Too often people think of habitat projects in terms of large undertakings such as planting food plots or selectively thinning a forest. Actually there are many projects that can be done inexpensively and with just a short amount of work that will benefit wildlife.
You don’t need a large amount of land to do these. Just an acre or two is enough if you have the right type of property. And even if you don’t own land, often a friend, neighbor, or relative will be willing to allow these small projects to be done. After all, everyone likes to see more wildlife.
First, do an analysis of what type of cover and plants are on the land you own or have permission to improve with habitat work. Identify and mark on a topographic map or in a notebook where beneficial shrubs and wild fruit trees are, such as persimmon, apple and pear as well as honeysuckle and other bushes.
Now that you’ve identified and mapped out where your best shrubs and fruit trees are on your property, here are five quick ways to enhance their value to deer and other wildlife.
One. Add daylight. Areas open or partially open to sunlight produce the most soft mast. You can add more daylight by trimming back overhanging branches on competing vegetation with pruning shears or a chain saw. Also cut down low-value trees competing with the best apple, pear, peach, persimmon and plum trees on your land.
Two. Make the food accessible to deer. When honeysuckle and grapevines grow above 6 feet, they are wasted. Pull down the vine if you can and lay it where the animals can feed on it. Alternately, cut it back and then lay it on brush or dead falls so it regrows where deer can reach it.
If the vine is growing on a low-value tree, “hinge-cut” that tree part way through so it falls over but stays alive, providing browse and an anchor-point for the honeysuckle or grapevines to cling to while staying in reach of the deer.
Three. Prune fruit trees. Apple, plum, pear and other trees bear more and higher quality fruit when pruned. Cut away any dead or dying branches and small “shooters” to reduce the number of limbs and leaves using the available nutrients.
Cut close to but not into the main branch you’re trimming from. Strive for a Christmas tree shape.
Four. Add lime. First, do a soil test. If the pH comes back below 6, add pelletized or powdered agricultural lime. Alternately, you can skip the test and simply add lime anyway. It can’t hurt, and most soils are acidic and will benefit from it. Sprinkle a few pounds from a bucket on shrubs or as much as 4 to 8 pounds around a prime apple tree.
Five. Fertilize. Scatter a couple of pounds of 10-10-10 or similar fertilizer over soft mast shrubs. Honeysuckle can also benefit from an occasional dose of ammonium nitrate (34-0-0). Add this in spring just before a rain.
A large fruit tree needs 5 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Sprinkle it near the “drip line” or outer edge of the branches. Alternately, you can pound in several time-release fertilizer “spikes.”