Tuesday, April 23, 2013

deer resistant gardening

Young bucks, in the wildflowers last summer
 When we first moved to our home, we felt pretty lucky to have deer frequent our yard. They are beautiful, peaceful creatures and we love to observe their antics, and behaviors amongst each other. As soon as we started to think about gardening though, and particularly landscaping, we realized we were in for  quite a challenge. Our dream landscape, which would be somewhat of an unending, textured garden; with fruit trees, berries, and a diverse array of edible and medicinal herbs and plants.... vs reality.... Oh my. Where to begin.

Lavender is distasteful to deer but so useful, fragrant and beautiful to us
 One of our very first projects here was to fence in a small veggie garden, and then to fence in a few fruit trees. Fencing was a relatively easy solution, even though not ideal. The greater landscape has posed a much bigger challenge, and one we have been slowly trying to learn how to overcome. A lot of the things we like to eat, deer like to eat as well.

Dwarf Greek Oregano and other small leaf varieties are left alone by deer
Now that we have lived here for nearly 4 years we have learned some things, and finally, I am starting to feel like it is actually going to be possible to achieve a full, lush, beautiful, and even edible landscape.

Rosemary in bloom. The bees sure love it but the deer do not.
 We started out knowing of very few plants we could successfully grow unprotected (we planted lots of lavender and rosemary that first year!). Some of the things that are said to be deer resistant aren't necessarily, and there were some tough lessons involved there. And sometimes plants that are typically pretty resistant, will suddenly get eaten for a short period of time, though in these cases, it usually passes and the plants will fully recover (some recent surprises included lemon balm and catnip). With time, observation and experimentation, we have a growing list of plants we can grow and enjoy here.

Rhubarb has toxic leaves. They are occasionally tasted, but nothing more.

Dill and fennel grow big and bushy and show no pressure from deer
 Following, is a list of edible and/or medicinal plants that have proven to us to be truly deer resistant. This doesn't mean the deer don't taste some of these things now and then (and keep in mind, a taste can mean a whole plant if you only have a small amount), but these plants have stood the test of time, and are thriving and look beautiful - or in the case of annual edibles, are able to produce a harvest.

oregano and marjoram (smaller leaf varieties)
lemon balm
chives (sometimes!)
jerusalem artichoke

Calendula has been of no interest to the deer. This one still surprises me.

 Part of my goal for this post was to offer some of our experience to those of you who have similar challenges, but also to see if there might be some of you that have learned some things about deer resistant gardening that you could share.

We will be working on adding to this list this year. If you have anything to add, I would love to hear! With what I've learned so far, I have a better sense of what deer like and what they don't, and am looking forward to experimenting with some new herbs this spring and summer.


  1. I will definitely use that list! Most of our yard is fenced, but there is a section that is not and we have a ton of deer around. I was planning to put some lavender there, so glad to know that they won't be that into it. There is a famous permaculturist named Sepp Holzer who has some interesting ideas about deer. He does a few different things- plant things that the deer love so they eat that and not what you want, makes something called a bone sauce to put on tree trunks to repel deer, and he uses thorny things to keep them out of certain areas. If you google "Sepp Holzer deer" there are lots of articles and even video that explain it more/better.

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    2. Lavender and rosemary are the surest bet of all, so you can plant away! :) I will definitely check out Sepp Holzer. Thanks for the info. Sounds really interesting.

  2. Thank you so much for this; such a helpful list!

  3. great post abby. we have no deer in the city here, but i'll definitely pass this along to friends and family who have this problem. (ps. your garden is SO BEAUTIFUL!)

  4. both of our gardens are fenced. they don't tend to eat anything in our herb beds by the front door.

    i agree with julia. lovely photos of your garden.

  5. abby, this post is amazing! i am helping out a friend with her garden this summer & she has big issues with deer. you just made my job A LOT easier. also, your garden is SO stunning! :)