Do Deer Eat Crab Apples? The Sweet Treat Deer Can’t Resist

I have located, observed, and sorted through 1000’s crabapple trees with one thing in mind. Getting and keeping whitetail deer!! I looked at early production, heavy fruit production, vigorous growth, longer bloom times, reliable fruit production, different drop times, good taste, and most importantly, deer use!! I focused on trees I wanted to graft (genetic clone) and plant on my properties. Crabapple trees like the Road Kill Crab™ in the picture to the right or below. There are many other crabapple trees like this one that are also great for wildlife if you like fruit that tastes good and is produced in large amounts. To see all the different kinds of crabapples, click here or on that little blue button that says “online shop.”

Crab apples have long been known as a favorite food source for deer. These small, bitter fruits pack a tasty punch that deer just can’t seem to get enough of. But why do deer love crab apples so much? Are there certain types of crab apples that deer prefer over others? And when and how should you use crab apples as part of your deer management plan? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about deer and their obsession with crab apples.

Crab apples are small, bitter apples that grow on short, shrubby trees. The fruits are usually about 1-2 inches wide and often have a darker, bolder color than regular apples. Crab apple trees originated in Asia and Europe and were brought to North America by early settlers. Over time, crab apples crossed with native apple species, resulting in lots of genetic diversity.

There are over 800 varieties of crab apple trees, and they can thrive in most regions of the United States Crab apples are extremely hardy, resisting disease and surviving through cold winters. The trees bloom early, producing an abundance of fragrant blossoms They are popular ornamental trees since they require very little maintenance and provide beautiful flowers and fruit.

Why Deer Love Crab Apples

Crab apples offer deer a high-energy food source that is rich in sugars, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. The fruits provide quick energy in the form of natural sugars and carbs. Apples contain vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, and potassium. Potassium helps deer maintain fluid balance, while calcium and vitamin D are critical for antler growth.

In addition, crab apples contain condensed tannins. These are plant chemicals that act as natural defense mechanisms. The tannins give crab apples their characteristic bitter taste, which deters animals from eating them before the seeds fully mature. As fruits ripen, sugar levels increase while tannin levels drop, making the apples more palatable.

Deer likely gravitate toward ripe sweet crab apples first. Once those are gone deer will eat the more bitter fruits as they gradually become sweeter over time. The tannins also help preserve fallen crab apples on the forest floor for months, providing deer with a long-lasting food source.

When Do Deer Eat Crab Apples?

Crab apples become an important part of deer diets in late summer and early fall when native foods start to become scarce Crab apple trees blossom early, and fruits begin to ripen in July and August This coincides with the onset of antler growth in bucks, so crab apples provide a nutritious boost right when deer need it most.

Once fruits begin to drop from the trees, deer will devour them. The bounty of crab apples continues through fall and into winter. Deer prefer to eat freshly fallen apples but will continue to munch on any bitter fruits remaining on the ground through the cold months. The availability of crab apples can help deer survive harsh winters when other foods are covered in snow.

Selecting the Best Crab Apple Varieties for Deer

With hundreds of crab apple cultivars to choose from, how do you pick the trees that will be deer candy? Here are some tips:

  • Prioritize larger fruits. The little pea-sized crab apples are ornamental but nearly worthless for providing food. Look for varieties with fruits around 1 inch wide.

  • Choose early ripeners. Varieties that ripen in July/August are best aligned with deer needs in late summer.

  • Look for trees with a heavy fruit set. Abundant fruiting means more food.

  • Pick resistant varieties. Disease-resistant trees will reliably produce fruit year after year. Fire blight and apple scab are major crab apple killers.

  • Mix sweet and bitter. Plant some sweeter varieties that deer devour when ripe plus some bitter ones that persist through winter.

  • Consider local performance. Talk to others in your area to learn which varieties produce best. Stick with proven winners.

  • Provide diversity. Plant multiple kinds of crab apples with different strengths. This hedges your bets against variables like weather and disease.

Popular crab apple picks include Whitney, Chestnut, Red Baron, Dolgo, Centurion, and Indian Summer. Native crab apple species like Southern Crabapple are great low-cost options too. Work with your local nurseries to find the best types for your property.

Using Crab Apples in Your Deer Management Plan

Here are some tips for incorporating crab apples into your habitat management:

  • Plant trees in food plots – Mix in a few crab apple trees among your normal food plot offerings. The fruits help draw deer in and provide supplemental nutrition.

  • Create “orchards” – Plant small groups of crab apple trees together to create fruiting orchards. Situate them near deer trails and bedding areas.

  • Favor edge habitat – Deer favor edge habitat between woods and openings. Position crab apples along field borders or logging roads.

  • Pick protected sites – Choose locations that will help saplings survive, like along treelines as a windbreak.

  • Use as pollinizers – Interplant crab apples with other fruit trees. Their early blooms help pollinate other species.

  • Supplement as needed – Collect and redistribute crab apples to supplemental feeding sites to extend availability. Just don’t concentrate apples to bait deer!

There’s no question that deer absolutely love crab apples! These hardy trees bear abundant, nutritious fruits that provide deer with the quick energy and minerals they need during stress periods like late summer and winter. Their sweet-and-bitter flavor profile appeals to deer’s tastes. By selecting the best varieties and incorporating crab apples thoughtfully into your management plan, you can provide deer with this coveted food source. Position crab apple trees near trails, bedding areas, and other food sources to create fruiting hotspots that both nourish and attract deer.

do deer eat crab apples

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do deer eat crab apples


Just like I learned with pears. I can get and keep a lot of deer on my property if I focus on a favorite soft mast when no one else has any. This was accomplished by providing early and late dropping crabapples and having trees consistently produced yearly. You will have a big advantage with crabapple trees because they produce consistent crops every year, even if regular apples aren’t available in your area.

Every crabapple tree today came from seed at one time. Some are results of a chance seedling many years ago or are from someone’s breeding efforts. Through grafting, crabapple trees with the traits that were wanted started to be grown so that they were identical and had the same genetic traits. As with full-size apples, you can’t plant a crabapple seed and get the same crabapple tree.

Everything You Need To Know About Crab Apples!

Do deer eat crab apples?

Deer, without a doubt, eat crab apples. Why wouldn’t they? Crabapples are sweet like our apples (there are some bitter varieties) and have an attractive scent, which deer find hard to resist. Want to know what species of deer eat crabapples, how many crabapples they can eat in a day and the type of crabapples you can grow for deer?

Can deer eat crabapple trees?

We recommend completing a soil test and making amendments for best results. Crabapple trees require a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight for growth and fruit production. Space trees 20′ apart and use at least 5′ cages to protect your trees. This protection will ensure your deer eat your fruit in a few years and not your trees this year.

Do bees eat crabapple trees?

Researchers have shown that honey bees selectively feed on apple flowers of the most predominant color in an orchard (whether white, pink or red), skipping trees having flowers of a different color. Do deer prefer some crabapple trees over others? Yes!

Are crabapple trees deer resistant?

Some crabapple varieties are less likely to be damaged by deer, while others are particularly attractive to them. Physical barriers, such as fencing and tree guards, are the most effective way to protect your trees from deer. Deterrents and repellants can also be used, but their success can vary.

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