Deer Candy: The Sawtooth Oak
An Auburn University Wildlife Sciences professor once said that a deer would get down on its knees and walk that way from Washington to Tennessee just for one acorn from the sawtooth oak. He may have been right.
The sawtooth oak gets its name from the serrated edges of its leaves. It’s said to have been imported from Asia in the 1920s as merely a decorative tree though its wide-ranging benefit was discovered shortly thereafter. Because of its ability to quickly establish a root system and with a fairly quick maturation period, landowners and deer managers began planting sawtooth oaks as a crop specifically targeting wildlife.
“Deer managers interested in planting food lots will like the sawtooth oak’s ability to produce acorns at an early age, often as early as the sixth year after being planted as a bare-root seedling,” wrote J. Wayne Fears, a wildlife biologist and outdoor writer. “Some researchers have reported well-managed trees bearing acorns as early as the fourth year, although I personally have never seen any that produced that quickly.”
Well-managed trees will put out acorns every year once they start producing. In fact, some sawtooths in the 15-year age range have been known to produce a half ton of acres or more each season.
“Considering that there are 40 to 80 acorns per pound, that’s a lot of fall and winter food for deer and other wildlife” said Fears.
Like most trees, sawtooth oaks need to be planted in the fall, when they are dormant. This means you should go ahead and order them in late summer so you can be fully prepared – location, fertilizer, proper tools – to plant when they arrive. Your local biologist or county extension agent can help you with all of those aspects plus the ordering. A well-balanced fertilizer, such as 13-13-13, is optimal for seedlings at about a pound per tree. Amounts will increase with the tree’s age.
Sawtooths need plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil. A lack of sun will stunt growth, never allowing the tree to bear fruit. So, planting in a wide-open field or clearing in the woods to allow maximum sunlight will result in a better yearly output. In an open field, plant the seedlings far enough apart so that a tractor can easily cut around them. In the battle between sawtooth saplings and weeds, the sapling loses almost every time. Keep the immediate area shorn of weeds and suffocating grasses. Tie a piece of brightly colored tape around the tree to keep from mowing or bush hogging over it.
Several landowners have reported finding sawtooths on their property that they never thought made it through the first year. This goes to show that while proper maintenance is important to the long-term health of the tree, sometimes they can survive despite inadvertent neglect. However, let’s assume we’re going to nurture every tree in the best possible way. After you’ve planted and fertilized the seedling and used tape to mark its location, there are other factors that weigh on the health of the tree. Deer, for one, can be hard on the young saplings. Bucks have a tendency to rub the soft wood and all deer will nip the tender leaves. Simply use plastic tubing to wrap around the trunk and secure it with zip ties. These can be easily removed over time as the trees begin to mature to the point that they are less affected by the elements.
It’s also important to fertilize the younger trees at least once a year in the spring. Fertilizer spikes are about the easiest and most convenient method. You can simply drive a hole into the ground with a shovel or spade just at the drip line, drop in the spike and tamp the earth back down with your foot. An alternative is spreading fertilizer around the tree. Either method, when done properly, will ensure the health of the sawtooth oak.
If you’re looking for ways to maximize conservation efforts on your property, start with planting sawtooth oaks. While a whitetail deer may not literally crawl the length of the country for an acorn, they will be waiting beneath the trees when acorns start dropping in mid September. Use what window you have during the early bow season to take advantage of deer flocking to the acorn of the sawtooth oak tree.