Landowners considering property improvements designed to benefit local wildlife often focus on planting fast-growing food plots that can deliver a near-instant draw. After all, everyone dreams of seeing tall-tined bucks and long-bearded turkeys parading in their plots. However, what about parcels of land that are difficult to cultivate or access? For these pieces of land, long-term improvements that last five years or more might be the answer. Such improvements may not offer immediate gratification, but they make a more enduring impact.
When assessing your land to determine where to make long-term improvements, consider both the accessibility and quality of the land. Use open bottomland and prime tilling areas for your annual and perennial plots for quick draw and feeding options. Areas that are remote, hard to till or have poor-quality soil are candidates for long-term improvements.
Few long-term improvements have a more significant impact than the addition of fruit trees. Plant apple trees in areas where they’ll get ample sunlight and growing space, and you’ll soon add valuable feeding options for deer throughout late summer and into the fall when natural sources are dwindling. Dozens of varieties of apple trees can impact the habitat’s food supply in as little as seven to nine years. Dwarf varieties of apple trees reach a height of 8-10 feet. Semi-dwarf varieties grow 12-15 feet in height and typically begin producing fruit a few years later than dwarf varieties.
To achieve optimum results, fertilize and prune your trees annually. Follow planting guidelines that come with your trees to choose good pollinator matches for each variety, and then make sure you don’t plant them too far apart. A tree guard around the fragile saplings can help protect them from bucks looking for spots to rub their antlers.
If your property contains a stand of timber, you can enhance the productivity of any mast-producing trees. Crowded forests with old growth timber or non-mast producing trees have little potential, and small saplings, such as maple and poplar, rob beneficial young oaks of necessary sunlight and nutrients. Old timber stands with thick, closed canopies do the same. Removing such trees or thinning mature stands will allow oaks to take full advantage of available nutrients and produce mast that is more abundant.
Speaking of trees, if your food plot area is near a roadway or is highly visible for passersby, consider planting a perimeter barrier. The object of perimeter trees is to limit visual temptation while not shading your plots. Adding fast-growing tree varieties such as white pines can create a visual barrier that will help screen wandering eyes and, possibly, prevent unwanted hunting pressure or even trespassing in the area you are tending. A visual barrier can also help animals feel more secure, resulting in more visits to your plots, especially during daylight hours.
So, take a detailed look at your property and develop a plan that will help you make improvements that generate desired near-term results as well as long-term benefits.