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Long Term Food Plots with Tree Plantings

By John Howle

Add a few trees that produce mast enjoyed by wildlife, and you’ll have a food source that lasts for years. The great news is many of the wildlife attracting trees often begin making acorns and fruit within 10 years. January offers an ideal time to select your trees, pick your planting spots, and put long term wildlife forage in the ground.

For hard mast production, you can’t beat sawtooth oaks. For trees that produce soft mast or fruit, great choices for Alabama are persimmons, plums, crabapples and pears. Whether you are planting hard or soft mast, a multitude of wildlife will be attracted to your land once these trees begin producing.

Close-up of sawtooth acorns

Sawtooth Oaks

Acorn production for the sawtooth oak usually begins in less than 10 years depending on the amount of care given and the areas the trees were planted. That’s still considerably quicker than the 20 to 25 years required by the sawtooth’s close relative, the white oak.

A recently marketed version of the sawtooth is the gobbler sawtooth. This variety of 

oak produces smaller acorns than the regular sawtooth oak, and the idea is turkeys will be better able to make food sources of the mast that is produced. However, the wildlife managers I’ve spoken with say they’ve never seen a turkey turn down an acorn from the regular variety of sawtooth oak.


Persimmon trees are my favorite soft mast producer. My grandfather would use the hard wood of the persimmon for wedges used in the splitting of wood. He’d bake the wedges in the stove until they were super hard and use them to split fence posts. In addition, the hard wood was once popularly used in golf club heads and axe handles. However, it’s the fruit of this tree that drives wildlife wild.

On our farm in Alabama, you can find coyotes, deer, turkeys, and raccoons visiting 

Close-up of persimmon fruit 

the persimmon trees each day during late fall combing the ground underneath the trees searching for the fruit. The fruit is purplish orange and slightly larger in diameter than a quarter. Only the female persimmon trees produce fruit so buy at least 10 seedlings to make sure you have a male in the group to do the pollinating.


Plum trees not only offer favored fruit by wildlife, they provide ideal cover for quail and turkey poults. The Chickasaw Plum is an ideal choice for its fruit as well as its cover providing properties. The trees colonize as they grow creating ideal thickets for quail and turkey poults. Planting plum trees in rows helps break up large field and provides travel corridors. The fruit is produced in summer but the cover lasts all year.


Crabapples are a hearty choice for a soft mast apple tree for wildlife. The fruit is produced in late summer and hangs on into early fall. Make sure the variety you select actually drops its fruit. Some ornamental varieties of crabapples will produce fruit that doesn’t drop from the tree.

Photo of pears on tree


You are likely to see pear trees from abandoned farmsteads that continue to produce fruit year after year even when they are neglected. Pear trees are ideal soft mast producers because the fruit often stays on the tree for quite a while. Edward Fort of Edward Fort Nurseries in South Carolina produces a variety of pear that hangs on the tree for a long time. "We sell a grafted pear tree that begins producing fruit in summer, but this particular variety will have fruit that often hangs onto the tree into November," says Fort.

Where to Plant

Most any seedling will thrive in naturally fertile, moist soil that is well-drained. The trees need sunlight 75 percent of the day. This means for optimum yields, the seedlings should be planted in open fields or clear, open areas in the forest. Areas where pine trees have been clearcut harvested works well if there is fertile, well drained soil and pH levels are within ideal range or close enough to be adjusted with applications of lime from your local Co-op.

For the first five years of growth, seedlings can’t handle weed and other vegetative competition. This is where a weed mat helps protect the young seedlings. If you plant the seedlings in open fields, space them in rows 25 feet apart in rows 25 feet wide.

This allows a tractor and mower to easily be driven between rows to keep competing vegetation under control. Control the competing vegetation through mowing or the use of herbicides.

How to Plant

If you are planting a large number of seedlings, a dibble bar, which is a long narrow shovel made of steel, makes the job more efficient and helps in getting the seedlings planted at the proper depth. Be sure to plant the trees no deeper than they were planted at the nursery.

Push the dibble bar into the ground with your foot at an angle. Push the dibble bar forward creating a hole. Remove the dibble bar and place the seedling into the hole at the desired depth. Re-insert the dibble bar into the soil a few inches from the hole, and push the bar forward. This closes the soil around the seedling’s root system. Finally, pack the soil around the seedling with your foot to ensure soil contact.


Step 1: Push the dibble bar into the ground at an angle with your foot.

Step 2: Push the dibble bar forward creating a 
hole for the seedling

Step 3: Place the seedling into the hole

Step 4: Re-insert the dibble bar a few inches from the seedling, and push it forward to close the soil around the seedling.

Step 5: Pack the soil around the seedling with your foot to ensure good soil contact.

Protect those seedlings

Deer will browse on the succulent young leaves and stems as the tree grows, and beavers love to chew the bark around young trees. Placing a weed mat around the seedling and sliding and securing a tree tube around the tree will protect the tree and actually promote growth since the tree tube holds moisture.

Where to Get Them

Even though many online nurseries carry Sawtooth Oaks and soft mast trees, it’s best to speak with your local Extension agent to determine which trees will grow best in your zone based on the rainfall, temperature, and soil type of your area. Edward Fort Nurseries in South Carolina have personnel that can guide you to the right soft mast trees for your area as well as planting and seedling care tips. Call 1-866-295-TREE for Edward Fort Nurseries. You can order wildlife trees through QDMA at 1-800-209-3537 or you can visit the National Wild Turkey Federation at www.nwtf.org, then, land management, then, trees. Finally, check with your local forestry commission for the availability of seedlings.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.



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Date Last Updated January, 2006