Almy: Making plots to attract wildlife

Everyone knows about the value of putting in food plots for wildlife. But this isn’t the only project you can do to attract deer, turkey and songbirds to your property.

Planting a variety of shrubs provides high quality food and also cover to make deer, rabbits and other species feel more secure.

I’ve seen mature bucks hole up in pockets of shrubs I planted where bedding cover was scarce. They also are great to put along field edges, staging areas, stream bottoms and hillsides that are a bit too open.

Adjust the pattern and number you plant to the specific situation. One area may be pretty good for deer, but just need a few shrubs to fill it out a bit. Another spot may need a 200×30 foot row to encourage deer to use it.

A staging area may be appealing, but too “thin” for mature bucks to come into until late in the day after shooting light. A sprinkling of shrubs filling in open spots might get them there 20 minutes sooner.

A bedding area may be good except for having no tidbits for animals to browse on until they head out for major feed areas. A handful of shrubs will do the trick.

Shrubs can be purchased as seedlings for very reasonable prices and you can put in a hundred or more with a hard morning’s work. Many will also spread after they take hold.
Deer may eat the leaves, buds, flowers, fruits or stems. In fact, your biggest problem may be them eating too many shrubs and wiping them out. The answer to that is simple: harvest more deer or put in more shrubs.

There are many shrubs you can plant that will benefit deer and other wildlife, but here are a few good ones to try.

• Chickasaw Plum or wild plum: Favored by deer for their fruits and twigs, they offer good low-growing cover. Coyotes also eat the plums, providing an alternate food source that might make them kill and eat fewer fawns.

They thrive near swamps, streams, damp areas and the edge of woods. Plant them close to travel routes, field edges and natural clearings.

• Allegheny Chinkapin: You’ll get dense thickets as these spread. Deer eat the nut, like a small chestnut, as well as the twigs and leaves. Six-year-old plants can produce as many as 1,200 nuts.

Favorite habitat is wooded hills and bottoms. I like to plant these near bedding areas lacking cover, along stream bottoms and in fresh clear cuts.

• Indigo Bush: Deer eat the twigs and kidney-shaped pods this plant produces in winter (as do quail, pheasant and turkey). It thrives in full sunlight, but can tolerate acidic soils. Ranging from Florida to Minnesota, this is one of the easiest shrubs I’ve ever grown.

They thrive in bottoms and along hillsides. Plant them near ponds, stream edges and field borders. Also put a few in near staging areas.

• Red Osier Dogwood: Growing up to 10 feet tall, this multi-stemmed shrub will spread quickly once you get it started, providing great thickets of cover for deer. They’ll nibble on the twigs and leaves while they hole up in these plants during the daytime.

Dogwood thrives in bottomlands and wet areas. Put them in near stream, pond and river edges, along low hillsides and near deer bedding areas.

How to Plant a Shrub

Make sure roots stay moist until you’re ready to plant. Use either a tree planting bar, spade or narrow shovel and dig a hole as deep as the root. Cover the roots even with or slightly deeper than they were growing (the color change on the stem tells you where they entered the ground).

Make the hole large enough that the roots aren’t cramped. If they are longer than 12 inches, trim them back. Fill around the roots so the shrub stands straight. Tamp firm with your boot.

Tree mats or mulch placed around the shrub will prevent weed competition. A translucent plastic “tree shelter” keeps rabbits and deer from eating them before they take hold.