Best Mast Producing Trees for Deer Food Plots

Trees that produce mast are very important to white-tailed deer. Arguably, the most well-known mast producing tree species are the oak species. However, mast consists of the fruits and nuts of any woody plant, including vines, brush, and trees. The importance of trees and brush species to deer is often not fully appreciated by land, deer managers.

Mast Trees for White-tailed Deer

In this article, we will discuss mast-producing trees other than oaks that are very palatable to white-tailed deer. These are species that you may consider establishing for tree plots on your hunting property.

Planting Mast Producing Trees for Food 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.

Planting Mast Producing Trees for Food Plots

Arkansas Black Apple Tree

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.

Planting Mast Producing Trees for Food Plots
Crabapple Tree

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.

Planting Mast Producing Trees for Food Plots

Pear Tree Loaded with Mast

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!

Planting Mast Producing Trees for Food Plots

Chinese Chesnut Mast and Leaf

Planting Trees for Deer

Putting trees in the ground for future mast production is not a short-term deer management goal, but you can meet your objectives of getting those trees in and growing rather quickly. All in takes is some planning, a little money for supplies and some hard work.

The best mast producing trees for a property will vary by region. It’s also good to look around and take inventory of the trees that you and your neighbors do have. Looks for trees that will perform well on your property but also are not very common in the area. These species make good choices for planting.

16 Replies to “Best Mast Producing Trees for Deer Food Plots”

  1. I own nearly 40 acres in central Illinois with 7 acres tillable and 2.5 acres in pasture. I’ve been converting some acreage from row crops to various food plot plantings. I am very interested in planting soft mast trees along with what I have. We have a good population of whitetail deer, as well as some large bucks. I need to get an idea on the varieties of trees and the amount of trees I should consider. How much might they cost, etc.

    Also, have you heard of “muscadine” vines I saw in South Carolina? The deer and sheep seam to love them.

  2. There are also some excellent blight resistant Chinese/American hybrid chestnuts that combine the best features of both types. I like the Dunstan chestnut.

  3. I am looking to plant some apple trees as a food plot. Any suggestions of what type of Pine/Fur trees to plant for some cover in beding within Central Illinois?

  4. What and how do you plant a food plot in the boglands near Duluth, Minnesota?


  6. Diversify. Plant persimmons, pears, apples, crabapples, oaks, and chestnuts. When selecting varieties make sure the apples you plant are mostly maintenance free. I have all these plants listed above on my property. I recommend goldrush apple trees, transcendent and dolgo crabapples. If you choose to plant persimmons, do some research before you do. You will need a male and a female tree to get fruit. Some nurseries will sell both. Check out Edward Fort Nursery online; that’s where I’ve purchased some of my fruit trees. Good luck!!

  7. I have 60 acres in New York State. I am looking to add apple trees and till some food plots. Where do I plant and how many? What are the best trees to use for whitetail deer?

  8. I am trying to convert some CRP into a nice deer plot in southwestern Minnesota. Any ideas for some good trees that would work there?

  9. Kyle, although trees are a good source of vegetation, bare in mind the length of time it takes to grow them. I would suggest finding out your soil types and speaking with your local county agent. Many of times they have a biologist on hand to help with what works best in your specific area. I would also look at overseeding old CRP fields with legumes and forbs. In the long run, these will offer more benefit than what you are talking about. Good luck!

  10. Okay, I’m no deer hunter myself, but I am doing some work mapping out the habits of deer in my area. I started noticing that there were hickory nut shells wherever there were deer trails. Do deer eat hickory nuts at all?

  11. I noticed you have the Chinese Chestnut on here, yet the Native American Hazel nut is a great choice also. Not only is it native, you can get some really good deals online on 1-2 foot trees. Same as American mulberry.

  12. I have 60 acres in Jackson County, Georgia. I have a creek and been planting apple, pear, peach,plum, persimmon and I want to plant a some nut trees. I have about 6 apache, jumbo, and 1 other type of blackberry bush. What do you suggest for mast?

  13. Will, the power of mast producing trees as a supplemental food and for their deer-holding ability are often underestimated by property managers. Trees take work to establish and will not have the quick payout of annual food plots, but the amount of food they produce for the amount of input is well worth it, for you and the deer on your property. As for nut producing mast trees, it’s hard to go wrong with the durability of oaks, especially bur oak. I would also look at Sawtooth oak. These trees are not native, but they are fast growing and start producing good acorn crops within about 5 years! Best of all, they are not a threat to the habitat, will not take over your property. They are rather short-lived at about 20 years, but if you plant them in combination with other nut species then you can let the others mature while Sawtooth drop acorns everywhere.

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