Annuals or Perennials: What’s The Difference?

Food plotters have lots of choices. One of the most daunting is whether to plant annual or perennials.

Annuals are planted in the spring or fall, grow until they reach maturity and then die. No matter when you plant, they’ll need to be replanted each year. Summer annuals include such plants as soybeans, sorghum and climbing beans. From a deer hunter’s perspective, they are meant to provide high-quality nutrition throughout the late spring, summer and early fall.

Various brassicas, including turnips, along with crimson clover and oats and wheat, are fall-planted annuals and provide food during the fall and winter. They also serve as a place to hunt.

Perennials include white clover, alfalfa and chicory, and typically are planted in the fall. They can last three, four, even five years.


Perennials may last longer, but they require routine maintenance to control weeds and to keep the plants healthy and vigorous. Alfalfa, for example, will develop woody stems that are unpalatable to deer. Even clover benefits from a gentle mowing once or twice a year. Cutting the tops of the plants stimulates new, vibrant growth.

In most cases, annuals can’t be mowed because it’s either unnecessary or it will kill them. Take beans, sorghum and sunflowers for example, mowing will kill the entire plant or prevent them from maturing.

Weed Management

Weeds may sprout in fall-planted annuals like crimson clover, oats and wheat, but typically they won’t be a problem that must be dealt with. Those new weed sprouts usually go dormant and don’t outcompete the good plants.

Spring-planted annual plots can become infested with weeds, so you’ll need to treat them with a selective herbicide. Be warned, though. Many annual blends contain a variety of plant types. Selective herbicides may kill some plants in your plots. Make sure you read the label on all herbicides before you use them.

Perennials also need a dose of herbicide to keep weeds from outcompeting the good plants.

The Winner Is…

Both varieties of food plot plants attract and hold deer and other wildlife on your property. However, various studies have found that annuals, as a group, outperform perennials in terms of forage amount, cost and the amount of time deer actually utilize them. What you choose depends on your goals and your ability to plant and maintain them. There is no such thing as a work-free food plot. 

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