There’s a certain sharp scent to autumn – a mix of turning leaves, ripened fruit and matured crops, but don’t mothball the tractor yet. Fall is a great time to prep for upcoming seedings and to improve existing vegetation. Late summer/early fall seeded clovers are growing actively now, poised to provide cover fast come spring green-up and build soil nitrogen. If soil tests have you concerned about phosphorus or potassium levels, top-dress legume plots with those fertilizers ahead of late rains to get them in the ground this fall. Incorporate lime to adjust spring soil pH, along with other soil amendments. Fall is normally dry, so for wet fields difficult to seed in spring, tillage now will help fields dry quicker once winter has passed. The downside is no over-winter cover or food to help carry wildlife. Small plots can be worked up with ATV-adapted tillage equipment. Any area to be spring planted can be fall tilled to kill competitive vegetation and prepare a seed bed.
Fall is also an effective time for chemical weed and grass control. By October, killing frosts will put your natives in dormancy. If your natives are brown to ground level, check for invading cool season grasses still actively growing, like fescue and brome, and spray them out with a contact herbicide. By late fall, planting sites you’ve prepped with tillage or chemicals can be dormant seeded to native grasses and forbs, or wait several weeks for a frost seeding broadcast over winter snows.
Fall food-plotting might include seeding cereal grains like winter wheat or rye, mostly for deer browse (and maybe dove fields in a year). While time’s run out in the north, late summer and fall is for brassica planting in middle and southern latitudes – turnips, radishes, kale and more. Broadcast seed from your ATV onto a prepared field and then culti-pack for great fall greens and winter tubers for deer.
Plum thicket update
Is your plum thicket overrun with grass competition? Once shrubs have dropped leaves, spray actively growing cool season grasses with glyphosate to eliminate that competition from your woody draws and fence lines. This lets shrubby areas thicken, improving overhead cover for all small game, and expands covey headquarters for your quail. If you’ve got spring plantings of wild plum, blackberry or ninebark scheduled, fall is a great time to kill back those sites. Hit them again next spring before putting in shrubs.
Story by Jim Wooley, Pheasants Forever Senior Wildlife Biologist