Gardeners know that in order to win blue ribbons at the county fair for their tomatoes they are going to have to fertilize the plants weeks before.  What many hunters do not know is that fertilizer also helps grow award-winning oaks.  Alright, maybe you will not get an actual award, but the way whitetails and turkeys respond to your healthy oaks should be award enough.

As much as we hunters would like to throw some fertilizer under an oak, and a few weeks later have it rain acorns will cause many hunters to be disappointed.  The first or even the second fall after you begin fertilizing will not produce exceptional amounts of acorns.  It is usually the third fall before hunters start seeing results from their hard work.  But even on the third fall, things can go wrong, and you will have very little, if any acorns.

Do not expect miracles if all you do is go out to the woods, find an oak tree and begin to fertilize it.  You will more than likely be disappointed.  Do not get me wrong though.  There is the slim chance that you will see positive results.  However, there are steps you can take that will help you choose the best trees to fertilize and see the maximum results.  Notice I wrote trees, not tree.  By fertilizing several trees, you will not “ruin” one tree and cause the deer to become nocturnal by hunting it too often.  Also, if one or more trees do not produce mast, hopefully other trees that you have fertilized will.

When deciding what trees to fertilize, my first choice is white oaks, followed by red oaks.  White oaks are preferred by whitetails because they not as bitter taste as reds.  However, if white oaks are not available, whitetails will have no qualms eating acorns from red oaks.

In order to have good results with your fertilizing regime, choose trees that you know already are able to produce a good acorn crop.  Keep in mind that not all oaks have a good crop from one year to the next.  In fact, some years might be poor every year for a particular tree.  Other oaks will have a great crop almost every fall.  Still other oak trees never produce an acorn.

Remember that once you start fertilizing oaks it will probably not be until the third autumn after you begin before you start seeing noticeable results.  In this time frame it is possible, even likely, to forget the exact locale of the trees you are feeding.  Take detailed notes of where the trees are, mark them with orange flagging tape and if you have one, enter the location into a GPS.  This should all but stop you from losing the trees.  Not only will marking the trees help you find them when it is time to apply fertilizer, but it will also help you find the trees on opening day.

Finding the best oaks could be as simple as taking a look at the area you hunt from a distance.  It will not be hard to pick out the tallest oaks on the property.  These big, tall oaks that stand higher than everything else in the forest will receive the most sunlight, therefore, allowing them to produce a lot of mast, as much as 20,000 acorns.  Oak trees do not have to be in the woods to work as a feeding station for deer.  For example, many cattle pastures have oaks growing by their selves.  Because of their solitude from other trees, they have the potential to produce an abundance of acorns.

Another way to find oaks that are producing acorns is to pick up the 22-caliber rifle or a 410 shotgun and go on an early morning or late evening squirrel hunt.  You can bet your favorite hat that the squirrels know where the best oaks are.  Not only will you be able to find acorn producing oaks, but also the opportunity to get some great table fare.  With squirrel seasons normally opening weeks, sometimes months before deer season, this is a great cure for the hunting blues.

Fertilizing trees is an actually a simple task once you have decided what trees to fertilize.  I recommend using a granular fertilizer of 13-13-13 in the spring.  Another method is using fertilizer spikes made especially for fruit or shade trees.  They can be bought at almost any nursery.  Follow the directions on the package.  Spikes are more expensive, but easier to work with than granular fertilizer.

If using granular fertilizer, use two pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of crown.  Say, the tree you are fertilizing has a crown of 90 x 90 feet, which is 8,100 square feet; the tree will need about 16 pounds of fertilizer.  For best results, apply the fertilizer at the tree’s drip line to within five feet of the tree’s trunk.  The drip line is the outer edge of the tree’s limbs.  If the area has a lot of leaves and other types of debris on the ground, rake it away before applying the fertilizer.  For even spreading, use a hand spreader to apply the fertilizer.

As I have mentioned earlier, you will not see results overnight.  Typically, it takes till the third crop before you see an increase in acorn production.  And, depending on a number of things like freezing temperatures and winds during the flowering stage early in the spring could prevent an acorn crop for that year.  Or, maybe, the trees just did not produce mast for that year.  Hopefully, you have fertilized enough trees so if a couple goes bad you have standbys.  Once you start seeing trees producing a large number of nuts, you will have many possible hunt locations, as long as everything else goes as planned.  All of the possible stand sites are great for keeping deer from pattering you and eventually becoming nocturnal.

Up until now I have only discussed about white oaks attracting white-tailed deer.  It is no secret that deer love white oaks, but so does other wildlife, especially squirrels and wild turkeys that eat the fruit that a white oak tree produces.

Also, all I have talked about is the effects of what fertilizer has on oak trees.  The same techniques I have described for fertilizing the white oak will also work for other mast trees, both hard and soft.  These trees are the red oak, sawtooth oak, Chinese chestnut, persimmon, apple, and crabapple and pear trees.  You don’t have to have a green thumb to make a difference in what is available for wildlife to eat.  All that is required is patience and the desire to attract deer to where you desire.

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Jason Houser
Jason Houser is an avid traditional bowhunter from Central Illinois who killed his first deer when he was nine years old. A full-time freelance writer since 2008, he has written for numerous national hunting magazines. Jason has hunted big game in 12 states with his bow, but his love will always be white-tailed deer and turkeys. He considers himself lucky to have a job he loves and a family who shares his passion for the outdoors. Jason writes full time and is on the pro staff of two archery companies; in his free time, he fishes and traps as much as possible.