Many of the better hunting properties available today were once farms. Often the area around the old farmstead is grown up, almost a jungle, and the fields and old pastures are in planted pine or CRP grass. Unless the old farm house is good enough for a camp, the farmstead is ignored, sometimes for years, until the landowner wants to spend the money to have the area cleaned up and planted in something that produces cash.
Old, overgrown, farmsteads can be a paradise for mature bucks. First, if it is grown up in weeds and brush, with old dilapidated buildings around, it offers a lot of cover and is often a favorite bedding area. This is especially true if the area is ignored by humans. Second, if there was a smokehouse or outdoor toilet at the farm chances are good there is a saltlick at that site. And third, perhaps most important, many of these old farms had an orchard that contained a few apples. Most of the time these old apple trees are still alive and may be bearing a little fruit each year. If so, they can be improved to produce more fruit and if they are not bearing fruit, with a little work they can be brought into production. Do this and you have a food plot smack in the middle of a prime buck area.
Here is a three-step way you can manage abandoned apple, pear or crabapple trees to bring them back into production for deer food.
Step -one – Tree selection
Examine each of the apple trees around the old farmstead, look for an old orchard or along old fencerows. You may find apple trees in other parts of the old yard as they were often grown in several areas of many farmsteads. Select and mark with surveyors tape the healthiest trees. Remember apples require cross-pollination to bear fruit, so there must be an apple tree of another variety nearby. Also, they will cross-pollinate with a crabapple. Leave as many apple trees as you can for this reason.
Apple trees require lots of direct sunlight to produce fruit and they don’t do well when there is a lot of competition from shrubs and trees growing under and near the tree. Remove all shrubs and trees that are growing next to, under or over shadowing the apple trees.
Step-two – Pruning, year one
Apples are produced on young fruiting wood and old unmanaged apple trees have lots of limbs and branches that are not fruit producers. Pruning will be necessary to reduce the amount of old wood, encourage the growth of new wood and get sunlight into the tree. It’s well worth the effort as apple trees that have been managed for four or five years will produce three to four times the fruit of an unmanaged tree.
Always, plan on doing your annual pruning in the early spring, after the last frost, but before the tree blooms.
Start your pruning by removing all the dead branches and limbs from the tree. Using a pruning saw or pruning shears cut the dead limbs as close to the living tissue as possible.
Next, in the tree’s canopy remove no more than one-third of the limbs to reduce the tree’s height and to let more sunlight into the tree.
Fertilize the tree with 3 pounds of 6-24-24 fertilizer in a band spread around the drip line. Do this each year.
Step-three – Annual pruning
Open up thick clusters of small branches by pruning out those which are rubbing against one another, growing into one another, or have died. Never remove more than one-third of the live growth of the tree.
This old apple tree rarely bears fruit but with some pruning it could become a food plot.
After two years of careful pruning and fertilization it was brought back into production.
Apples on the ground can become a deer magnet.