How to Kill the Grass in Your Food Plot

clover food plot
Clover food plot
Brantley planted this clover plot in the early spring, but by May, it was full of volunteer ryegrass. He sprayed it a few weeks ago with Arrest Max_, a grass-selective herbicide from_ Whitetail Institute_. The grass is now dead, but the clover is looking great._Will Brantley

Ladino clover has been my go-to food plot planting for years, and I suspect that’s true for a lot of hunters. In my part of the world, a good clover plot provides protein-rich wildlife forage for about 10 months of the year, and if maintained, will last for several years. In the past few weeks, I’ve had several buddies ask me how to control the weeds in their clover food plots, and I tell them, “clethodim and a bush-hog.”

Mowing is part of the standard maintenance program on a perennial plot like clover, chicory, or alfalfa. Timed just before a good rain and warm weather, it stimulates new, young growth, and it does a pretty good job at keeping various broad-leaf weeds under control during the summer. But it’s problematic in that it also stimulates the rapid growth of many grasses that will stay green right on through the winter and eventually outcompete your food plot for nutrients. Left unchecked, grasses like fescue, timothy, and orchard grass can easily cost you a few years' of productivity from a clover plot.

That’s where the clethodim comes in. Clethodim is simply the active ingredient in a number of grass-selective, post-emergent herbicides. * That means it kills actively growing grass, but when used correctly, won’t harm clover or other legumes. There are other grass-selective herbicides out there, but clethodim is arguably the most popular, and the one I’ve personally used with good results.

It is expensive. A pint of Arrest Max, which is what I used to spray the plot in the photo, costs $40. But since that 16 ounces is usually the maximum recommended amount per acre, the stuff goes a long way. Unlike glyphosate, of which there are countless generic alternatives to Roundup, there aren't as many options for clethodim—and all of them are pretty pricey. Still, considering the coin you'll put into fertilizer and lime over the life of a clover plot—not to mention the price tag on the clover seed itself—it's money well-spent.

If you’re spraying a clethodim-based herbicide for the first time, there are a few things to know. One, although it will kill mature grass, it seems to work best on young grass, so the best time to spray it is in the spring. Two, don’t expect the same rapid results from clethodim that you get from glyphosate. A field sprayed with Roundup usually turns yellow within a few days. In my experience, it takes a couple weeks for grass to wilt after you spray it with clethodim. Follow the label, and have confidence and patience. Three, clethodim will kill oats and wheat, so if you're one of the many plotters who oversows with those cereal grains, don't spray clethodim. Finally, while most glyphosate blends have surfactant mixed in (this helps the chemical stick to the plant), most clethodium herbicides do not, and so you’ll need to buy surfactant** separately and mix it in when you’re filling your sprayer tank. Surfactants are pretty cheap, and they’re available at about any farm supply store.

_*If you want to go all-organic with your food plots, more power to you. I appreciate and understand reader concerns over herbicides. But the fact is, I’m not pouring clethodim, glyphosate, or 2,4-D into streams or spraying it on frogs. I’m using them as directed on the label, and research has shown that to be perfectly safe. Furthermore, using herbicides is recommended by virtually every wildlife manager that I know. _

**I used Sure-Fire Crop Oil Plus, another _Whitetail Institute product, as my surfactant when I sprayed the plot in the photo._