Summer habitat projects for the landowner
There are several projects that can be done to help sustain and enhance preferred vegetation growth.
It’s summer, or almost, and just because you may have your wildlife food plots already planted, there are still projects that can be implemented through the summer.
Mow A Plot
In the battle against weeds in perennial food plots a mower is a particularly useful tool. Periodic mowing not only discourages broadleaf leaves in, for instance, a clover food plot but also improves forage quality. When plants like clover mature the fiber content increases and the nutritional value decreases. Occasional mowing will stimulate new growth which is more palatable, digestible, and nourishing to deer.
However, mowing during a dry period can be damaging to clovers and other desirable food plot plants. Normally, a person would want to mow a perennial food plot three times during a summer. This spring has been dry, so I held off mowing my clover plot until late last week, after some precipitation had fallen. If all goes well, I’ll mow again in about a month, and then again in early August. It’s not recommended we mow after that because we want to allow the plants to mature to provide the most forage during late summer and fall.
Plant Apple Trees
A relatively new trend in habitat management is to plant fruit bearing trees for deer and other wildlife, especially apple trees. In the past, private land wildlife managers had planted trees primarily for cover, windbreaks or to create visual barriers around a property.
About a dozen years ago I planted 25 apple trees on my land. An untimely and severe hail storm smashed and killed all but five of those. I wish now I would have replanted because last fall those remaining trees produced a bumper crop of apples, and I found out just how attractive to various wildlife they can be, especially deer. I placed a game camera next to one apple tree and it recorded images of fox, coyotes, rabbits, grouse, even a fisher, feeding on apples, in addition to deer.
An ideal apple orchard planted for wildlife will contain several varieties of apple trees, some that drop their fruit early, some late, and some in between. Not only will early, mid and late season varieties of trees attract deer and other wildlife to your property for several months but they will also help pollinate each other.
I found it’s imperative to protect newly planted apple trees. The procedure I’ve found successful would take a lot of space to write about here. Study the image that accompanies this article to see what has worked for me. Briefly, I plant the tree, add a layer of mulch, and loosely staple a bright aluminum screen around the base of the tree to protect from sunscald and gridling by voles. Then I encircle the tree with a 6-foot-high fence, which projects the tree from browsing by deer, and buck antler rubbing.
Burn A Plot
Late last summer I sprayed glyphosate herbicide on two of my food plots that had become overrun with weeds. My plan was to burn the dead weeds this spring. I purposely left an area unsprayed in each plot as a test to see if there were enough dead weeds from winter kill to fuel a fire that would burn through and kill the green weeds this spring.
One evening last week the conditions were perfect for a controlled burn. I spent time developing adequate fire breaks, and secured a necessary burning permit. The areas of the plots where I had sprayed last summer burned as expected, but I’m happy to report so did the locations covered with fresh green weeds. There was enough dry, dead weeds and grass along the ground to allow the fire to burn.
So, the take away is I likely could have avoided spraying last summer, and would have achieved basically the same results by simply burning this spring. One important point, though, is that I had allowed both of the food plots to grow wild for two years, and so there was a considerable amount of dead vegetation under the green weeds. Plus, I had experienced ideal dry conditions ahead of my burns.
I plan to try my “no herbicide, burn instead” technique on other plots next spring.
BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.