|Alachua, FL (February 22, 2023) – The general objective of food plots and mast orchards is to attract deer and other wildlife by improving the land. Within that, responsible land stewards often have more specific goals. They understand the importance of sustainability and providing year-round nutrition. The more you provide, the more wildlife your land will attract; the more variety, the longer they’ll stay. The result is more and healthier wildlife spending more time on the ground.
Food plots are one way to enhance the landscape, but they require a lot of work and have a limited window of availability. Mast orchards offer a great alternative or supplement that can significantly widen the attraction window. Once established, they continue to do so for the enjoyment of current and future generations of land stewards and the wildlife they sustain.
Providing a variety of hard and soft mast further expands that window of attractiveness. It’s what the folks at Chestnut Hill Outdoors call Dirt Wisdom, and they offer a range of trees and shrubs selected to do just that.
Early summer is the season of growth for both plants and wildlife. Young wildlife is abundant, growing rapidly, and needs nutritious food. Early soft mast producers like plums and mulberries help them meet these needs.
Mid to late summer is an often unrecognized period of nutritional stress. Nutritional demands increase for rapidly-growing young wildlife and the adults that support them, but herbaceous vegetation is maturing and dying. Summer fruits like blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and grapes help wildlife bridge this nutritional gap before the next one arrives.
As the seasons change, so do nutritional requirements for wildlife. It’s time to start fattening up for winter. That task becomes more manageable and can begin sooner with late summer and early fall mast species like persimmons, apples, and pears. They help nourish and sustain more wildlife until crucial hard mast species like chestnuts and acorns start dropping.
Hard mast is the most popular among land stewards and the wildlife they support; the same dirt wisdom applies here, too. The more variety you plant, the more effective your efforts will be.
Planting different varieties not only expands the availability of nutritious food over a longer period; it also allows you to use more of your land. For example, Shumard oaks grow best in moist, well-drained soils. In contrast, Nuttall oaks are much more tolerant of poorly drained soils, even in areas that experience intermittent flooding during the dormant season. They also drop their acorns later in the fall than many other oak species, sometimes as late as December and even January. Swamp white oaks also like to put down roots in moist soil and drop their acorns earlier in the fall. The swamp chestnut oak thrives in slightly drier soils, making them a good option for the edge between drier arable ground and bottomland that’s too wet to till and plant. Sawtooth oaks are a favorite among mast orchardists as they mature quickly and produce prolific crops as early as September.
Last but by no means least is the Dunstan Chestnut. This variety, developed by Chestnut Hill Outdoors, provides a nutritionally superior and abundant crop of large nuts that contain four times the carbohydrates, 2.5 times the protein, and only a fraction of the fat of a white oak acorn. Because they lack tannins, chestnuts are also sweeter and more attractive to wildlife.
Planting mast orchards are a great way to improve the landscape now and in the future. Applying dirt wisdom by offering a variety of soft and hard mast increases available wildlife nutrition over a long period, so your land can support healthier animals.