Planting Trees for Wildlife

Planting Trees for Wildlife

April 2, 2020 by

One question I get asked by landowners every winter and spring is “I would like to make my property better for deer, which trees should I plant?” It seems like a simple question to answer, but there are several factors you need to consider when planting trees for deer, turkeys, or even grouse. While one tree might work for your neighbor or you read how well one tree was is in a magazine, that does not necessarily mean it will be productive on your property.

When assisting a landowner with a tree project, the first thing I ask is what are the landowners’ goals, or what are they trying to achieve with planting trees. How they answer that question tells me if they are looking for fruit bearing trees for wildlife food, or possibly a privacy screen from their neighbors. Once I know the landowner’s goals for the trees, I look at the soils on the property. I do not want to plant White Cedar or Balsalm Fir for wildlife cover when the landowner’s property is on top of a sandy area, as those trees like wetter areas and won’t do well in sand.

Once I review an aerial photograph and soils in the office, I make a site visit to confirm that the computer photography is accurate, and there is not a building recently moved to the tree planting site.  A site visit also lets me know what the surrounding tree species are, which helps me determine what trees have the best chance for survival. Making a site visit lets me know what the current field conditions are of the planting site, so I can recommend the best site prep recommendations for tree success. After a site visit is made and I suggest which trees I think will grow best for their goals, it is finally time to get trees ordered and wait until spring!

When spring arrives, and the frost is out of the ground, now is the time to get your site prep completed. Site preparation varies with the current conditions, and if you would like to install weed matting or not. We will get into weed matting a little later in this article. After your site prep is completed, your site is now ready to plant some trees! You can either plant the trees by hand, or mechanically with a tree planting machine. The East Otter Tail SWCD does have a custom tree planting program if you would like to hire the work to be completed. Some landowners enjoy planting their own trees and taking pride in doing the project with friends or family. 

Once the trees are planted, you must maintain and monitor your trees to ensure the best possible survival rate. The biggest concern is weed control and moisture the first couple years. We have found a very high tree success rate by installing the weed matting I mentioned earlier in this article.  Weed matting is a woven black fabric that lets water percolate through the material but it does not let any sunlight through, so no weeds can grow underneath the fabric, eliminating competition for your trees. It also holds moisture underneath instead of evaporating, keeping more moisture in the ground where your newly planted trees can benefit from it. Landowners can also install tree tubes to keep deer from eating their trees. The tubes are made to let sunlight in, creating a greenhouse effect that lets the trees grow very quickly, while protecting the terminal bud from deer. They also protect the trees from rabbits girdling the trees in the winter. You do not have to worry about the trees getting too big for the tubes, as they are designed to split if the trunk of the tree becomes too big for the tube.

                Remember that trees grow slowly. The best time to plant trees was last year, the second-best time is now.

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