NORMAN — Recently I’ve received a number of calls about planting trees and shrubs for wildlife and other conservation purposes such as erosion or wind breaks. Many are inquiring about replacing dead trees and shrubs caused by fire or drought, while others are planting new shelterbelts. Landowners have planted trees and shrubs in Oklahoma for almost 80 years.
Responding to the devastating drought of the 1930s, President Roosevelt instructed the U.S. Forest Service to initiate the Prairie States Forestry Project. In fact, the first planting was completed near Mangum, Oklahoma on March 18th, 1935 to prevent soil erosion, produce wood products, and develop wildlife habitat. By 1942, 145 million trees were planted in 18,600 miles of shelterbelts from Canada to Texas and many of these can still be seen today.
Coupled with wind and water erosion prevention, interest in managing deer and other wildlife species has increased the desire to plant trees and shrubs in recent years.
Along with deer herd management (passing young bucks and taking does instead), habitat management is also important. Tree and shrub planting is an integral part of habitat improvement and highly beneficial to both deer and upland game birds.
Trees and shrubs provide food in the form of browse, fruit and nut production, thermal, escape and protective cover and provide nesting opportunities. Trees and shrubs are aesthetically pleasing, provide shade, improve property value and prevent wind and water erosion. Planting bare-root seedlings is recommended from both a cost and establishment standpoint.
Young trees establish and adapt better than older, potted trees. In addition, utilizing polymer water-storing crystals and powders may help conserve moisture during dry summers.
Choosing the right species and planting site are also important steps in achieving a successful planting. Oddly enough, one of the most invasive species is also one of the most important to the success of many shelterbelts planted since the 1930s. The Eastern Redcedar is a resilient, prolific and highly-invasive juniper found throughout our state. It is heat and drought tolerant and makes a tough wind barrier. These are a few of the reasons it was desirable during the Dust Bowl. However, cedar is fire intolerant and with fire suppression, its population has exploded. Cedars use a tremendous amount of groundwater, reduce livestock production, cause cedar-apple-rust and present a catastrophic fire danger as Cleveland County residents witnessed during our most recent wildfire.
Therefore, redcedar is not recommended as the evergreen aspect of a shelterbelt planting. Rocky Mountain Juniper, a related look-alike, is less invasive and just as durable. Arizona Cypress and Arborvitae are other desirable alternatives to cedar and should be planted more throughout our state.
These species, like cedar, are fire sensitive, so caution should be taken when using prescribed fire. Mowing around these species may help prevent death by fire if you are planning to conduct a prescribed burn.
For those land managers looking for mast (fruit or nut) production I’ve developed a list of excellent varieties for our state. My favorite oak is the Chinkapin as it is drought tolerant and can handle tough sites. Also, it is a white oak and produces a sweet acorn wildlife relish. The Dwarf Chinkapin is a smaller version of the tough, standard-sized favorite that produces a shrubby screen and also has high acorn production potential.
Because members of the white oak family produce less tannins (bitter taste) than those in the red oak family, they are preferred by wildlife. Another durable and long-lived white oak is the Bur Oak. While bur oaks grow fairly slow, they have the potential to become enormous depending on the site and are one of the toughest trees available. In addition, a hybrid of the Bur, the Bur-Gambel, is receiving attention as an excellent wildlife tree in drought-prone states like Oklahoma.
If you are impatient, a great wildlife tree is the Sawtooth Oak. It has been considered by many to be one of the fastest growing oaks available and can produce acorns at an earlier age compared to other oaks.
Another popular oak for Oklahoma is the Shumard Oak. Shumards can handle our high pH and heavy clay soils as well or better than any others and produce nice fall color.
The Shumard also makes an outstanding shade tree for the homeowner but heavy acorn production can create a littler problem. For folks interested in smaller trees, soft mast (fruit) production or shrubs for wildlife, I have included these varieties and more on my list as well; Pear, Jujube, Black Chokecherry, Persimmon, Sand Plum, Crabapple, Nanking Cherry, Mexican Plum and Aromatic Sumac.
To view more species I recommend visit the OSU Cleveland County Extension website http://oces.okstate.edu/cleveland/agriculture/wildlife-management-1. Landowners interested in planting conservation seedlings may visit the Oklahoma Forestry Nursery website at http://www.forestry.ok.gov/order-seedlings. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension and Oklahoma State University offer their programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, or status as a veteran and are Equal Opportunity Employers.