Did you know that there are more deer now than when Europeans first settled the North American continent? We have eliminated their natural predators such as wolves and mountain lions but that is only part of the reason why the deer population has exploded. The biggest factor in the expanding deer population is that we have created more deer habitat in both suburbia and farming areas. Deer live along the edges of the woods. They use the forest for cover and sleeping and open areas for grazing. Centuries ago, before Europeans moved in, the continent was covered with forest. There were few “edges” so the deer population remained small. Native Americans prized deer meat and hides because deer were so few in number. Then Europeans moved in and started clearing the forests, creating more “edges”. The deer population expanded, but was heavily hunted. It wasn’t until the twentieth century, when hunting was restricted or even banned in many areas that deer began to increase and become a problem in suburbia. Houses were built in formerly forested areas. The new owners provided an all you can eat buffet in their landscaped yards for the resident deer. More food meant more deer. You can discourage deer from grazing in your yard by planting deer-resistant plants. There is no such thing as deer-proof plants because a hungry deer will eat anything. Fortunately for herb lovers, deer tend to stay away from plants that are poisonous, have strong scents or fuzzy leaves. Surprisingly, they don’t mind thorns and will happily munch on your roses. Poisonous Herbs
Aconitum (Aconitum napellus) Monkshood, Wolfsbane, no matter what you call it, all parts of this plant are poisonous and should be handled while wearing gloves. It is a perennial hardy through zone 4. It can stand sun but prefers partial shade. A great accent for the back of your shady border, it grows to a height of 3’ to 5’.
Foxglove (Digitalis spp) Foxgolves are another plant that should only be handled while wearing gloves. They contain digitalin from which digitalis is made. Too much of it can cause a heart attack. Biennial and hardy through zone 4, foxgloves are shade lovers. Their spectacular flower stalks grow to 2’ to 5’ high depending on the variety.
Strongly Scented Herbs
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) Bee balm is a useful herb that attracts bees, makes a refreshing herbal tea and smells lovely in your garden. That lovely scent keeps the deer away. It is a native perennial plant that is hardy through zone 4. Depending on the variety, it grows 2’ to 4’ tall. Bee balm is a sun lover but will tolerate a little shade.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Members of the allium family are almost guaranteed to be off the menu for deer. Sun loving chives are perennials that are hardy through zone 3. They have lovely lavender flowers that appear in the spring. Chives grow in bunches that spread annually and grow to 10” to 16” tall.
Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) A cousin of chives, garlic chives have an onion flavor with a strong hint of garlic. Both are flavors that deer stay away from. The white flowers of garlic chives burst onto the scene in August. It is hardy through zone 3 and grows 18” to 24” tall.
Lavender (Lavandula spp) Lavender is beloved by bakers, crafters, perfumers and bees. Deer dislike it for all the same reasons. Lavender will gladly grow in any hot, dry, sunny spot in your yard. The hardy lavandula varieties will easily overwinter through zone 5. They grow between 18” and 30” tall.
Mint ( Mentha spp) A huge family of plants native to every continent except South America and Antartica. They are characterized by their square stems and aggressive growth. Most are perennial through zone 4. And deer do not eat any of them.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) A widely used culinary herb that deer will not eat, oregano is a perennial growing 1 to 2 feet tall and hardy through zone 5. It needs full sun and dry conditions.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Rosemary is another drought loving Mediterranean herbs with a strong scent. Deer dislike its strong, piney scent. Rosemary is a culinary herb frequently used to flavor meats. It is only reliably hardy through zone 7. It will grow nicely in a hot, sunny dry spot like lavender eventually reaching 5’ in height.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) Sage is both strongly scented and has fuzzy leaves, both characteristics that deer dislike. Sage is a perennial that is hardy through zone 5 and depending on the variety will reach a height of 3’. Grow it in a sunny location and don’t overwater it.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) Another strongly scented herb that deer stay away from. A small, shrubby perennial thyme is hardy through zone 5. Mature plants range in size from 6 to 12 inches, depending on the variety. Thyme prefers a sunny location, but it can tolerate a little shade. It is drought tolerant.
Herbs with Fuzzy Leaves
Borage (Borago officinalis) Borage is edible but most people, like deer, don’t care for its fuzzy leaves. It is an annual that will freely self-sow itself in your garden. It produces bright blue flowers on 18” to 24” plants in full sun.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) Catnip’s serrated leaves and square stems giveaway its membership in the mint family. The fuzz covering its leaves keeps the deer away. Catnip is a perennial that is hardy to zone3 and grows to a height of 3 feet. Like most mints, it prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade.
Tansy(Tanacetum vulgare). Tansy has neither a strong scent nor fuzzy leaves, but deer seem to dislike its ferny leaves. It is a perennial and hardy through zone 4. Mature plants reach 3 to 4 feet in height. It does best in full sun but will tolerate a little shade. It is also drought tolerant.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Yarrow is another herb, like tansy, that has neither a strong scent nor fuzzy leaves. Instead, it has ferny leaves that deer stay away from. A perennial that is hardy through zone 3, it will grow to 2’ to 4’ depending on the variety. It wants full sun and is drought tolerant. The only thing that will totally prevent deer from dining in your yard is a fence that is at least eight feet high. Without a fence, deer will generally stay away from your herb garden. You can extend that protection by planting herbs among your flowers. Their strong scents or fuzzy leaves will discourage deer from grazing in your garden.
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