Trees that produce mast are very important to white-tailed deer. Arguably, the most well-known mast producing tree species are the oaks. However, mast is the fruits and nuts of any woody plant, including vines, brush, and trees. In this article, we will discuss mast-producing trees other than oaks that are very palatable to white-tailed deer that you may consider establishing for tree plots.
Trees make great long-term food plots because they are low maintenance and can produce a large volume of food with very little input once established. Remember, sunlight is a must for most species of fruit tree and, of course, the correct tree species for your property will depend upon your latitude. Great species for tree plots include:
Apple — Apples can offer a mast which is a crisp and juicy food source. Apple seedlings 4 to 5-feet tall can produce fruit as early as the second year, but make sure to take necessary precautions to protect young apple trees. The Arkansas Black apple is a great apple species for mast production. The mast is small by apple standards, but Arkansas Black apple trees begin dropping fruit around mid- to late November.
Crabapple — Crabapples produce a great soft mast and serves as a prime food for white-tailed deer. A crabapple tree seedling that is 4 to 5-feet tall can also produce mast within its second year. The two best species of crabapple you can plant are the Transcendent and the Dolgo. The Transcendent is a 2-inch, red-cheeked yellow apple yielding very large crops in early fall. The Dolgo, which produces a 1 and 1/2-inch crimson fruit, also yields healthy crops in early fall.
Pear — Pears are a soft mast which white-tailed deer love. A 4 to 5-foot tall seedling can produce fruit as early as 1 to 3-years. Pears begin dropping fruit in early October and can continue into late November. Pears are long-lived and are really among the easiest fruit trees to grow. In addition, pears are adapted to most soils, including those that are poorly drained. In the south, Keifer pears work great.
Chinese Chestnut — Chinese chestnuts are loved by deer, wild turkey, and just about every squirrel species. Despite the fact that it takes a 3-foot tall seedling 8 to 10-years to produce, if you are serious about a primo deer food, it’s worth the wait! The nut is a wildlife favorite because of the sweet flavor and huge yields. You will like it because it will help with your property’s forage management.
If you decide to go with the Chinese chestnut, make sure to plant 2 or more of these trees to make sure that they cross-pollinate. Avoid planting these tree species on alkaline soils. If you are not sure what types of soils you have on your property, get a soil test!