What’s so cool about March is that we have finally broken over the hump of winter and entered a time zone where there is enough light to finally get something “real” done after getting home from work. It’s a great time to get some exercise and chop some firewood and manage some habitat. With a chainsaw, you can fell, trim and clear trees to create early successional habitat that many wildlife species, like Whitetail Deer and Ruffed Grouse prefer.
Driving the back roads of Essex County I spot wild apple trees growing everywhere, but many are surrounded by pines, aspen and other fast growing trees which will eventually shade them out, causing a slow death by solar starvation! You can change all that with management.
Most hunters and photographers know that setting up near a wild apple tree increases the chance of getting a shot. Being in a woodlot that has openings with wild apples is heavenly during bow season. To keep those trees supplying the high energy pommels, orchard maintenance is required. Apple trees need lots of sunlight, like all fruits. Cutting the competing trees from around the apples allows more sunlight for photosynthesis and apple production, plus it decreases the competition for water and nutrients. Quality feed comes from quality plants.
To start, take a compass and note where south is and start clearing any trees in that direction. You will need to eliminate the trees that shade the apple. The taller the competing trees, the greater the south, east and west facing semi-circle out from the apple needs to be. You don’t need to cut as much from the north side because the influence from the sun is less. You do need to cut away any competition though. Use the fallen trees to control access points. (In spring, plant wild grape vines by the stumps and tops. The vines will grow over the length of the downed trees and into the dead tops. Grouse will be able to feed on the fruit of the vine, when the snows are deep).
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.