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Creating Forest Wildlife Habitat


Wildlife have basic requirements for survival that you should keep in mind when developing your habitat: food, water, cover and space. Every species of wildlife has its own requirements, these often vary with age and season. When these requirements are in good supply, they contribute to the well being of wildlife. If any habitat requirements are in short supply, it limits the number and distribution of wildlife and is called a limiting factor.
Food: Each wildlife species eats specific foods, regardless of other foods that may be available. In addition, some plants have more nutritional values than others and this may vary according to the time of year. For this reason, both the quantity and the quality of food are important.
Cover: Cover is needed to protect wildlife while sleeping, playing, nesting and traveling. Cover can take many forms, such as vegetation, burrows, rocks, or other natural features.
Water: Wildlife need water. Sources of water are snow, dew and succulent vegetation.
Space: Wildlife need space if they are to survive and thrive. Overcrowding leads to sever competition for all the habitat requirements essential to life. For this reason, only a specific number of animals can live in a given area.
Arrangement: The arrangement of food, cover and water in an area determines wildlife numbers and their distribution. The best arrangement is when these habitat requirements occur in combination of small blocks that are close together.
Benefits Obtained From Wildlife Plantings 
The pure enjoyment of having an abundance of wildlife on your land is one big reason for wildlife cover plantings. Not as well known perhaps, are the benefits gained by the landowner who encourages the presence of wildlife on his/her property. When a sod and shrub fence row are compared on a per mile basis, the following are found:

Beneficial Beetles

Crop Damaging Insects Nesting Birds Damaging Small Animals Beneficial Small Animals
Sod Fence Row 500 79,000 2 84 8
Shrub Fence Row 200,000 54,000 21 21 28
Shrub plantings offer very real wildlife and pest control benefits to an Iowa landowner.
Suggestions For Successful Wildlife Plantings
The following suggestions can help you maximize wildlife benefit on your farm:
  • Vary plant cover in fence rows, windbreaks and yard trees to create multi-layered habitat with a variety of food sources for wildlife.
  • Favor trees and shrubs with high wildlife value, especially seed, berry and fruit producing species. Plants which hold their mast, berries or fruit through the winter and early spring such as dogwood, chokecherry, and ninebark supply wildlife with a critical winter food source.
  • Conifers provide an important source of winter cover for wildlife. These should be incorporated in any wildlife planting scheme.
  • Restore previously disturbed sites by planting trees, shrubs or permanent native grasses and forbs.
  • Fence livestock out of designated woodlots and wildlife habitat areas to prevent trampling, soil compaction and overgrazing.
  • Establish living fences rows of trees, shrubs or vines around field boundaries to reduce soil erosion, retain soil moisture and provide food, cover and travel lanes for wildlife.
  • Leave standing food plots for wildlife and avoid fall plowing. 


Site Preparation

To grow and survive, tree seedlings must compete for limited soil nutrients, moisture and sunlight. The amount of site preparation needed depends on the amount of weed competition present. Remove all perennial weed competition the summer or fall before planting. This can be accomplished either mechanically or chemically. A band treatment is recommended on sloping or highly erodible land. For more specific information go to our weed control brochure.


Planting Season

Planting seedlings at the proper time of the year will help guarantee a successful wildlife planting. It is best to plant hardwood tree and shrub seedlings either in the late fall or early spring. Depending on the weather, tree planting can be extended in the spring if adequate soil moisture is available. For more information on planting go to our tree planting page.


Seedling Care

The seedlings you receive with your wildlife packet have been given the best possible care in the nursery in order to provide you with vigorous and healthy seedlings. How you handle the seedlings when receive them can have a major impact on their survival and growth. Tips to remember are:

  • Provide adequate moisture to the seedling
  • Store seedlings in a cool dark area out of direct sunlight or in a cooler
  • Plant seedlings as soon as possible, but no later than on week after arrival (unless you have a cooler and can keep them at 34 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Avoid exposing root systems to direct sunlight and wind during the planting operation
  • Carry seedling in a bucket with water, or a tree planting bag when hand planting or in the seedling box (1/2 to 3/4 full of water) of your tree planting machine
  • Handle seedlings carefully to avoid damaging the bud or stem


Planting Techniques

Planting Machine: Attaches to tractor with a 3-point hitch. Average planting rate is 500-700 seedlings per hour. All tree planting machines are not adequate for planting hardwood trees and shrubs. Use a machine that can open a planting furrow 10-12 inches deep when planting hardwoods (especially oak and walnut).

Planting Bar or Shovel: Average planting rate is 300-500 seedlings per day.



After Planting Care:

Weed control will be needed for the first three to five years after your seedlings have been planted. Keep in mind that tree and shrub plantings sod-forming grasses are more competitive than broad leaf weeds.


Where to Plant, What to Attract:

Practically every farm or home has a nonproductive area or a fence row that can be developed for wildlife. With the State Forest Nursery's Wildlife Planting Packets you can expect attach: pheasants, grouse, quail, wild turkey, various songbirds, squirrels, rabbits, deer and many other native Iowa wildlife species. In addition, wildlife plantings can improve the beauty of your land, help with pest control injurious crop insects and damaging small mammals, improve numbers of desirable wildlife species and increase your personal enjoyment of your land.


What to Order:

The State Forest Nursery provides specialty wildlife packets and a song bird packet. The wildlife packets are sufficient to plant about a 1/4 acre.



Contact your forester for more information on private woodland management and tree planting assistance. Your forester can help you in planning your wildlife habitat improvements and insure that they are successful.