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Winter Rye, The Poor Man's Foodplot With Big Results

One of the more common questions that i get asked from people about planting food plots is what can they plant in poorer quality soils such as those found along sandy river bottoms and even on fertile soils that won't break the bank but still attract a good number of deer. My number one choice 9 out of 10 times will always be winter rye grain with maybe a mixture of oats as well to provide a nice variety of cereal grain forages for the deer to pick from. Winter rye is the hardiest of all the cereal grains that will readily thrive in a wide range of soil types where other popular deer food plot blends wouldn't even think of growing. Compared to other cereal grains, rye grows faster, requires little or even no fertilizer, produces more tons per acre of dry matter, and is the most winter hardy allowing it to green up much faster the following spring when fall planted. Winter rye will germinate and grow at temperatures as low as 33 degrees but will not grow much forage at sustained temps that low. With mild falls here in Nebraska, I have successfully seeded winter rye as a last ditch effort for a food plot in the middle part of October and have had enough growth in 2 weeks to readily attract whitetails. Ideally in the midwest, winter rye grain is normally seeded around the first part of September which gives it plenty of time to readily establish itself before colder temps slow down growth. An easy date to remember for your rye food plot planting is around Labor Day which falls around the first of September. One of the common mistakes that I see or hear about is people who plant their winter rye way too early in the summer. What usually happens when planted too early is that since winter rye is a fast growing cereal grain, it tends to get ahead of the whitetails ability to keep it grazed down and gets too rank and tall making it unnattractive to the deer. Our goal in planting winter rye for a deer foodplots is a lush, thick green carpet of tender greens that is highly palatable and attractive to the deer throughout the early fall, winter, and even into late spring before it needs to be disced under or chemically killed with herbicides. Winter rye is an often overlooked but very versatile tool that everyone who manages their property for whitetail deer should utilize. Besides working well as a stand alone crop for whitetail deer, winter rye really shines when planted in the fall with a perennial legume such as a white clover to act as a cover crop. The deer focus their attention on the winter rye while the slower growing white clover has a chance to establish it's root system before going into winter. Once soil temperatures begin to warm up the following spring, the white clover and winter rye are already ahead of the game and will normally outcompete any grass or weeds. A unique characteristic that winter rye posseses that other cereal grains do not is the ability to have an Allelopathic effect on smaller weed seeds that helps to prevent unwanted seeds from germinating. Rye grain produces multiple compounds in it's plant tissues and releases root exudates into the soil that allow it to prevent smaller weed seeds from germinating. Along with winter rye's ability to have an Allelopathic effect, it's rapid cool weather growth makes it an ideal candidate for smothering out weeds also. Winter rye and white clover work well when planted together in the late summer simply because the winter rye chokes out unwanted grass and weeds allowing the clover to establish itself. Anybody that has ever planted a new clover plot in the spring of the year can relate to the headaches that often occur when fast growing cool season grasses continually compete with and oftentimes overtake a new clover seeding. Fall planted perennial clover seeded with a nurse crop of winter rye will make things alot easier in terms of weed and grass control come spring. Standalone seeding rates on a strictly winter rye plot only can vary anywhere from 80-120lbs per acre with 100lbs per acre being a good starting point. When establishing a clover plot that will be seeded in the late summer when using winter rye as the nurse crop, the amount of winter rye seed used needs to be significantly less since the clover will need room to adequately grow without being choked out by the rye. Seeding rates for rye when planted with white clover need not to exceed 60lbs per acre with 50lbs per acre of rye seed being ideal. If your looking for a very cost effective food plot forage that won't break the bank and still provide great results, give winter rye a try. Just be sure not to confuse winter rye with rye grass as the two are no where near the same thing. Winter rye can be picked up at any local seed plant or coop with prices ranging anywhere from $9 to $15 per 50lb bag depending on location.


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