You Should Be Planting Trees and Shrubs Now!
If you’re fortunate enough to own a hunting property or manage your land for wildlife, you’ve probably at least thought about planting trees or shrubs for wildlife at some point. If you haven’t quite committed to it yet, here are some pointers that will help you along the way.
First, do an inventory of your property. What are the dominant trees and shrubs and what’s sorely lacking? If you have an abundance of white oak on your property, for example, focus on planting soft mast trees or conifers instead of more oaks. Don’t limit it to just your land either. Similar to food plots, if your surrounding neighbors all have thick bedding areas (e.g., conifers, native warm season grasses, etc.), try planting trees and shrubs that they do not have (e.g., bur oaks, apples, etc.). You want a fairly good mix of hard mast, soft mast, and cover to keep animals on your property.
Next, decide what kind of habitat you want to create, as different plant species have different uses for wildlife. If you primarily deer hunt, focus on planting trees and shrubs that would benefit whitetail deer. If you primarily hunt turkey and grouse, focus on plants for them. Naturally, you can also mix and match to provide benefits to most wildlife species, which will likely give you the most enjoyment too.
Make sure you consider site-specific conditions when designing your wildlife planting. For example, south- or east-facing exposures work the best to produce maximum growth and flowering/fruiting. Remove any canopy trees that could overly shade your new plants. Also pay attention to water sources and soils, as some trees or shrubs perform better in wet clay soils, while others perform better on drier sandy soils. Make a list of which species you would like to plant and which areas you will plant them in.
Spacing is also an important consideration when planting trees and shrubs for wildlife. For most shrubs (e.g., dogwoods, hazelnut, viburnums, etc.), plant roughly 4 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. For small trees (e.g., juneberry, hawthorn, crabapples, wild plum, etc.), plant 8 feet apart in rows 10 feet apart. For larger trees (e.g., oaks, pines, cedars, spruce, etc.), plant 12 feet apart in rows 15 feet apart.
When considering the basic design, generally clumps or blocks of habitat are preferable to long narrow strips. Habitat blocks provide a variety of site conditions and an increased possibility for wildlife to find the niche they need. During inclement weather, wildlife species are able to use interior portions of these wildlife planting blocks. Meanwhile, narrow hedgerows only provide travel corridors to and from larger habitat blocks.
After planning is complete, you can shift your focus to implementation. Make sure to eliminate competition from surrounding grasses, forbs, or woody species first. You can disc rows and plant into these strips or use an herbicide to kill competing plants within a three foot radius of the planting location. Often, county extension offices sell bulk orders of native trees and shrubs for a bargain price. Generally, these trees are shipped after the last frost has melted from the soil (April to May in most of the country). Once you have your plants, get them in the ground as soon as possible! Do not let the roots dry out or soak them in water for long periods of time. Recruit as many friends and family members as possible, and start digging holes. You can use machinery if you have access to it, or simply a spade or planting bar by hand.
After planting trees and shrubs, it’s absolutely critical that you don’t just walk away to let nature take its course. Continue to eliminate competition around your planting for the first several years, using either herbicides or mowing. You’ll also likely need to protect the young seedlings/saplings from wildlife damage by using tree tubes, bud caps, or fencing. It can be difficult to stomach spending more money on these things, but after spending time and hard-earned cash to establish your wildlife planting it would be pretty foolish to just walk away and leave it all up to chance, wouldn’t it? In addition, using these tactics will help the trees and shrubs grow faster than they would if left unprotected, getting you to your goal sooner.
There you have it. A quick guide on how to establish your own wildlife planting that will improve aesthetics, provide habitat for several species, and start a legacy for your children. Good luck planting trees and shrubs!