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South Williamsport, PA
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The Roving Sportsman… Habitat Improvement: Food Plots, Fields & Shrubs

This is the final installment in a series regarding habitat improvement. We have covered developing a plan, eliminating undesirable plants, and what trees we should consider planting for various wildlife species. Now, let’s look at a few final steps — creating food plots, bringing back fallow fields, and some shrubs, bushes, and vines we could

This is the final installment in a series regarding habitat improvement. We have covered developing a plan, eliminating undesirable plants, and what trees we should consider planting for various wildlife species. Now, let’s look at a few final steps — creating food plots, bringing back fallow fields, and some shrubs, bushes, and vines we could add along the way.

FOOD PLOTS:

The most critical first step in the creation of any food plot is to accomplish proper soil sample testing and then to follow the suggestions on the analysis as to what lime and fertilizer to add, based on what plants you will grow there. When deciding the location, consider proximity to water, bedding area, other food sources, property lines, and existing travel corridors. The preferred size of a food plot is smaller rather than larger. Depending on the topography and size of your property, you are much better off developing multiple smaller plots rather than one large plot. Observations over the years have shown that in a large plot, deer will first work the outer edges of the planted area and sometimes never make it to the center of a large food plot. Deer and turkeys feel more secure staying near a forest edge into which they can escape if threatened by a predator. Numerous smaller food plots will create more edges than just one oversized plot. The ideal shape of a food plot is not one big square or circle, but instead should be a planting area in an S shape or in an elongated shape that, again, yields more edges. The exact layout may be dictated by terrain or existing trees you want to maintain on the forest edge.

WHAT TO PLANT:

Remembering that providing a variety of food is important, a mix of seeds is desirable. Your forester or wildlife management consultant should be able to point you in the right direction. If you don’t have one, check with local nurseries, landscape businesses, or feed stores to locate a knowledgeable person for their advice.

While clover is one of the favorites to plant, it should be accompanied by either wheat or oats as a cover crop or nurse crop, which provides shade for the clover as it is in its early stages of growth.

Birdsfoot trefoil is a low-growing plant that yields a yellow flower and is preferred by grouse and turkey poults.

The trefoil seed can be spread at the same time you are planting clover. Buckwheat is a very effective plant to attract deer and can be added to the mix of seeds in the spring.

FALLOW FIELDS:

Fields that have been left alone for years and have been taken over by weeds, tree seedlings, and invasive plants provide an excellent site to plant larger areas of agricultural plants for wildlife. As with food plots, the critical first step is to do proper soil tests. Depending on what is already planted annually on neighboring properties, consider converting some of the fallow fields into the production of clover, field corn, or sunflowers if you have several acres to work with. If you have at least 5 acres or more to develop, then soybeans may be your best choice. Fields of less than 5 acres of soybeans may be overrun by deer and may never fully mature. If possible, leave some of the fallow field out of production, but eliminate any invasive plants that are there. This will allow an area for fawning in the springtime and an additional source of cover and food throughout the year.

SHRUBS & VINES:

Wherever possible, keep any existing native shrubs and vines, such as witch hazel, raspberries, blackberries, and wild fox grapes.

American bittersweet is an old-time vine that should be encouraged whenever possible. Try to incorporate any of these plants in food plots you are developing and add them to any future sites that you develop. The edges where the forests meet the fields are ideal spots to plant new shrubs and vines for wildlife. Elderberries, American cranberry, silky dogwood, and red osier dogwood, along with wild fox grape and American bittersweet vines, will all do well along these edges. Once established, they will all benefit from a feeding or two annually of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Any of these shrubs or vines will add to the variety of the inventory of feed available to attract and hold wildlife of all kinds.