Hardwood trees

Oaks, maples, among others

We all know that deer eat acorns. Most of us have spent vast amounts of money and time planting, protecting, feeding and weeding mast producing trees. I know I sure have (and continue to do so). And unfortunately few of us will live to see or enjoy the fruits of our labor. Many species of oak trees take 20 years before nut production begins, and often much longer before any substantial quantity is produced. But we labor and toil to plant the finest specimens knowing that we will never personally benefit.

One spring while spraying gly around some of my plantings and fertilizing along the way I came to one of my prized white oaks (we have very few white oaks on this property). The entire top of the 5’ tall 3yr old seedling had been eaten back to woody stemmy trunk. A deer had basically topped the lush green growth of the tree. Don’t worry the tree was ok, it resprouted in no time.

Later that summer I found myself cleaning out a new food plot, which is always fun (not). The drill went something like this… bushog, harrow, walk the plot picking/pulling out roots, harrow again, walk plot pickup sticks/roots…. repeat… As I’m dying in the hot thick south Georgia summer air I look over at the edge of the plowed area and there is a little scrub oak tree, about waist high, that was browsed in the same way my prized white oak was, only more so. This tree had apparently been browsed over and over again, as it sprouted new lush growth the deer ate it, then it re-sprouted and they ate it again… As I stand there holding a root/trunk of a dead scrub oak that I just pulled from the ground, thinking it had to be the brother or cousin of the heavily browsed pin oak 10’ away from it and i thought to myself… there has to be a better way…

Here I was killing a perfectly healthy, actively growing perennial plant, that was already providing food that the deer obviously preferred, to plant a short lived, expensive seed, annual plant that they also preferred. All the while spending money and back breaking effort and time to do it. In that moment it seemed kinda futile. I was working/sweating my ass off and it didn’t really feel like I was providing the deer anything they didn’t already have…. It felt like I was going backwards…. Uphill in the sand…. And paying for it… It just didn’t feel right.

One thing the observations above tell us is that oaks are actually quite desired browse. The deer actually seek them out to eat. Ask any land manager if he plants his oak trees without tubes. The answer is a resounding “Hell no! What are you stupid?”

The second thing the above observations tell us is that oaks are also highly resistant to browse. Here is a great test to show you how resistant they are. You can do this, I tried it and was quite shocked. Grow an oak tree from an acorn. Then in feb of each year cut the trunk off 1” above the soil. Every month or so during growing season just chop it down to nothing. You will be shocked at what happens. It resprouts… and resprouts…. And resprouts… again and again…. Each time the plant is a little older, the roots are a little deeper, it is a little
More drought tolerant, the growth is a little larger…etc.

The bottom line is that if you have a vigorously growing oak tree it’s almost impossible to kill it. Heck you can let it grow a couple years and then hit it with a bushog and the cycle starts right over again. Lush green growth and lots of it. The more the deer eat it the more it sprouts.