I received the question below from fellow hunter:
“I was recently helping with a prescribed fire in central Iowa when we ran into an area of saplings encroaching an old grass land. I see you have recommended both cutting at ground level and spraying, as well as hack and squirt, then burn. The area is 15 acres of old CRP but over half is overrun with 10-15’ tall growth. We hope to convert most back to native grass and a few acres for food plots. Is there a reason for one method more than the other? Is there ever a time to mechanically cut all the brush at ground level and maintain with annual burns?”
I gave him the following advice:
It sounds like you are doing some nice habitat improvement work. If the area where saplings have encroached is to remain in native grass/cover then there is no need to expend the resources to cut the trees assuming they aren’t cedars. The easiest way to control eastern red cedar is to cut them below the bottom limb.
Hardwood species almost always sprout after being cut. They can be cut and then an herbicide applied to the stump within five minutes of felling the tree. This requires lots of time and resources. I prefer to use the hack and squirt method. This is a much safer, faster, and less expensive method of controlling hardwoods and allows the sun’s energy to reach the soil.
There’s some excellent information at this link about which herbicide to use and time of year for different species. Please note that the best results when using the hack and squirt technique almost always occurs when it’s used during the late summer. I don’t recommend using this technique when sap is rising.
A regular rotation of prescribed fire, especially during the growing season, will keep hardwood seedlings from becoming established.