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Habitat Land Management

Tree Talk: Tree Management for Food Plots

by Ben Koerth   |  February 27th, 2012 0

Trees within your food plot can steal production from the expensive cultivars you planted by casting shade over the plot, soaking up much-needed water and robbing nutrients from the soil. Photo courtesy of Randy Hoepner/

There is little doubt that trees are beautiful and provide untold benefits in our life. To list a few, trees take in carbon dioxide, which is harmful to humans, and in return give us life-sustaining oxygen. Trees also provide shade, food, building materials and beauty to the landscape. Their roots help to keep topsoil from eroding. Trees are a natural resource that can be sustained with little outside input.

While sturdy trees are a benefit in many instances, the one place they do not fit is in areas we are trying to develop as food plots for deer. The primary goal of a food plot is to provide the highest quality and quantity of nutrition to the grazing animals. By definition, food plots are fields of highly desirable weeds that we put there for a specific purpose. Anything that subtracts from the sunlight and nutrients needed for optimum growth of these desirable weeds is taking something away from the nutritional potential of that site.

I’ll admit at one time I thought having trees scattered around a food plot made everything look more natural. With no other evidence, I surmised deer would feel more comfortable entering and using food plots because of the cover provided by the scattered trunks. However, after critically reviewing production of the planted plots near the trees and in open areas away from trees it was obvious the trees were having a definite negative impact on forage production. The planted plots just could not compete with the shade provided by the leaves and the nutrient-absorbing competition of the deep-rooted trees.

There is a reason farmers do not have trees in their fields besides having to dodge them with their equipment. Trees rob production. Now the only tree I will leave in a food plot is one that is big enough to hunt from if the food plot is too big to effectively hunt from the edges.

Let’s say you fell for the “au naturale” look and now have some unwanted woody plants in your food plots. How do you get them out?

The quickest way is to grab the chain saw and simply cut them down. This provides immediate relief from any negative impact of the tree on the growth of your food plots. However, many species of woody plants have a natural habit of sprouting from the stump if the top is removed. In that case, you not only end up with a mine field of stumps to dodge, but you have multiple woody stems sprouting from the stumps instead of the single trunk that may have been there before.

(RELATED: Whitetail Nutritional Calendar)

The best scenario to prevent this is going to be to kill the tree either before you cut it down or kill the stump immediately afterward to prevent the sprouts from getting established. While herbicides have a negative connotation to some people, they can be quite useful in managing habitat for deer and other wildlife. Controlling stems on an individual basis also is very selective in that only the specific tree you want to remove receives the herbicide. Thus, the expense of the treatment is lessened and any environmental impact is minimized.

If you cut the tree down, you need to be ready to apply the herbicide treatment virtually immediately (within one hour) to the stump. If you wait two days to get back to it, you will be wasting your time as the cut stump will have hardened over and the herbicide will no longer be taken up. Cut stump treatments can be effective almost any time of the year except during heavy sap flow and will work with virtually any size of tree. When the sap is flowing upward during very active tree growth, the herbicide will be pushed out of the cut and not taken down to the roots to kill the plant.

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