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The Roving Sportsman… Habitat Improvement: Trees

Writer’s note: We have previously discussed developing a Management Plan for Habitat Improvement, and now we’ll look at specifics. This is the first of a 3-part series about Habitat Improvement, which will cover: Trees, Bushes, Shrubs and Vines, and Food Plots.


To begin with, we should have done a survey that identifies the current trees on a property that will benefit wildlife, such as oaks, beech, black cherry, walnut, butternut, chestnut and old apple trees. Also, note the existence and location of evergreens that provide cover for wildlife. Use this data to help plan where and what you can do to maximize their benefit for both game and non-game animals and birds. If you can, avoid cutting down any of the cover or food-producing species, and work future plantings or food plot developments around these existing trees. Keep in mind that white oak acorns are preferred by game — over acorn produced by any other of our native oaks.

Consider daylighting (removing surrounding trees that are taking some of the moisture and nutrients from the target tree) some of these native trees to aid in their growth and production. Daylighting is particularly beneficial to old existing apple trees. When laying out an area for a food plot, you might leave these trees standing along the edge of the food plot or remaining in an “island setting” in the middle of the plot. Thus, they will receive more sunlight and have less competition from nearby trees, allowing them to be more productive.


When looking into what trees to plant that will add to your inventory of wildlife beneficial trees, try to stick with native stock. Over the years, various state agencies and well-intended organizations have promoted different “new” trees and plants that are supposed to be the latest and greatest thing to plant for wildlife — only to, years later, label them as invasive plants that should be removed wherever possible.

Most birds and animals prefer a variety of food in their diet, so look into what and when the trees you will plant will bear their fruit or nuts. Trees that you are adding can be either planted in an orchard setting, along existing edges of fields or forests, or incorporated in the design of a food plot. Apple, crabapple, American plum and persimmon trees will produce desirable soft mast, and native flowering dogwoods yield berries that wildlife will eat and add color to the landscape as their flowers bloom in the springtime. Chestnut, hickory, walnut, butternut and American hazelnut trees yield hard mast for deer, turkeys, and other wildlife. With any of these trees that you may be adding to your habitat, it is best to plant more than one, in case cross-pollination requires more than one of the species. Any of these new trees will prefer open sunlight, thus will do well in an orchard setting, or along field or forest edges or the transition zone between an open food plot and nearby forests.

Keep in mind that any seedlings you plant will need protection from browsing by deer or damage by curious and mischievous black bears. A wire cage will protect the young tree from damage from deer activity, and you may have to consider something much sturdier if bears might be a problem in your area.

Feed any new seedlings twice each year with a cupful or two of granular 10-10-10 fertilizer. Pruning out any damaged limbs, sucker growth or shaping the tree by pruning will make for a healthier tree.

Our area nurseries usually carry most of these trees in potted or bare-root seedlings or can be ordered for springtime of fall planting.

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