a food plot adventure, it is best to assess your
existing habitat. If your habitat contains a mix of mostly native
plants, then consider keeping it. On the contrary, if your habitat
is surrounded by corn and alfalfa fields, then planting the same
crops won’t attract additional wildlife. If you are going to plant
the area, then your next step would be to determine what you want to
The three main types of plants in wildlife food plots include
cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses and legumes. Cool season
grasses are typically used for fall and winter food plots. These
species include oats, wheat, rye and rye grass which provide high
amounts of protein for wildlife. Cool season grasses are often
preferred by deer. In contrast, warm season grasses are preferred by
bobwhites, turkeys, rabbits, songbirds and others. To learn more
about warm season grasses, then visit this Wild Acres page dedicated
to Warm Season Grasses. The last category of wildlife food plot
plants includes legumes. These plants belong to the bean family and
have special relationships with soil bacteria that fixate nitrogen
in the soil. Nitrogen is a key component for plant growth and one of
the main ingredients of commercial fertilizers. In addition, legumes
are low in fiber but high in energy and protein which makes them
palatable to lots of wildlife species.
Where to Plant
Food plots can be located anywhere- from field edges to ditches
to openings within a forested area. Interestingly enough, a food
plot that has odd-shaped edges is actually more beneficial to
wildlife than plots which are square or rectangular. This is because
the irregular edges provide more cover from potential predators.
Ideally, food plots should be from 1-3 acres large in order to
provide enough food and cover. However, plots can be smaller
depending on the size of your area. The number of food plots you
should provide also depends on the size of your area as well as the
type of habitat surrounding your property. If the area surrounding
your food plot is high quality forest, then you generally don’t need
to provide multiple food plots. One guideline is to plant 1 acre
food plots for every 40 acres of land. Rotating food plots every few
years can also benefit wildlife, and if you have multiple plots on
your land, then consider offering different plantings in each.
The following information contains some very general information
on suggested mixes. It should be noted that if you are planning on
planting perennial species, then they may not flower or fruit the
Dry/Upland Soils (Perennial mix providing food and shelter)
Wet/Lowland Soils (perennial mix providing food and shelter)
A suggested mixture of annual food crops for upland areas is:
Other suggested plants: alfalfa, annual rye, big bluestem, black
oil sunflower, brassicas (rape and turnips), corn, grain sorghum,
Indian grass, partridge peas, purple coneflower and sunflower mixes.
The best plants to add to your plot are native plants as these
species have adapted to Maryland soils over time. Many native plants
also attract native pollinators which provide food for insect-loving
predators like grassland songbirds.
When selecting wildlife food
plot mixes and seeds be sure to avoid plants which are invasive as
they can cause more harm than good. Invasive species typically
planted for food plots include woody lespedezas (Lespedeza bicolor
and L. cuneata) as well as crown vetch (Vicia spp.).
How to Plant a Food Plot
- Have a soil test done on the site to determine the soil type
and structure, soil pH, and any plant nutrients that may be
missing. Contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil
Conservation Service office in your county for more information.
Nutrients and other requirements provided by the soil differ for
each plant species. The U.S.D.A. Cooperative Extension Service
can assist you in choosing the right crops/nutrient/soil
combination for your area and your needs.
- Prepare the soil by plowing or discing the area to be
- Seeds can be planted by spreading and raking them in or by
drilling them into the seedbed.
Common Food Plot Mistakes
Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard!
For Additional Information, Contact:
MD DNR - Wildlife and Heritage Service
12512 Pleasant Valley Rd
Flintstone MD 21530