Planting Chestnut Trees to Attract Deer to your Property

Food Sources

Deer are attracted by food, cover and water sources.  Deer populations have thrived partly due to their ability to eat a variety food items.  In the fall, they typically eat grain and grass in farmers’ fields at night and bed down in wooded areas during the day.  In the winter, they rely more on browse and various mast crops.  Acorns are the most plentiful with the sweeter tasting ones, like white oat nuts, being the most preferred.  Acorns definitely attract deer but even better than acorns are chestnuts.  American chestnuts were once widely sought out by deer and other wildlife but have since been wiped out by the blight.  Thanks to organizations like theAmerican Chestnut Foundation, they are making a comeback.  In addition, blight resistant hybrid varieties of chestnuts have been developed by crossing American with Chinese chestnuts.  Persimmons and crab apples are other excellent food sources.

Clearing a Field for Planting Trees


The size of the field to be cleared depends upon the size of your property and amount that is available for planting chestnuts as a food plot.  An acre or two should be adequate for even a large plot of land. If your property has some large white oaks or grass fields, you may want to keep them.  Select a less desirable area, since the trees that you will be planting will grow in about any soil.  It is best to select an area that gets a lot of morning sun and is well drained since water standing for long periods of time will kill seedlings.  An ideal location is one that has some small trees and brush providing natural cover. If you are fortunate, there may already exist some persimmon and crab apple trees.  Clear the field in strips about 50 to 60 feet wide, leaving the natural cover in the space between the strips.  Avoid cutting any persimmon and crab apple trees that are located between where you plan to plant the chestnuts. The persimmon and crab apples provide additional attraction.  There is no need to plow since holes can be dug for planting the seedlings.  Brush will grow back and need to be cut about every other year.  The young brush will provide browse and the uncleared strips will provide cover for the deer as they are going to and from the field.

Selecting Tree Varieties


There are several types of chestnut trees.  Some are not much more that bushes while others can get 50 to 60 feet tall. The American and some of the hybrids are sweeter than the Chinese varieties.  Deer prefer the sweeter nuts.  You can buy American chestnut seedlings but there is no guarantee that they will live since they may not be truly blight resistant. Some of the hybrids like the Dunstan are blight resistant and sweet.  Chestnuts are cold hardy and will grow in northern states like Ohio or in the warmer climates of the southern states.  In general, the sweeter varieties are the ones that grow tall and start bearing later.  In order to start getting chestnuts earlier, it is best to plant a mix of varieties.

Tree Seedlings


Transplanting seedlings is better than planting seeds since squirrels and other animals are likely to dig up any nuts even if treated.  If you have a green house, you may want to grow your own seedlings. You can buy nuts over the internet but you need to make sure they will germinate.  In an effort to kill chestnut weevil eggs inside chestnuts, chestnuts that are to be eaten are sometimes heat treated.  This can prevent them from germinating.  Another economical approach is to buy very small seedlings and plant them in a protected area or nursery.  They should grow to about a foot and a half tall in about two years and be ready to transplant.

Transplanting & Maintenance


It is best to transplant chestnut seedlings in the late fall at the beginning of the rainy season.  They will be watered naturally and have all winter to get started.  You can plant two rows of seedling in each cleared strip with the plants about 20 feet apart.  This will vary depending on the variety.  The smaller bush type can be planted closer together.  You can dig a hole with a shovel deep enough to completely cover the roots and plant them using the soil from the hole or, if the soil is extremely poor, you may want to add some better top soil. If you are not fortunate enough to already have some persimmon and crab apple trees, you may want to plant a few among the chestnuts.  There is usually not a problem with pests, except for deer.  They will eat them or use the small trees as rubs. The best way to protect the trees until they are too large for rubs is to make a circle around the small trees with the brush cut from around them.  Every couple years you will need to clear the brush to allow the small trees access to sun light and moisture.  It is a good idea to put a couple hands full of regular garden fertilizer around each tree every year to keep them growing. You should have trees bearing nuts in 4 to 5 years for the bush varieties and 15 to 20 years for the larger trees. If you are looking for a good place to hunt white tail deer and wild turkey, check out Ohio hunting laws and public hunting areas by visiting