Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 months, you probably are aware that someone canceled winter this year. Temperatures were incredibly mild and spring seems to be running a good 3 weeks early. While by all accounts this has been a terrific winter for whitetails, our early spring does have a potential down side.
Early spring leads to early blooming and early blooming means there could be more problems if there’s a late season freeze, which can wreak havoc on mast-producing crops. Pick up any Sunday newspaper and you will see that the apple growers are already nervous about a late freeze kill off.
In the Northeast, the last chance of a frost or overnight freeze generally comes sometime during the first week in May. Our apple trees generally flower a week or so later. The bees do their thing, the flowers are pollinated, and the apples are available all fall for deer.
This year, the mild winter and early spring may very well mean apple blossoms a full 3 earlier. This is fine if the mild weather holds but, as every fool and his dog knows, just when you think winter is over, it comes back with a vengeance.
Apple blossoms can generally withstand temps around freezing, but when they drop down into the mid-20’s, serious blossom damage is certain to occur.
And it’s not just the apples we worry about. The same holds true for all kinds of soft mast producing trees like persimmons, cherries, peaches and pears. For that matter, hard mast producers like oaks, hickory, walnut and beech could also be at risk. Many “brush” species like dogwood, and hawthorne can be damaged by late freezes as well. Deer simply love dogwood berries and hawthorne fruit. And don’t forget the bugs, bees and birds that are critical for pollinating flowers and fruit production. You don’t see many bees pollinating flowers during a spring snowstorm do you?
Acorns are generally a huge fall source of whitetail food. Acorn production is also vulnerable to severe weather conditions. You can check your acorn crop sometime in the summer by glassing the upper reaches oaks. When checking out the acorn crop, be sure to pay special attention to both white and red oak trees.
Red oaks are somewhat capable of “hedging” their acorn producing bet which makes them more reliable producers. Red oak acorns take 2 years to develop, so the flower is pollinated a full 2 seasons before it is dropped. This fall’s acorns were flowers last spring. This spring they will start to develop nuts. Nuts that were started as flowers last spring and will be less vulnerable to a freeze this year. That’s why red oaks are generally more reliable producers than white oaks, which produce and cycle annually and can be wiped out at the flower stage with a late freeze.
Beef up food plots**
Besides changing hunting locations, hunters (who manage land) can plant fall deer foods to give themselves a better chance. Food plotters may want to consider planting more acreage than usual to make up for the lack of mast production.
Fall food plotters who plant in August and September or even earlier can compensate for a poor mast crop by planting extra ground. Plant 3 ½ acres instead of 2. Most food plot forage blends are capable of producing a couple of tons of highly nutritious easily digested forage per year. An extra ton of food can make a real difference to a whitetail herd where each deer eats about 6 pounds of food each day. That’s 333 deer feeding days or 1,000 meals. Adding additional fertilizer should help increase tonnage as well.
Year-round food plotters who favor perennial blends can give their plots an additional application of fertilizer or better yet, use a slow release fertilizer. They should also be extra vigilant about weed control too, as weeds can rob valuable plants of much needed food and moisture. Periodic mowing when the plot reaches around 8 inches will increase production significantly.
If you are looking to produce more food for fall feeding (annuals) you need to choose proven heavy tonnage performers like purple top turnips or brassicas blends. “Tall-Tine Tubers” (turnips) or “Winter-Greens”(brassicas) from the Whitetail Institute are proven performers. “No-Plow” is also a proven tonnage producer. If you are planting late and looking for something to green up in a hurry and then stay green well into winter, try “Forage Oats Plus” from the same company. Annual blends planted late in the season can go a long way toward compensating for fall mast shortages.
You never know what the weather will bring, but you can know what the weather has wrought. So far it has brought a record breaking “non-winter” and all the goodness associated with it.
If all goes well, we’ll have a gentle spring, soft summer and bountiful fall. But, sooner or later, we’ll run out of good luck and conditions will change. If you do suffer a killing freeze this spring, keep a watchful eye on your mast-producing trees and shrubs and adjust accordingly.