photo of mourning doves

FOOD PLOTS ARE popular with hunters, for good reason. But they aren’t as easy to plant or as versatile as high-quality shrubs. The forage shrubs produce–both browse and soft mast–can pull bucks to your property, and the cover they provide keeps deer hanging around. You can use these plants in a host of beneficial ways. For example:

A staging area may be attractive to bucks but too open to draw them before dark. Add some brushy shrubs, though, and those deer may show 20 minutes sooner.

An otherwise ideal bedding zone may lack any tidbits for animals to browse on before they head to major feed areas. Just a handful of shrubs will do the trick.

Is your land short on bedding cover? Fell a few trees, plant a few pockets of shrubs, and your problem is solved. I’ve killed mature bucks that were holed up in thickets I planted.

Prime travel corridors including fencelines, field edges, and stream banks may see limited daytime traffic if they lack good cover. Plant a line of shrubs, and the bucks will come.

Shrub seedlings are inexpensive. Most will spread after they take hold, and deer will munch the leaves, buds, flowers, fruits, and stems. In fact, your biggest problem may be hungry whitetails wiping out your whole planting. But the answer to that is simple: Harvest more deer and put in more shrubs. Here are four great varieties to try.

Chickasaw (or Wild) Plum
This bush provides excellent low-growing cover. Deer eat the twigs and relish the ripe fruits. Coyotes like the plums, too, and a plentiful crop can reduce the number of fawns they prey on.

Habitat: Moist soil near swamps, streams, and wooded edges.

Where to Plant: Along travel routes, natural clearings, field edges, and open staging areas.

Cost: $1-$2 per seedling.

Allegheny Chinkapin
You’ll get dense thickets as these shrubs spread. Deer readily eat the small chestnuts they produce, along with the twigs and leaves. A 6-year-old plant can bear 1,200 nuts in a season.

Habitat: Wooded hills and bottoms.

Where to Plant: Bedding areas lacking food or cover, stream-bottom corridors, and edges of clear-cuts.

Cost: $4-$8 per seedling.

False Indigo
Deer love this deciduous shrub (as do quail, pheasants, and turkeys), noshing on the twigs and kidney-shaped pods it produces in winter. False indigo thrives in full sunlight but can also tolerate poor, dry, acidic soils. It’s one of the easiest shrubs to grow.

Habitat: Wooded bottoms and hillsides.

Where to Plant: South-facing hills, stream edges, fencelines, field borders, and open staging areas.

Cost: $1-$3 per seedling.

Red Osier Dogwood
Growing up to 10 feet tall, this multistemmed shrub will spread quickly once you get it started, creating great thickets. Whitetails nibble on the twigs and leaves.

Habitat: Bottomlands and other wet areas.

Where to Plant: Stream, pond, and river edges, as well as low hillsides and marshy
bedding areas.

Cost: $1-$3 per seedling.


How to Plant
Keep the roots moist until planting day. Using a bar, spade, or narrow shovel, dig a hole as deep as the roots and wide enough so they aren’t crowded. (If any are longer than 12 inches, trim them back.) Cover the roots with earth up to or slightly above the previous soil line (obvious by the color of the stem), filling in so the shrub stands straight. Tamp firm with your boot.

Try placing tree mats or mulch around the shrub to prevent weed competition. A plastic “tree shelter” keeps rabbits and deer from eating your seedlings before they take hold.

Where to Buy
Any of the shrub varieties at right may be available at your local nursery. I’ve had great luck with Spandle Nurseries (800-553-5771;, Vans Pines Nursery (800-888-7337;, and Empire Chestnut (