Annual food plots have become very popular with wildlife managers. These plots are an important tool in the effort to improve the health of wildlife populations. Hard and soft mast are the driving force of deer and turkey populations and their health. These mast producing woody trees and shrubs are the species that attract and hold deer and turkeys in an area. This is the foundation of the permanent food plot:
Selecting trees and shrubs for their ability to produce an annual crop of hard and soft mast.
Establishing plots of consistent mast producing Trees, allows an intergenerational management program To be put in place.
Old does and hens will seek out these areas each fall and winter and teach their offspring to seek these areas as well. Where the does and hens go the bucks and toms will surely follow. These reliable sources of mast allow for the deer and turkeys to put on the fat they need to carry them through the winter strong enough to produce a healthy crop of fawns and poults.
The Chinese Chestnut is a prime candidate for hard mast. While efforts are underway to re-establish the American Chestnut a blight resistant strain is still several years away. The Chinese Chestnut blooms in late May and early June thus completely escaping the late spring frost. This Chestnut also is a consistent annual producer. Many native oaks tend toward alternate year bearing. If a late frost eliminates a years crop the tree will tend to overbear the following year exhausting itself. After a bumper crop of acorns frequently there is a light or off year.
This boom, bust cycle is hard on mast dependent wildlife. Deer and turkeys evolved in a world of chestnut trees. The disappearance of the American Chestnut in the eastern United States greatly affected the wildlife population.
Chestnut trees do not like wet feet. They should be planted on higher gound away from standing or even running water. They do best in a light soil well drained, or on a sloping ground. Heavy clay should be avoided.
The Chinese Chestnut tree unlike our upright American is a broad tree that does not compete well in a mature forest environment. Nut production is dependent on sunlight. A tree competing for sunlight will not produce the nut crop expected from a tree in the open. Picture and opening in the woods, a savannah setting. Warm season grasses below with chestnut trees spaced generously mixed with occasional American persimmon for soft mast. Perhaps in a more open agricultural area, with chestnuts and persimmons in field borders or around non agricultural thicket areas would be a better choice.
Oak trees are now the primary mast producing trees in the eastern half of the United States. Wildlife managers should be forest managers as well and encouraging native oaks in the woodlot should be an important goal. There is a dilemma on properties with depleted oak stocks. Oak trees have an extended juvenile non-reproductive state. Oaks can take 20 to 40 years to mature enough to produce acorns. New root pruning technologies i.e. “rootmaker pots” have the effect of reducing the trees juvenile period by years, but trees still must attain size to generate a volume of mast.
The Sawtooth Oak, a native of Japan, is a different case. It is in the white oak family and begins to bear heavily in 5 years. The medium sized acorns are relished by dear and turkeys alike. This tree can be used as a food plot tree in a woodlot/wildlife management program. Planted in a “permanent food plots”, these plots can be maintained separately from overall forest management.
Among our native oaks, the Dwarf Chinkapin Oak will bear in 3 to 5 years. Nut size varies from small to medium and nuts are relished by deer and turkeys. Being a dwarf means it does not compete with mature trees. It has an upright bushy growth pattern and will grow under difficult conditions.
Soft mast is the icing on the cake. American Persimmons can be grown in most of the eastern United States. Native persimmons are found on most properties for “permanent food plots.” Though, grafted females are necessary for reliable crops in specific locations.
The majority of American persimmon tree are either male or female. Male trees produce no fruit, female trees produce generously. In a permanent food plot plan at least one male pollinator should be planted for every ten females. This ensures adequate pollination.
Female persimmons will bear a light crop without a male tree. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Female persimmon trees can be chosen for early, middle and late fruit ripening. For a “permanent food plot”, a combination of each provides a longer window of available fruit, ensuring a food diverse plot attractive to wild life.
Every property has different climate, aspect, and topography and soil types. These traits, as well as, existing plant resources all come into play when designing a management plan. The concept of the “permanent food plot” is a concentrated area of resources interspersed amongst the general existing forest. Just as an annual food plot of clover or soybeans or turnips would be a focused food destination. A patch of chestnut trees or persimmons or sawtooth oaks would serve the same sort of purpose.