Hungry deer can wreak havoc on any garden. They can stomp, chew, poop, and destroy all those precious herbs you worked so hard to prepare. If you live near a forest or large stretches of land, you either have to invest in quality fencing or plant herbs that deer will avoid. It seems like deer will eat just about anything, but there are some plants that they don’t mess with.
Generally, deer avoid most herbs that have a strong flavor, aromatic foliage, silvery-gray color, and/or spiky or poorly textured leaves. This includes rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage, oregano, and tarragon. The essential oils of herbs throw off the olfactory system of the deer and send them looking for other food sources.
However, contrary to popular belief, not all herbs are deer resistant. Deer will sometimes munch on basil and parsley if they don’t have any other green leaves available. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the top herbs that deer will avoid!
Thanks to its powerful aroma, lavender is a naturally deer-resistant plant. Even when it isn’t flowering, the foliage of lavender has a pungent smell that deer do not like.
Deer don’t usually eat lavender due to a terpene called linalool that makes the lavender taste too strong for their liking. This essential oil is also found in many of the Mediterranean herbs below, including oregano and thyme.
Plant lavender along the margins of your vegetable garden as a companion plant. The camphorous smell of the leaves and the floral aroma of the blooms can help deter deer (and other pests) from eating your crops while simultaneously attracting beneficial insects.
Another drought-tolerant Mediterranean favorite, rosemary is repulsive to deer. The potent aroma of rosemary can help mask the smell of other plants they may be seeking, like your freshly-sown lettuce or fruiting tomatoes. Deer also dislike rubbing against the rosemary plant because of the essential oils that can rub off on their fur.
Like lavender, you can plant rosemary around the perimeter of your garden as a “deer shield.” It also works great when placed near the entry gates to your property or anywhere you suspect deer are regularly passing through.
Sage plants are among the most popular deer-resistant ornamentals because they offer a diversity of floral colors along the margin of a woodland. This popular herb is actually part of the Salvia genus, which includes hundreds of varieties.
From white sage to Russian sage to blue sage, all of these shrubs produce beautiful booms and aromatic leaves that repel deer. As a bonus, the leaves have a wooly or fuzzy leaf texture that hungry deer do not want in their mouths.
Oregano contains two strong essential oils called carvacrol and thymol. When the fragrance of this herb hits a deer’s nose, it often sends them off in the other direction. Like rosemary, deer really hate rubbing up against oregano or stepping on it.
Thanks to its insect-repellent properties, oregano also makes an excellent vegetable companion plant. It doesn’t mind partial shade and can be interspersed in a drought-tolerant garden alongside the Mediterranean herbs described above.
Thyme is an extremely low-maintenance herb that thrives in poor soils without much fertility or water. As an herbaceous perennial deer barrier, thyme’s fragrant leaves are not appetizing to deer. When blooming, the strong smell of the flowers can also repel deer.
Use creeping thyme as a ground cover around your garden beds and it may prevent deer from walking in.
Known for its delicious tea-making capacity, lemon balm is not quite so tasty to deer. The animals have an aversion to the fragrant leaves and flowers of this herb.
Lemon balm is a perfect low-growing border plant to keep deer out of your garden. However, it can be slightly invasive in some regions, so plant wisely.
You will notice that all of the above herbs belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae). Mint and its relatives are the backbone of a deer-resistant herb garden.
Peppermint, spearmint, pennyroyal, ginger mint, and any other variety of mint can easily be added to the blend to add olfactory shock value to your local deer noses.
Grow mint in great abundance around the borders of your garden, but avoid planting it in your garden beds. Mint is a natural spreader that can out-compete your vegetables. However, it makes great ground cover in moist, partially shaded soils along a forest or grassland border.
The evergreen, herbal, and floral fragrances of mint-family herbs aren’t the only smells that deter deer. Chives are a perennial onion-family (Amaryllidaceae or “alliums”) herb that turns away deer as well as aphids and Japanese beetles.
Because of the strong taste and onion-y smell of chives, you can reliably plant them out in the open. They make a delicious garnish for meals and a low-maintenance, cold-tolerant ornamental.
Be sure to plant perennial chives, not annual green onions. Both are deer-resistant, but the perennial chives will grow as a clump that comes back year after year.
Any gardener who loves pickles needs to have a self-seeding dill patch. This resilient herb is smelly and strong tasting, which makes it yet another deer-deterrent.
Sometimes known as dill weed, both blue-green foliage and yellow umbel flowers of dill have a distinctive fragrance. The plant can naturally spread into small patches and remains biennial in zones 2-8.
You can grow dill in your annual garden beds or alongside perennial herbs. While you repel deer, you also get yummy pickle flavoring!
Deer avoid horseradish at all costs. The spicy aroma of this perennial Brassica keeps most pests away. The large bushes look like weedy dock plants but smell strongly of mustards. Deer avoid the foliage as well as the spicy roots.
Whether it’s Mexican or French tarragon, this herb has a distinctive anise smell that deer strongly dislike. They tend to avoid eating or stepping on the plant.
These 18-36” bushes can be grown as perennials in zones 4 and warmer. The licorice flavor is surprisingly delicious as a garnish on chicken, fish, or vegetables. Thankfully, deer don’t find it nearly as appetizing as we do.
If you have pets, keep in mind that tarragon oils can be toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Most animals avoid the plant anyways.