Cooking Across Turkey Country Cookbook
White Oak tree
Photo by J. Wayne Fears

Select white oaks that have very little competition from other trees growing near them and are known producers of heavy acorn crops.

Oaks and fertilizer

Many wildlife research agencies say that carefully selected oaks and other mast producing trees can be helped nutritionally by following a fertilization program.

After a period of time, if other conditions are favorable, the tree will yield a higher amount of mast. Developing a fertilization plan is a fun spring activity and, though it takes lots of time, when the feast trees entice a buck, you can gain satisfaction in knowing you teamed with Mother Nature to have a successful hunt.

Selecting trees to fertilize

Selection is the key word in fertilizing oaks for deer and turkeys. I’ve seen many hunters pick a large oak and fertilize it with little or no result. There’s a lot more to it than just choosing a tree. You must get to know the kind of oak tree with which you are working.

White oaks are my favorite oak to fertilize because they are found throughout much of the United States and their acorns are a favorite food for deer. Many white oaks and other oaks do not produce mast every year. Some oaks don’t have a record of ever producing acorns. Individual white oak trees tend to have a very good or a very poor seed crop and are somewhat consistent in seed production from year to year. Under ideal conditions, white oak acorns mature in one year and red oak acorns require two years.

Trees growing free of competition, in fertile soil with ample sunlight have been known to produce acorns at 25 years old. Other trees growing in thick forest conditions with lots of competition, in poor soils and poor sunlight, may not produce acorns until they are at least 50 years old. Some may never produce acorns.

So, picking a white oak tree and fertilizing it is not the answer. You must invest time in selecting white oak trees you know produce acorns and then work to make them more productive. Sometimes this takes a couple of years or more. Once you find a good seed producer, mark the tree so you can find it again.

Even the best acorn producing white oaks can have a bad year. White oaks and many other oaks flower when the leaves begin to emerge at the first of spring. Dry winds or freezing temperatures can be detrimental to flower development and a year’s acorn crop is lost. Lack of pollination or weevil damage also can result in acorn crop failure.

Dripline Illustration

Apply fertilizer from the edge of the dripline to within three feet of the tree trunk.

Reduce competition

To be outstanding seed producers, oaks must be as free from competition as possible. Tall oaks with crowns reaching above the upper level of the forest canopy receive a lot of sunlight and are usually among the best acorn producers. Oaks in the open produce even better.

If the oak tree you have selected to fertilize has other trees crowding it, eliminate as many as is practical. This is especially true with those that touch the crown. The more open the tree, the better.

How to fertilize

Fertilizing a selected oak is more than a matter of scattering a handful of granules at its base. There are two methods of fertilizing your selected oaks. The first is to apply 13-13-13 granular fertilizer in early spring. Apply it at a rate of 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet of crown. A mature white oak with a crown measuring 80-by-80 feet, or 6,400 square feet, requires about 13 pounds of fertilizer.

Apply the fertilizer from the edge of the drip line — the outer edge of the furthest tips of branches from the tree trunk — to within three feet of the trunk of the tree. If there are a lot of leaves and limbs on the ground in the fertilized area, rake the debris away so the fertilizer contacts the soil quickly.

A second method is to purchase a box of fruit or shade tree fertilizer spikes at a nursery or garden supply store and follow the instructions on the box. They are more expensive than granular fertilizer, but are easy to carry into the woods.

Results take time

While fertilizing is a good way to increase the acorn production of a selected oak, do not expect to see bushels of acorns appear on the tree the next fall. With all things going right, you can generally see a significant increase in the acorn crop during the third year. — J. Wayne Fears