Five Best Shrubs to Improve Your Deer Property

Plant shrubs for food plots

Shrubs can help improve food plots and enhance deer habitat

Every deer hunter today knows the value of food plots. But there are plenty of other projects you can do to attract deer, turkey and other wildlife to your property.

One of my favorites is planting shrubs. Putting in a variety of shrubs provides high quality food and also cover that makes whitetails, rabbits, quail and pheasants feel more secure.

I’ve seen 4-year old bucks hole up in pockets of shrubs I planted where bedding cover was previously scarce. They also are great to put along field edges, staging areas, potential travel corridors and food plots that are a bit too open for mature animals to want to approach during shooting light.

Vary the number and arrangement of shrubs you plant according to the specific situation. One area might be decent for whitetails, but just need a few shrubs to fill it out. Another spot might need a 120- by 30-foot row to encourage animals to use it.

A staging area might be appealing but too “thin” for mature bucks to use until late. A sprinkling of shrubs filling in open spots might get them there sooner, in time for a clean shot.

A bedding area might be good except for having no tidbits for animals to browse on until they head out for major feed areas. A handful of shrubs will do the trick, providing leaves, tender twigs, buds, and, in some cases, fruits for the animals to snack on.

Shrubs can be purchased as seedlings for very reasonable prices or in larger sizes from nurseries in containers. You can put anywhere from several dozen to 100 with a solid morning’s work. Many will also spread after they take hold.

Deer may eat the leaves, buds, flowers, fruits or stems. In fact, your biggest problem might be them eating too many shrubs and wiping them out. The answer to that is simple: Try one or more of the many available commercial deer repellents, available at until the shrubs are established and growing enough to be fed upon. You also can make enclosures out of chicken wire to surround the shrubs and prevent the deer from eating them until you decide the time is right.

Many shrubs will benefit deer and other wildlife, but here are a few good ones to try.

Chickasaw Plum or Wild Plum
Lindsay Thomas, editor of QDMA’s Quality Whitetails, recommends this as one of the best shrubs of all for wildlife. Favored by deer as a food source in their fruits and twigs, they also offer terrific low-growing cover. Coyotes also eat the plums, providing an alternate food source that might satisfy their hunger and make them eat fewer fawns.  

They thrive near swamps, streams, damp areas and the edge of woods.  Plant them close to travel routes, field edges and natural clearings.

Allegheny Chinkapin
You’ll get dense thickets as these spread. Deer eat the nut (similar to a small chestnut), as well as the twigs and leaves. Six year old plants can produce as many as 1,200 nuts.

Favorite habitat is wooded hills and bottoms. Plant these near bedding areas lacking cover and along stream bottoms.

American Beautyberry
Wildlife biologist Matt Ross recommends this shrub for whitetails. It also is known as French mulberry.  Protein levels can range from 10- to 20-percent and deer love to eat both the leaves and twigs. Fortunately, the highest levels of protein are available in spring, when growing antlers can most benefit from it.

American beautyberry is fairly shade-tolerant and can live in dry areas. But it does best with at least a few hours of sunlight each day.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this plant has insecticidal properties that will repel ants, mosquitoes and other bothersome pests. Plant some in isolated spots to attract bucks, but save a few to put around your hunting cabin to ward off the bugs.

Raspberries or blackberries
These brambles are easy to grow and deer relish the leaves, buds, outer stems and fruits. But I always claim a few of the sweet, succulent morsels when they ripen for my family. They’re too delicious to give up all of them.

Raspberries can thrive in acidic soil, but they like it rich in humus. For best results you can add compost, pine needles or mulched leaves when you plant them. Cut back the stems so they grow vigorously.

Plant the bushes on northern or northeastern slopes to avoid the parching sun if you live in a warm region. Raspberries and blackberries will spread for several years in sunny or semi-open areas, creating great cover for deer as well as food.

Red Osier Dogwood
Growing up to 10 feet tall, this multi-stemmed shrub will spread quickly after you get it started, providing great thickets of cover for deer. They’ll nibble on the twigs and leaves while they hole up in these plants during the daytime.

Dogwood thrives in bottomlands and wet areas. Put them in near stream, pond and river edges, along low hillsides and near deer bedding areas.

How to Plant a Seedling Shrub
Make sure roots stay moist until you’re ready to plant. Use either a tree planting bar, spade or narrow shovel and dig a hole as deep as the root. Cover the roots even with or slightly deeper than they were growing. (The color change on the stem tells you where they entered the ground in the nursery.) 

Make sure you dig the hole big enough that the roots aren’t cramped. If they are longer than 10 inches, trim them shorter. Back fill around the roots so the shrub stands straight. Tamp the dirt firm with your boot.

Tree mats or mulch placed around the shrub will prevent weed competition. The plastic or wire “tree shelters” mentioned previously will help keep rabbits and deer from eating them before they take hold.          

So there you have it. Give these shrubs a try and I guarantee you’ll improve your property for whitetails.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few shrubs to plant.