Properly constructed tree plots are a wonderful addition to a system of seasonal food plots on just about any piece of hunting property. Remember: When it comes to whitetails, they are edge cover users that thrive in diverse habitat, and a tree plot will provide an additional food source for whitetails plus a whole range of other wildlife on your property.
I am talking here about a designated tree plot, not mast-producing trees planted in or around a seasonally planted food plot. From my personal experience and from what I have heard others say, meshing a tree plot orchard with a food plot creates an obstacle course that can make mowing, disking and planting a virtual nightmare.
My latest tree plot venture involved planting several container-grown sawtooth oaks in a small, secluded clearing on my property. Sawtooth oaks grow fast and are well adapted, quickly producing lots of big acorns that are loved by deer. It is also an early producer that is well suited for early bow season in the Deep South.
I laid the planting pattern out by taking into account the average crown width of sawtooth oaks, making sure to allow for a proper separation of the crowns at maturity. I used 6- to 7-foot tall container-grown stock, and after planting the trees they looked to be too far apart, but they really were perfectly placed, having been planted as recommended by the nursery.
The general rule-of-thumb for tree spacing is to space nut/acorn trees about 30 feet apart, fruit trees about 20 feet apart and shrubs about 6 to 7 feet apart.
There are several really good nurseries that grow and sell top-quality mast- and fruit-producing seedlings and trees. The nurseries advertise in various hunting and land management periodicals, and they can also be found by searching the Web.
In general, containerized trees are usually available year round and can be shipped to you at almost any time of year, while bare-root trees are seasonally available for shipment usually from January through May.
Ideally, young dormant trees should be planted in early spring. It is always a good idea to do your planning, calling to reserve your tree order well ahead of when you will actually need your trees for planting.
Available non-grafted tree species include several varieties of oak, plum, common apple, pear and persimmon, crab apples and chestnut, to name a few.
In the realm of grafted, fruit trees, the list will include pear, apple, Japanese persimmon and crab apple.
Planting trees is really very simple, but there are several steps that should be followed to maximize your results. Beyond plot layout and tree spacing, other planting basics to consider include the planting procedure from container into the ground, mulching, deer protection, fertilizing, watering, and ultimately pruning and training (if you plant fruit trees).
Let's look briefly at each step of the process.
When planting, dig a hole twice as wide as the container but only as deep as the container. This will keep the seedling or tree at the same depth it was growing in the nursery.
Mix some of the existing soil from the hole with organic material such as peat moss, composted soil or planting mix. This is the material that you will use to backfill the hole. If you add some super-absorbent polymer "water storing" crystals to the mix, it will help maintain adequate soil moisture. I picked up polymer crystals for my planting at one of the big-box home and garden stores.
I also added and mixed in a small amount of slow-release fertilizer pellets, such as 16-4-8 slow-release nitrogen, which is specifically formulated for trees and shrubs.
Be sure and rough up the outside of the root ball as you place the tree in the hole. This greatly aids the root system in taking hold in its new environment.
Place the tree in the hole so that the root ball is level with or slightly higher than the grade of your existing ground. Backfill around the tree with the soil mixture, and create a saucer to retain water.
Use a root stimulant solution to give the roots a boost and increase your odds of transplant success. Water the tree thoroughly, and then add about a 3-inch layer of mulch around the tree.
Be sure and leave the trunk of the newly transplanted tree fully exposed.
After a tree is planted successfully, steps should be taken to protect it from wind, and deer browsing and rubbing. Deer can cause severe, irreversible damage to young trees, especially fruit trees.
f you plant bare-root seedlings, use tree tubes for protection. For larger container grown trees, use some type of wire cage or fence to protect from deer.
In terms of wind, stake your newly planted trees to protect them from damage.
Lastly, let's look briefly at the topic of pruning. As far as non-grafted trees are concerned, they will not need much, if any, pruning. Grafted trees, though, can benefit from an annual maintenance pruning.
As a general rule-of-thumb, once a tree is established, prune out about a third of the tree's total limb volume in late winter or early spring, pruning from the bottom up. This will allow sunlight to reach the remaining bottom branches.
If done properly, pruning will remove the limbs that hang downward or outward, leaving an outer limb angle of about 60 degrees from horizontal.
Start planning now if you intend to put in a tree plot or two early next year. Done properly, establishing a tree plot is a relatively simple process, but as pointed out above, all of the required steps should be followed if you want to be happy with the result.
Your deer herd will thank you for it.