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Best Plants for Deer Food

Whitetail Deer Buck (Odocoileus virginianus) image by Bruce MacQueen from <a href=''></a>

Homeowners, sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts plant deer crops to encourage deer foraging and provide vital nutrients to the wildlife. As foraging grounds decline because of development, it is increasingly important to provide nutritious crops for deer to feed on. Commercial deer attractants such as salt blocks and feed stations can be used to bring deer into a specific area. However, because of diseases that are spread via deer saliva, most states discourage their use. Specifically, chronic wasting disease is spread from established deer-feed stations and communicable salt blocks. Planting deer crops is an alternative to these unsafe practices.


To some, chicory looks like a roadside weed. However, this periwinkle blue wildflower provides an abundant supply of nutrients for deer and other wildlife. Chicory is a member of the daisy family and a close relative to the dandelion. It is often cultivated as salad greens or a substitute for coffee. In addition, chicory is a perennial plant and will provide a long-lasting deer crop. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries suggest planting chicory between September and mid-October. Chicory is drought resistant and prefers full sun.


Whole kernel corn is an important crop for deer because it offers a high energy source. During the fall months, deer need to build up stores of winter fat to sustain them through months of little vegetation. During the fall season, deer use the extra carbohydrates in crops such as corn to help prepare for the ensuing cold season. Many varieties of field corn can be planted as deer food. However, corn does not provide deer with the protein sources necessary to sustain them throughout the year. Supplement protein by planting corn with a high protein source such as legumes or clover.


Alfalfa is a legume crop that, according to the University of Illinois Extension, deer prefer over soybeans and even corn. Alfalfa provides deer with a protein source and complements corn crops as a nutritional supplement. However, this crop is also labor intensive. To effectively seed alfalfa, you need soil that is moist but well-drained. Early spring soils are often too damp for successful alfalfa seeding. In addition, it is important to rotate alfalfa crops to avoid established soil issues. It is a perennial that can be seeded throughout the growing season.

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