Wildlife friendly fencerows

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Some landowners will no doubt frown when I say that a grown-up fencerow is desirable, and I’ll admit I’ve done my share of cleaning them up. But from a wildlife perspective a brushy fencerow can do some of positive things.

Probably the primary function fencerows perform is escape cover, which allows birds and animals to venture out into open fields and pastures. Birds are highly beneficial in controlling insect pests, and predators help keep mice, moles, and groundhogs in check. Fencerows also provide excellent habitat for nesting birds. There are usually 10 times more nests in a fencerow site than in an equal area of natural forest. The reason may be that birds like to nest where they can protect their territory, and the narrow strip of vegetation fencerows provide means intruders can only come from two directions rather than all around. Fencerows also act as a corridor for squirrel, deer, and other animals to safely move from one woodland area to another.

If you want to manage your fencerows for wildlife, here are some recommendations:

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Keep tall trees thinned out to promote more shrubby growth. This will attract cardinals, catbirds, thrashers, and other small birds.

Don’t cut snags (standing dead trees), as these are used by woodpeckers and other cavity nesting animals. Built and put out nest boxes to encourage more cavity nesting birds and wildlife.

Fencerows should be at least 10 feet wide. An unmown strip of ground will produce herbaceous weedy cover in the first year and small shrubs in two to six years, and nature will quickly create vegetative cover.

Plat diversity is important. You can encourage variety by selective mowing and tree cutting along the fencerow. Leave and encourage food producing trees like persimmon, cherry, and serviceberry.

Keep an eye out for exotic invasive plants and don’t let any become established in the fencerow. These guys can spread quickly and mess up native plant populations. A good website to learn more about invasive plants is Invasive.org. There is an identification manual that is useful. I say again, don’t let invasives get a toehold.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.