When Is The Best Time To Plant Trees for Wildlife?
Hunters know that food plots play an important role in managing wildlife. If your food plot provides tasty plants with sufficient nutrition, deer, turkey and other critters will return to the plot year after year. Food plots traditionally consist of mostly herbaceous and browse crops that have to be planted annually, which requires time, money and a lot of hard work. Still, landowners and managers are discovering that they can enjoy long-lasting results with less work over the long run by planting fruit and nut trees on their properties. So…when is the best time to plant trees on your property?
Why Plant Trees?
Iain Wallace, CEO of Chestnut Hill Outdoors, a nursery and tree farm that offers trees designed to attract wildlife and enrich land, says that food plot trees, like the Dunstan Chestnut™, pear and persimmon, provide greater nutritional value and are the best long-term strategy for attracting game to your land.
“You only have to plant trees once and then they provide nutrients for generations of wildlife without the cost and effort of replacement,” Wallace said. “By planting hard and soft mast you can sustain your wildlife’s nutritional needs throughout the year.”
In the early spring you can have blueberries, mulberries and summer plums, and in the South, peaches. During the fall you can have more berries, as well as pears, apples and persimmons and then hard mast, such as chestnuts and acorns, come in.
If you plant a wide-variety of mast-producing trees, you can have a long growing season for fruit and nuts that continue to produce every single year.
If you only want to plant one type of tree, Wallace says your No.1 choice, without a doubt, should be the Dunstan chestnut.
“Chestnuts are high in carbs and protein. They are comprised of approximately 40 percent carbohydrates, five to eight percent protein and two percent fat. That carb percentage is important to pack on energy and fat before the winter months,” he said.
After they are planted, chestnuts begin producing nuts in three to five years and then, they produce every year. On the other hand, oak trees can take 10 to 20 years to begin producing nuts and then they only produce acorns every other year and sometimes every two years. Sometimes, they don’t produce at all.
While the initial investment of planting fruit and nut trees is a bit more than it is for planting traditional food plots, planting trees saves money, time and effort down the road as you don’t have the annual expense for tilling the soil, machinery for cultivation and planting, or hauling machinery to the property.
Plus, trees can be planted in more sites than annual food plots because of adaptability to different slopes, soil types and locations.
When Should You Plant Your Trees?
So when should you plant your trees and bushes? Wallace says you really can’t go wrong by planting in the spring or fall. You can even plant year-round in warmer climates if the ground doesn’t freeze.
“Deciduous trees (trees that shed their leaves after growing season), which are mostly what we sell, all have the same planting schedules,” Wallace said. “We mainly ship out trees to customers to plant in the spring and fall. However, in the north or central states, you can plant in the spring, fall and summer, but you can’t plant in the winter because the ground is frozen. In the South, you can plant just about all year around. However, during the summer months, it’s the hottest and the trees will require consistent watering. You’ve got to keep an eye on those plants during hot weather or they will dry out. In the northern or central states, you’ll need to water the trees one or two times a week during the summer. In the South, you’ll need to water approximately three times a week.”
Wallace acknowledges that spring is often thought of as the traditional time to plant trees. People assume it’s the right time of the year to plant because it’s the growing season and that’s when stores stock up on trees and plants.
“But we like to stress you don’t have to just plant in the spring,” Wallace said. “Fall is also a great time to plant food plot trees. Both seasons have some risks and benefits.”
When you plant in the spring, you’re following the natural growing cycle. The tree gets planted before it comes out of dormancy, so it gets established before it starts growing again in the spring. When planting in the spring, you’ll need to water frequently as you move into the hot summer months
A benefit of planting in the fall is when you receive the tree to plant, it’s starting to go into dormancy. The energy requirement is going down. It will go fully dormant in the winter and will require little water. It won’t be growing leaves and trunk, but the roots will continue to grow throughout the winter. The following spring, when it comes out of dormancy, it has established its roots and it will be more resilient.
Choosing the Perfect Spot
Wallace explained that in addition to the season, soil type will influence how often you should water your plants.
“Before you go out and plant trees, you need to educate yourself on the different soil types – sandy, loam (healthy balance of sand, silt and clay) and clay — and examine your soil to see what type you have. On some properties, you may have all three soil types.”
Sandy soils tend to not hold water as well, so you’ll need to water your trees more often. Loam is typical garden soil that you’ll need to water a couple of times a week because it holds a bit more water. Clay soil holds water for a lot longer, so it’s easy to over water trees planted in clay soil.
So, now that you know when to plant your trees, how do you choose where on your property to plant them? Just remember that all mast-producing trees require full sunlight. You want to avoid all shade if possible, for the best case scenario. Sometimes people will want to plant their trees along a tree line or in a small opening on their property, but just make sure that the trees will receive at least 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight. The more open, the better because trees require sunlight for photosynthesis. Adequate sunlight increases mass production. If the tree receives inadequate light, it may not produce at all.
Also, when looking for a location to plant trees, make sure you don’t plant in an area that will retain or hold water.
“If you want to plant down by the creek or pond or in a low-lying area on the property, make sure those areas don’t flood or have standing water during a heavy rain,” Wallace said. “If mast-producing trees keep wet roots, they’ll suffocate. If you can, plant on a piece of land with a bit of elevation, like a hillside.”
You’ll also want to keep spacing requirements in mind, depending on the tree species you’re planting.
“Many trees require a pollinator, and they will need to be planted close enough to their pollinator to sufficiently produce mast,” he added.
Ultimately, you’ll want to try to plant your trees where you want to drive your “herd”. You can plant on the edge of your traditional food plot to encourage more traffic. You can also encourage more movement by planting along a high-traffic route, and you’ll create an attractive place for deer to hold and feed if you plant around a water source. To figure out where to plant your trees, study the movement of wildlife on your property and then determine what your goals are.
Planting trees for food plots may require more time and effort initially than planting a traditional food plot, but knowing they’ll attract and hold wildlife on your property for years to come makes it all worthwhile.