As a "hunter," I have found my passion to be more in the raising of a healthy herd of deer. A small but pivotal role is in harvesting and culling, but the most important is providing a healthy habitat with plenty of nutrition all year long. All too often I see deer hunters who only think about what a deer eats during the hunting season; and many of these guys are only feeding them with baiting stations!
That being said, I would like to design a few guilds centered around deer resistant and native varieties. I am in Zone 8a, in the sandhills of South Carolina, for reference.
Some of the fruit bearing trees/shrubs/vines I already have growing "wild" on the land are: Korean (Sawtooth) Oak, white oak, live oak, crab-apple, persimmon, pear, wild plum, figs, peaches, muscadine grape, and blackberries.
I feel like many of these are already good fits, they just need some organization and encouragement!
That being said, I really am lost on the ground layer. We plant food plots annually with a good mix of things including: peas, turnips, radishes, oats, and clover.
I know clover can become perennial, and provides good nutrition, but what other ground covers could be used in my area?
Any input into this process would be greatly appreciated!
I would like all the plants I include(besides maybe the ground layer) to be deer resistant yet still provide edible fruits, if that makes sense.
For best nutrition you need to add plants that provide protein and many more minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, silica etc.
I have lots of fruit trees (and vines) available to deer along with grasses (no fescue for deer) such as Bermuda, Zoysia, Sedges and I use crimson clover too.
Then I have the root vegetables (greens and roots for the deer since I've seen them dig up roots) which are rape, turnip, daikon radish, mustard and collard greens.
For higher protein I provide soybeans, field peas, winter squashes and pumpkins. I plant these in "feed Plots" about 1/4 acre each and each plot contains all the above.
I don't plant corn for deer simply because it doesn't grow well on my steep terrain.
Each plot also has a Mineral block (not a salt block), these red beauties don't last but about 3 months before they have been eaten up, what leaks off in rains goes into the soil and the deer will dig that up and eat the dirt containing the minerals.
Our Stags have increased their antler size now that they can find every nutrient they need. The Does are doing a lot better too and they will bring their fawns to the plots for a feast.
When someone asks me what trees are "deer resistant" I usually say "The ones over 7 feet tall with a protector tube for 4' of the base to prevent horn rubbing!"
Apples seem to be very popular with the deer , and chestnuts are even higher on the list! On the ground, turnips seem best for me: The deer leave them alone in the growing season and then munch the greens when other things fade out. Since the turnip has a big bulb for energy, it goes far into winter popping out leaves..
So this will be controversial in some parts but deer seem to love the callery pear in my pasture. They are a nuisance if let to spread unchecked, ie, become invasive on long fallow land, but they check all your boxes.
It sounds like you have a pretty good setup and I really like what you're doing. I am doing something very similar in idaho on my property.
As far as groundcovers I would recommend planting a diverse mix of palatable perennial forbs, in what I would call a "wild game meadow". This will over time be invaded by some undesirable weeds and eventually transition to a forest if left undisturbed, but it will last much longer than a typical food plot. I would recommend looking at both warm and cool season perennials that do well in your area and I would use both natives as well as useful nonnatives. Some plants that might do well for you are Sainfoin, Alfalfa, American vetch, Chickory, Jerusalem Artichokes, Goldenrods, Perennial Sowthistle, Bush Clovers, Prairie Clovers, Milkvetches and Asters.