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Got Nature? > Posts > What plant species are best for wildlife?
January 16
What plant species are best for wildlife?
As an Extension Wildlife Specialist this is one of the most common questions I receive. The answer to this seemingly simple question can actually be quite complicated. It depends in part on what wildlife species you desire and what objectives you have for wildlife and other land uses for your property. There is no one plant that will do it. Food habit studies show that deer, turkey and many other wildlife species can consume hundreds of plant species throughout the year. With that in mind, focusing on one or two “miracle” plants would not yield great results (also remember that the presence of wildlife on your property depends on the surrounding properties). If you have a particular species of wildlife you are interested in, you can compare their habitat Grass to encourage wildlife. to what you have available to determine what is missing or limiting. You may also use a more general approach looking at what major plant types are limiting such as hard mast trees, soft mast trees, shrubs, vines, annual forbs, and perennial forbs. You will also want to evaluate water, cavities, downed woody debris, or snags.
For questions about what to plant, it is easier to answer specific situations. Recently, a blog reader wrote that they just dredged their pond and spread it on a large open pasture about 50 yards from the pond. The reader wanted to know what to plant to attract quail and pheasant while also benefiting deer and turkey populations. Being in Monroe County, quail is more likely so I will focus on that.
In the fall and winter, quail feed heavily on plant seeds, especially ragweed, pigweed, foxtail, and agricultural crop residue. Spring and summer foods include tender green vegetation and soft fruits. Invertebrates are consumed when available and are essential for the development of chicks.
Cover is equally important in deciding what to plant. A mixture of herbaceous (grass, wildflowers) cover with bare ground interspersed with some woody shrubs or open woodland edges will generally benefit quail. With these in mind and using what the “typical” Indiana landscape looks like, the owner may want to consider the following:
Native Warm Season Grass mix – This provides quality brood and nesting cover. Rates are listed in pounds (lbs) PLS (Pure Live Seed) per acre. A typical mix for quail recommended by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is listed below. The general idea behind this and other mixes for quail, is the bunch grass provides overhead cover above and bare ground and space below. This allows free access to seeds on the ground from the wildflowers along with invertebrates on the ground and vegetation. Quail are small and can’t scratch their way to seeds like turkey and other larger birds.
Rate (PLS)
Big Bluestem
0.25 lbs
Sideoats gramma
2.00 lbs
Canada Wildrye
1.25 lbs
Little Bluestem
0.50 lbs
Partridge Pea
4 oz
Illinois Bundleflower
1 oz
Purple Prairie Clover
3 oz
Purple Coneflower
2 oz
Black-eyed Susan
1 oz
Wild Bergamont
1 oz
Showy Tick Trefoil
1 oz
Butterfly Milkweed
2 oz
Lead Plant
2 oz
Round-headed Lespedeza
2 oz


Plant a mixture of shrubs – Shrubs provide good resting cover and winter cover for quail. Bare root seedlings planted in the spring should be planted 6ft X 6ft spacing in clumps “about the size of a large pickup truck”. Species that provide good structure for quail include gray or silky dogwood. American plum and serviceberry will also benefit wild turkey and white-tailed deer.
IMPORTANT: Plant species and mixes recommended above may not be suitable for the site moisture or soil conditions. Improper site preparation and methods will lead to planting failures. Contact your county extension office for proper methods and species that are appropriate for your area, It is always best to have a resource professional visit your site to provide you specific advice that considers your current habitat condition, equipment and resources available to you, along with what you want to accomplish. In addition to your county extension office, you may want to contact your DNR district wildlife biologist Finally, planting is only a start. Providing habitat for wildlife, and especially for early successional species such as bobwhite quail, requires continually habitat management that may include invasive species control, prescribed burning, disking or more.
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