The Fruits of Your Labor

Common Sense Strategies for Soft Mast
By Marlene Odahlen-Hinz

Several years ago my husband and I planted several crab apple trees on our hunting property. They did fine but not great, so we decided to talk with an expert on how to better provide an additional low-cost, low-maintenance food source for our deer.

We sat down with John Bailey, of Bailey’s Wholesale Nursery, and Terry Schwartz, Tree Specialist, to get suggestions and advice on what the right combination of fruit trees would be to thrive in our area and help to attract and
hold wildlife on our property. Bailey told us to bring an aerial photo of our hunting property which was not a problem since we use this type of map when we’re scouting and to mark our tree stands locations. Because Bailey and
Schwartz are both avid bowhunters the maps aided them in determining where the optimum spots were for maximum  sunshine, drainage and deer travel patterns, and where the trees would eventually be planted.

My goal was simple—to plant inexpensive, fast-maturing trees that required little or no tending. I called it my “crock pot strategy”—fix it and forget it. We do not have the heavy equipment resources that many rural landowners have so we must rely on a sturdy shovel and a strong back when making improvements to our property.

We are located in “Zone 4” so several varieties of fruit trees that would thrive on our northwestern Wisconsin property were suggested. Since we can experience some severe winters it was important that those chosen were cold
hardy. It was also recommended that we should consider trees whose fruit would ripen early as well as some that would ripen later in the season, thereby keeping the wildlife coming back to those areas. Self-pollinating and disease resistance would also be factors in the selection of trees I wanted to introduce as an additional food source the deer, turkey and song birds on our property.

My goal was not to create an orchard, only to offer an additional food source destination for the deer to complement the food plots we already had cultivated. I wanted to place two to four trees along major travel routes knowing that I could then easily add more trees each year to expand this permanent “oasis.” There are many varieties of fruit trees to choose from that would have been equally suitable, but we selected the following.

Dolgo Crabapple
The first variety of fruit tree discussed was the dolgo crabapple. Because this variety of crabapple originated in Siberia it is extremely hardy in Zone 4. I learned if I plant a 6 foot tree it will generally produce fruit in one to two years. Since the dolgo is a late bloomer I knew I didn’t have to worry too much about those occasional late spring frosts. The fact that it can also hang on to its fruit until November or December made it an attractive addition to help with holding wildlife longer into the hunting season. With sufficient sunlight and normal moisture the dolgo can live from 50 to 70 years. It is resistant to many diseases making it a number one choice for me.