The Ultimate Food Plot Plant for the South
In most cases as hunting season fades away, so does the available forage in our food plots. The bad thing about this is that spring and summer are when deer utilize large amounts of protein for does to produce milk, fawns and yearlings to grow frame and bucks to grow antlers. Additionally, when there is no food, deer stop using the plots. This hinders the effectiveness of our plots from a hunting standpoint. “Sweet Tea” routinely tests in the mid to high thirties in crude protein; higher than iron clay peas, clover, alfalfa and soybeans. Sweet Tea is also much higher in calcium and phosphorous content. These levels are very important for growing antlers and bone.
FAQ’s about Sweet Tea
What exactly is Sweet Tea?
Sweet Tea is a special selection of a perennial plant in the Mallow family named Sida that is highly attractive to deer. There are about a dozen species of Sida that occur in the Southeastern United States, some native and some non-native. There are numerous common names for different Sida species and many times the same common name is used for different ones, which leads to confusion. This is probably because there are several that look a lot alike. Sweet tea has been identified as Sida acuta, which is a native plant of the Southeastern United States. Some of the common names used for this plant include Ironweed, Teaweed, Broomweed, Fanpetals and Wireweed. Teaweed is also used as a common name for Sida spinosa, which is an invasive plant in agriculture. Since it is native, Sida acuta could never be considered an invasive plant. If it were going to become a problem plant, this would have happened many eons ago! This said the seed is easily transported by tires, which is why Sida is commonly found along roadsides and disturbed areas. Of all the Sida acuta and other Sidas we studied, one stood out from all the others and seemed to be irresistible to deer.
How did the Sweet Tea selection come about?
We are in the native seed and plant business and are always on the lookout for natives that are preferred by game species. An article was published by the University of Florida about Sida acuta and its benefits for wildlife which was complete with forage analyses and other useful information. As we researched further we concluded that some stands of Sida acuta were browsed by deer while others were not; even in the same areas. Sweet Tea was initially selected from wild stands that were being very heavily browsed. We began making collections and growing plants for observation, research and testing and eventually were left with one that was superior to all others. Because of how much the deer liked to browse it we decided to name it Sweet Tea.
When do I plant it?
Sweet Tea germinates when night time temperatures are generally above 60 degrees. In the Southeast this is usually sometime in April-May through some time in Sept.-Oct. It starts very slowly and may stay less than an inch tall for a month or more. From our experience deer do not show much interest in very small plants but if you have a very high deer population you may consider using repellent or other protective measures until the plants reach 6 inches or so. If planted in spring it will likely reach browsing size by summer but it is perfectly acceptable to plant it throughout the growing season. If planted in late summer or early fall it will get established but usually doesn’t produce much browse until the following spring. Because of the hot temperatures and moisture though, late summer is an ideal time to plant. Sweet Tea is perennial and will come back from the roots every spring and really grows like wild in hot weather when it is already established. In the establishment year it doesn’t grow nearly as fast and requires a little patience.
How and where do I plant it?
Sweet Tea is adaptive to a wide range of soils except calcareous soils (soils derived from limestone) and seasonally flooded clays. It also does not persist in wet soils for very long. Generally, the soil should be fairly well-drained. Do not apply lime within the month prior to planting Sweet Tea as fresh limestone inhibits seedling establishment. It readily germinates along shady edges of food plots where there is fresh organic matter like leaf litter or pine straw. In these areas you can just shake it out directly onto the ground and slightly work it through the litter and into the soil with a garden rake. We are getting excellent results by shaking the seeds right into dead grass or weeds. (Make sure to track the seed in to make sure there is good seed to soil contact.) The dead weeds or grass provide a mulching effect and protect the small seedling. Once it emerges through the weeds it will take off. Apply 10-10-10 at the rate of 1 lb. per 100 ft. of row or 10 lb. per 1,000 sq. ft. at time of sowing. Plants can also be grown in nursery plugs or pots. Plant 3 to 4 seeds per cell 1/4-inch deep in a standard grade seed starting mix and keep warm, moist and out of direct sunlight until they are an inch tall. Transplant into rows when the root ball captures the container and can extract without crumbling. Plants can be spaced from 6” to 2’ apart. Fertilize with 10-10-10 at one lb. per row foot. As plants mature fertilizer can be increased during rainy periods of summer. One or two applications per year is sufficient to maintain good growth. However, as deer browse the plants potassium needs to be replaced so consider deer pressure when considering fertility.
