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Planting Dead Sticks

Mar 25, 2011

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.


planting a seedling
Planting a Seedling
A family plants spruce in their backyard. Planting trees can make important contributions to forest sustainability.


Hi Bill, Thanks for the great info... just when I think I have most of this figured out, you give me some new insight on something that I thought I already had all figured out. I have planted 2,000 shrubs each year for the past 2 years, and am well on my way to getting another 2,000 in the ground this year. My goal is to establish 72 covey headquarters on my 100 acres of upland habitat. From past experiences, I have approached this project with the less vegetation competition, is the best philosophy. My herbicide regiment did not quite get me there last year. For some reason, my pre-emergent broad leaf application failed. At the height of the growing season, all of my plantings where heavily dominated with Weeds. I had sprayed with 12oz./acre with volunteer and it did a good job of taking care of any grass competition. But I was really worried that I had lost a lot of shrubs due to broad leaf competition and over shading. I fact I have been desperately searching for a new post emergent broad leaf herbicide to use this year. But for the last couple of weeks as I have been conducting "survival rate" surveys of my previous plantings, I have been somewhat amazed at how many shrubs have survived last years broad leaf competition. Now in this article, you point out that a little bit of broad leaf competition may actually assist by lessening deer browse damage.... HHHmmm.. never ever thought of that one! Just maybe that is why my survival rates where up so good last year. What a great idea! Think I will just forget about the time, cost and labor involved with a post emergent broad leaf application this year and not worry about that aspect of competition. You just gave me a new twist on this project. This new info will greatly put my mind to ease... Think I will just relax sit back watch the weeds grow and say Bring 'em on!... Thank you very much.

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