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Time to Plant Native Shrubs

Mar 19, 2009

Spring is here! I've seen several woodcocks while out burning or fishing. Two weekends ago I flushed a woodcock while working at the farm. I almost stepped on the timberdoodle before the bird flushed from a thicket of short trees and native shrubs.

Like quail, woodcock need areas of low-growing shrubby and woody cover. At our farm we have improved existing shrub thickets, edge feathered, created downed tree structures and planted covey headquarters for bobwhites. I've also noticed songbirds, rabbits and even wild turkeys like woody cover for nesting or escape cover.

To provide more woody cover for bobwhites and other wildlife, consider planting covey headquarters on your farm. Spring is a great time to plant native shrubs. Like any habitat project, having a good plan is essential. When planting native shrubs for covey headquarters, there are four steps to remember: 1) Site Selection, 2) Site Preparation, 3) Planting, and 4) Maintenance.

Site Selection:

About 20 percent of a bobwhite's home range should be made up of low-growing woody cover and shrub thickets. That's 4 acres in a 20-acre field. Edge feathering is a great way to establish woody cover along the edges of fields, but doesn't help much for the rest of the field. Consider establishing covey headquarters in the middle of fields. Remember, quail rarely venture very far from shrubby cover. When planting covey headquarters in the middle of big grass fields, try to plant the shrub thicket next to food plots or close to fire lines. That way you won't burn up the shrubby planting when you burn.

Site Preparation:

Each covey headquarter should be at least 1,500 square feet and be free of any grass (warm- or cool-season). That means future covey headquarters in warm-season grass fields must be sprayed the previous summer and plots in cool-season grass fields should be sprayed in the fall. In other words, plan ahead!


March and April are the best months for planting native shrubs since there is adequate ground moisture. You can plant well into May if there's adequate soil moisture. I order my trees and shrubs from the George White State Tree Nursery in Licking. I prefer wild plum, gray and roughleaf dogwood, blackberry, elderberry, hazelnut, false indigo and aromatic sumac. I usually plant native shrubs on a 5-by-5-foot spacing and 75 seedlings per covey headquarter. Don't plant the shrubs to deep or too shallow. I've noticed that most landowners plant there shrubs too shallow, especially after they have planted a couple hundred.


After planting, consider spraying a pre-emergent herbicide around the shrubs to prevent future weed competition. I like to mark the covey headquarter location with a post or by dragging a tree on to of the planting. I don't care if the top of a shrub or two breaks off. I'm more worried about the roots growing the first couple years. The downed tree will provide some cover for quail until the shrubs become mature, which usually takes five to seven years.

During the growing season be sure to check the plot to see how the shrubs are doing. If there's a lot of weed competition consider spraying the plot with a selective herbicide that will control the invading weeds. You'll need to repeat this process for two or three years, or until the shrubs are well established.

Habitat is the Key!


Are any of the commonly available pre-emergent herbicides toxic to quail? Thanks.

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