Try different spots!
Sweet Tea is a native plant, therefore it prefers certain areas over others and often it is hard to figure out exactly why. While I have grown this plant since 2010 I still haven’t figured it out. I will just say that some areas that seem to be perfect for Sweet Tea it seems to struggle while in other nearby areas it grows like crazy. I highly recommend trying small spots in several different areas to see where it grows best. When you find the right place you will be amazed at how much browse these plants produce. We are learning more about this plant every year but fertility definitely is one key to growing big, healthy plants. Organic fertilizers like manure and compost have produced 6’ tall plants in one growing season.
What is the planting rate?
This is a common question that we are asked every day. The answer in truth is that there is no exact planting rate. We generally recommend getting at least 2,000 sq. ft. out of a container of Sweet Tea which contains approximately 3,000 live seeds. This equals 1.5 live seeds per square foot. Individual plants can easily reach four feet tall and three feet wide in a couple of years so a little can go a long way. In time, the seeds dropped by these plants will thicken the stand. We recommend planting Sweet Tea in rows so it can be observed and managed more closely. It also needs to be safe from plows so often it is planted on edges of food plots or in bands across them.
How do I manage it?
On established Sweet Tea, we recommend using 10-10-10 at a rate of about a pound per 100’ of row or 10-15 lb. per 1000 sq. ft. up to three times per year, depending on deer usage. The protein level and digestibility increases dramatically with fertilization and commonly analyses come back at around 40% CP! Incidentally, it is also higher in calcium and phosphorus (critical for antler development) than iron clay peas, soybeans or alfalfa. Established Sweet Tea is most heavily browsed from June through September. It will enter a sluggish state in early fall as it goes to seed. Mowing to 12″ will return it to a vegetative state, producing more browse well into the fall and will tolerate a number of light freezes before eventually going dormant. Sweet Tea is a very fibrous, tough, almost woody plant which is one reason why it tolerates browsing so well. This can also make mowing difficult so if you decide to mow, make sure to have a sharp blade, get your RPM’s up and take it slow. Afterwards we recommend sweeping off your tires if you don’t want to spread the seed.
What is different about Sweet Tea compared to regular commercial forage seed?
Sweet Tea is a native or wild plant and has not been through all the breeding processes that commercial forage and other traditional field crops have. There is a huge amount of variability in wild plants from varying germination times to varying growth rates when subjected to different soils, temperatures, day lengths, etc. Virtually all of the variability has been bred out of commercial cultivars. This was done in order for the crop to be uniform for a more efficient harvest. The good thing about variability is that there is protection built into wild plants against untimely extreme weather events such as floods, droughts or freezes. Since there are always plants at all growth stages within the stand, including seeds in the soil beneath, the stand has a much better chance of persisting over the long term. Keep this in mind when you are getting your stand of Sweet Tea started and don’t compare it to planting something like peas or oats. You are establishing a stand not a crop. Once your stand is established in a good area it will be there every year. Then no matter if you have had time or the right weather to plant any other summer forage, Sweet Tea will be providing your deer with high protein browse all summer long. This will enhance the productivity of your deer hunt in two ways: The first is by providing a consistent nutrient source that will help does make milk and bucks grow antlers and frame. Secondly, when deer are accustomed to the plot being a reliable source of food they will be more likely to use the plots in hunting season. Be sure to inquire about our bare root switchgrass to create channeling and perimeter screens which has proven to be very effective in getting mature bucks out into the plot during daylight hours.
Sida Acuta as an Herbal Remedy
Sida acuta is a native perennial plant in the Mallow family that is found in the outer coastal plain of the United States. There is a dozen or more Sida species that also grow in this region and numerous ecotypes of each. In studying this plant in the wild for two years before we made a selection we found that one ecotype in particular was heavily used by wildlife, especially deer. We began mass production and marketed the plants for wildlife applications not realizing that it was also a popular herbal remedy.
We offered samples of the plant material to new callers who were interested in Sida acuta as an herbal remedy who later reported that it provided excellent benefits. Because of these reports we decided to expand our production.
We now offer seedling plugs that can be grown at home for personal usage and plan to offer dried plant material in the fall of 2016.
Plants are 35.00 per dozen with free shipping. Buy Sweet Tea (Sida Acuta)
Below is a link to the website of famous herbalist, Stephen Buhner. His book “Healing Lyme” contains a section about the benefits of Sida acuta.