By Jason Houser
As much as we autumn-time deer hunters would like to throw some fertilizer under an oak tree and a few weeks later, have it rain to see results, acorns will cause many hunters to be disappointed. The first or even the second fall after you begin fertilizing will not produce exceptional amounts of acorns. It is usually the third fall before hunters start seeing results from their hard work. But even on the third fall, things can go wrong and you can have very low, if any acorns.
When deciding what trees to fertilize, my first choice is white oaks, followed by red oaks. White oaks are preferred by most wildlife because they not as bitter tasting as reds. However, if white oak trees are not available, deer, turkeys and other wildlife will have no qualms eating acorns from red oaks.
Finding the best oaks could be as simple as taking a look at the area you hunt from a distance. It will not be hard to pick out the tallest oaks on the property. These big, tall oaks that stand higher than everything else in the forest will receive the most sunlight, therefore, allowing them to produce a lot of mast (as much as 20,000 acorns). Oak trees do not have to be in the woods to work as a feeding station for deer. For example, many cattle pastures have oaks growing by their lonesome selves. Because of their solitude from other trees, they have the potential to produce an abundance of acorns.
Fertilizing trees is actually a simple task once you have decided what trees to fertilize. I recommend using a granular fertilizer of 13-13-13 in the spring though fertilizer spikes made especially for fruit or shade trees from any nursery work well too. Follow the directions on the packaging.
If using granular fertilizer, use two pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of crown (leaf shadow looking straight down). Say, the tree you are fertilizing has a crown of 90 x 90 feet, which is 8,100 square feet; the tree will need about 16 pounds of fertilizer. For best results, apply the fertilizer at the tree’s drip line to within five feet of the tree’s trunk. The drip line is the outer edge of the tree’s limbs. If the area has a lot of leaves and other types of debris on the ground, rake it away before applying the fertilizer. For even spreading, use a hand spreader to apply the fertilizer.
Typically, it takes until the third crop before you see an increase in acorn production. And, depending on a number of things, things such as freezing temperatures and winds during the early spring flowering stage, such factors can prevent a good acorn crop for that year. Or, maybe, the trees did not produce mast for that year. Hopefully, you have fertilized enough trees so if a couple of trees do not produce, you have standbys.
Also, all I have talked about is the effects of what fertilizer has on oak trees. The same techniques I have described for fertilizing the white oak will also work for other mast trees, both hard and soft. These trees are the red oak, sawtooth oak, Chinese chestnut, persimmon, apple, and crabapple and pear trees. You don’t have to have a green thumb to make a difference in what is available for wildlife to eat. All that is required is patience and the desire to attract deer to where you desire.
There are several ways a landowner can learn more about habitat management. One of those ways is through Donnie Buckland, NWTF private lands manager: firstname.lastname@example.org. Secondly, QDMA has some great information on habitat management and even offers hands-on courses that are jam-packed full of information.