How to Plant Tree Plots for Deer and Better Deer Hunting
When you picture an orchard in your mind, images of picturesque apple trees all lined up in rows probably come to mind. Maybe there are some nicely manicured lanes with wooden baskets on the ground. There’s also probably a high fence surrounding that orchard, isn’t there? Well, that might be a bit unrealistic for most deer hunters to accomplish, especially if their hunting property is a few hours from home. Not to mention it takes way more financial backing to get to that point. Luckily, a tree plot for deer exists solely for the purpose of nourishing deer and differs from a commercial orchard in several ways.
First, an orchard or tree plot in our terms planted for deer doesn’t have to be neat and tidy, and it doesn’t have to produce flawless fruit with no blemishes. Deer don’t mind if apples have a few insect holes or aren’t perfectly shaped. It doesn’t even matter when the fruit ripens if you’re only trying to provide more food for the deer herd. But if you’re going to use it primarily for bow hunting with your Hoyt bow, you can plant varieties that ripen within your archery season. The other nice thing about planting tree plots for deer is that it will probably be very different from your neighboring landowners, making your property all the more attractive during the hunting season. But planning an orchard is the fun part, so let’s dig in!
Best Tree Species for Tree Plots for Deer and Wildlife
As we mentioned, most people assume you’re talking about apple trees when they think of orchards and tree plots for deer. For good reason! Apple trees (including crabapples) come in hundreds of varieties, are very adaptable, and can provide tons (literally) of soft mast per acre each year. In fact, researchers with the University of Minnesota have estimated that a single acre of well-manicured dwarf fruit tree orchard could produce up to 10 tons of food per year – that’s better than most food plots! Plus, you’ll typically plant larger standard or semi-dwarf trees in wildlife plots, which means an even higher yield. For that reason alone, they are one of the best tree plantings for wildlife. Some good apple tree varieties that work well for most of the country include Liberty, Enterprise, Dolgo, and Chestnut. Just make sure you find one that will be hardy to your specific planting zone. One of the most important apple tree planting tips is to plant at least two varieties for them to pollinate each other and produce fruit.
An increasingly popular planting option for wild orchards and tree plots for deer is pear trees. Many pear varieties (European, Asian, and hybrids) produce just as much as apples and can co-exist on the same sites very easily. There are several varieties on the market today with improved resistance to fire blight (common pear tree disease) as well. While pears are technically self-pollinating, you’ll see higher yields on a mixed variety wildlife orchard. Planting several different varieties is also a good strategy to ensure your property will have some fruit throughout the fall hunting season in the tree plot.
You could also sweeten the pot by adding a few other types of fruiting trees or shrubs around the periphery of your tree plot for deer. Depending on where you live in the country, persimmons, wild plums, and mulberries are all good choices to plant as well. They produce a good amount of soft mast and don’t take much if any effort to maintain. Until your trees start producing fruit, why not tempt deer with the wonderful apple smell of Legit® Big & J mineral attractant to get them used to the plot. This will tempt them with the taste and smell of the tree plot before it exists.
Where Should You Plant Tree Plots For Deer?
The best sites for tree plots are typically on fairly level ground or slightly sloping areas with open exposure. Steer clear from topographic bowls because these areas collect cold air and could cause frost damage. Fruiting plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight to produce well, so you’ll need an open eastern, southern, or western exposure to grow an orchard. Also avoid ridge tops simply because they tend to drought out easier than slopes or further down towards valleys.
From a hunting perspective, locate your tree plots for deer between bedding and feeding areas for a good ambush location. Or plant them on the northern fringes of food plots so you can take advantage of double attraction. This approach can be deadly effective in the fall. Clover species in particular attract pollinating insects in spring, which should increase the number of fertilized blossoms and ultimately lead to a higher tonnage of fruit. When you have apples and clover on the ground at the same time, you’re in for a fun sit.
While most people would naturally group the apples in one clump and the pears in another, you should avoid this. Instead, plant a few varieties of apple, a few of pear, and maybe some persimmon all in the same grove of 5 to 10 trees. This way, you get adequate pollination and you can ensure that each plot will receive the same attention from the whitetail herd regardless of what season it is. If you were to separate the locations, you would have different deer movement patterns depending on the time of year. This different approach eliminates that guesswork and makes your hunting easier in the tree plot.
How to Plant A Tree Plot For Deer
Planting tree plots for deer doesn’t require a lot of technical skill, especially for a more forgiving wildlife orchard, but it does take a little sweat equity to finish. It’s time to buy your trees once you know what varieties and where you would like to plant them. You’ll often find smaller fruit trees meant for planting a home orchard potted in 5 gallon containers at landscape centers. Stay away from the more mature ones that are balled and burlapped (B&B), simply due to price and the complications of moving such a large tree. But if you order one of the endless varieties online, they will likely be shipped as bare root plants, meaning there is no soil involved and the roots have been trimmed to about one third of the total height.
Once you physically have your bare root trees, you need to get them in the ground fairly quickly so that the roots don’t dry out. Damp towels wrapped around the roots will help for short term storage. For standard root stock (a full-sized apple tree), space your trees about 20 feet by 20 feet. For potted trees, you should generally dig a hole that is exactly as deep as the soil in the pot, and twice as wide. For bare root trees, dig the same dimensions but only as deep as the main root. Make sure the tree is vertically level and backfill the soil until the roots are fully surrounded and facing away from the tree. At this point, water thoroughly to settle out any air pockets and backfill additional soil as needed. You can also apply some lime or a weak fertilizer on top of the soil around the tree, as long as neither touches the roots directly, though this step is optional the first year. Finally, mulch a 3 to 5 foot circle with wood chips if possible to hold moisture and eliminate weed competition.
Speaking of competition, one of the best things you can do in the tree plot/orchard planting and care process is be vigilant about removing vegetation within 5 feet of the tree for best results. Try using black plastic sheeting around the mulch line, or you can even use a very careful application of herbicide. Just make sure to cover the trees when spraying so you don’t have any chemical drift.
Maintaining Your Tree Plot For Deer Hunting
You might think planting a wildlife orchard takes a lot of effort, but maintaining it can often take just as much. It does absolutely no good to go through all the work above to just have your new tree eaten by a hungry deer. Invest in a fence or individual tree cages to keep them out until the trees are big enough to escape their hungry jaws. You may also want to wrap the trunk in a protective covering to keep mice and voles from chewing on the bark.
After your food plot trees are a few years old, annual pruning should be done to open up the canopy and stimulate it to keep growing and branching. Focus on always keeping a strong central leader, which will grow up the center of the tree. The fruit-bearing horizontal branches will grow off of this central leader, so feel free to remove any other vertical branches besides the leader. Prune more than you think you should to keep the tree vigorous, but consult help when you’re not sure.
Planting a tree plot for deer is something you can still do this spring if you act quickly. Spring not only offers us conditions to be outside with our favorite between-season clothing; but trees also respond well to spring or fall planting dates. Get them in the ground before the heat of summer arrives. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait another growing season. Once your trees are planted and clover or other food plot species is planted be sure to place some Bushnell Trail Cameras in and around the tree plot to capture deer usage. Fruit trees grown for these orchards don’t need to be perfect, but the more care you give them, the better they’ll turn out. And that means you’ll likely have better hunting opportunities near them down the road.