Planting Dead Sticks
We often recommend planting quail covey headquarters consisting of 150 native shrubs with seedling stock from our state nursery. Many landowners tell me they cannot believe we expect the “dead sticks” the nursery sent them to grow, but they planted them anyway. Those “dead sticks” are really alive, just in dormancy. They need to be planted properly to survive.
But planting them is just the first step. Without proper care they may never develop into a covey headquarters. With proper care, however, they can provide quail cover within five years. Here’s how to do it.
Kill the competition
Like a crop or a garden, shrub plantings do best when not choked out by competing grass and weeds. We recommend you take the following steps to ensure your shrubs grow after they are planted:
• Kill existing grass sod or weeds before planting your shrubs. Tillage or herbicides are recommended. I typically use glyphosate, especially for plants like tall fescue that are not easily controlled with tillage. Mowing is NOT a substitute for killing the competition!
• Use herbicides or tillage as needed to control weedy competition OR plant ladino clover to suppress weeds. A number of herbicides are labeled for weed control in tree and shrub plantings. Some are applied prior to weed growth to keep weeds from growing, while others are applied to growing weeds. Contact your local agri-service center for chemicals labeled for applying in tree and shrub plantings.
• Fertilizer is typically not needed unless the topsoil has been stripped away by construction activities.
Deter deer with weeds, but control grasses
If you have lots of deer, they may target and severely suppress new shrub growth for many years. You can avoid much of this damage by allowing the weeds to grow around your shrubs, making it harder for the deer to find them. However, you will need to control any sod-forming grasses with a herbicide that kills only grasses. Grasses seem to suppress newly planted shrubs more than most annual weeds. Grass herbicides that I have used include Volunteer, Fusilade and Poast. With each herbicide, you must follow label directions related to height of growth of the target grass species or your efforts and expensive herbicide may be in vain.
As with any herbicide you need to follow label directions. If you do not want to use herbicides, you will need to use tillage until the shrub canopy is shading out the weedy competition.
Avoid rabbit-infested brush piles
If you’ve got lots of brush piles, you’ve also got lots of rabbits, and they’ll treat newly planted shrubs like a food plot. Plant your shrubs away from brushpiles, or …
Seed shrubs in existing brushpiles
Throw a handful or two of blackberry or elderberry fruit into an existing brushpile. Seed to soil contact is important, so you may have to kill competing grasses and weeds before tossing in the fruit.
Many species of wildlife depend on native shrubs during their life cycle. So go ahead and plant those “dead sticks,” but be sure to follow through with killing the competition. Treat shrub plantings like you would a crop or garden.