How to Plant Trees for Habitat on a Budget

A few years ago I listened to Bill Winke describe how to establish a food plot for, “only $1000.” Meanwhile, I had roughly $1,000 total in my bank account. Over the last couple years I have planted 60 trees on our property while spending less than $200. Here are a few tips to plant trees effectively without breaking the bank.

Shotgun vs. Rifle Strategy

If you are trying to save money while still getting trees in the ground, you have two options: focus on a small number of mid-sized trees (rifle) or plant a large number of small trees (shotgun). Last fall I paid $100 for three four-foot pines and two oaks. Later in the fall I ordered 25 18’’ wild plum trees for $30 from the state nursery. By planting a smaller number of larger trees, I had the time to build cages, mulch and water. When I planted a large number of small  trees, the success for each tree is reduced. However, the greater number of overall trees may make up for that fact. A few trees will die from herbicide drift, a few from sun or deer, and hopefully a few make it. The foresters and land management experts I have talked to have recommended smaller trees, yet I feel tall grass can strangle their growth. Time will tell.

Which Tree to Plant

A good tip from my forester was to identify which trees already grow in the area and then plant several more of the same species. Different soil types and water accessibility will determine what thrives. Thus, if cottonwoods already flourish, another cottonwood will likely thrive as well. Your local forester can give you recommendations on what to plant and when. They will visit the property, have access to maps of soil types, and can provide useful suggestions. I also have had a Pheasants Forever rep come out, but they mostly focus on CRP and riparian strips.

Fall or Spring

Last fall I planted the trees after harvest was completed. Because crops were out I was able to use a tractor with a post hole digger on the back. Additionally, I could truck a tank of water out to dowse each seedling. The research I’ve done claims. it doesn’t matter whether you plant in the spring or the fall as far as survival rate. May can be hot and with crops in the ground you will have to carry a shovel and a bag of seedlings all the way across the field. Tree farms often have sales in the fall because they are trying to reduce their inventory for winter. Beware, these trees may have been in their pots for a long time, so check for brown leaves and roots. Lastly, if you wish to plant pines, the Iowa Nursery only sells them in the spring.

Bonus Tip

Building a ramp with the small shrubs on the outside, then pines in the middle, and taller oaks and maples on the inside, creates a barrier for your more valuable trees from herbicide drift and other elements.

I hope these tips help you out. I find planting trees to be incredibly rewarding. Providing habitat and putting something back into the areas from which I harvest game provides a feeling of balance and satisfaction.



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