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Searcy, Ark. –
The key to providing quality habitat for many Arkansas wildlife species is establishing
a diversity of plants which provide year-round nutrition and cover for their survival.
Wildlife are adapted particularly to native plants that meet their habitat needs.
With a good seed bank, all that is needed is soil disturbance, and maybe a little
fertilizer and lime, to make an attractive native food plot which lures in deer, turkeys,
bobwhites, and other wildlife. Results from statewide food plot demonstrations conducted
by University of Arkansas county agents and faculty indicated wildlife consumed natural
plants growing in disked and fertilized plots as much as those in traditional food
plots. Which begs the question, why plant seeds when you can grow weeds?
Small acreages. Yards and gardens with a diversity of plants become an important habitat source in
Larger acreages. Native forbs and grasses can be established by creating disturbance through disking, prescribed fire, thinning trees, or other practices that give native
plants the advantage.
Timing is everything. Exactly when these disturbances occur, and the types of plant
species present in the seed bed results in different plant responses.
Plant responses do vary. Landowners who are willing to experiment can gain a better
understanding about native plant responses to different practices implemented at different
times of year.
Leased land. Hunting clubs leasing industrial or commercial forest lands may be restricted from
disking, thinning trees, or prescribed fire. Planting grasses and forbs may be one
of the few options allowed in a lease contract for providing patches of habitat and
plant diversity. By cultivating particular plant types and seeding in strategic locations,
viewing opportunities are improved. Hunters can draw wildlife into openings for selective
harvest. Planting native seeds is an option, though finding a supplier can be difficult.
The cost for native seeds tends to be higher than agricultural seeds, but once they
are established, only periodic maintenance is required.
Commercial seed producers and farmer co-ops provide products and services for agricultural
production, and sometimes also market these same products to hunters for food plots.
Home and garden stores may market wildlife plantings for residential landscaping,
but is it really your best choice? A particular seed may be readily available and
easy to grow, but other factors to consider are:
Non-native plants which adapt to local climates and have no natural controls can quickly
overtake a landscape and eliminate native plants. Sericea lespedeza, kudzu, and other
invasive plant species were introduced to the U.S. in part for their wildlife qualities.
The resulting negative environmental and economic impacts have far outpaced benefits
from these once-touted plant species. Native plants can be invasive as well.
It's always a good idea to investigate what you are planting first, before planting
something you may later regret. The USDA PLANTS database is one resource for classifying native and non-native plants.
The University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal
access/affirmative action institution. For more information you can contact your local
county extension service, you can also follow Sherri Sanders on Facebook @UAEX.WhiteCountyAgriculture
By Sherri Sanders County Extension Agent - AgricultureU of A System Division of AgricultureWhite County Cooperative Extension Service2400 Old Searcy Landing Road Searcy AR 72143 (501) 268-5394 email@example.com