11 Deer Resistant Herbs To Plant This Season

Do you have deer that come into your garden to feast on your hostas, hydrangeas, or other garden plants? Did you know certain herbs will help keep them away? In this article, gardening expert Logan Hailey shares which herbs you can plant that will help keep the deer out of your garden this season.

Deer eating flowers out of garden. There are many yellow and green flowers and some herbs growing together.

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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!

Lavender

Shrub of lavender growing with purple flowers. There are many blossoms coming off the stalks of each stem.
Lavender has a powerful aroma and is naturally deer-resistant.

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.

Rosemary

Rosemary growing between rocks in the garden. There are other shrubs growing behind the rosemary bush and rocks at the base.
This hardy shrub will keep deer away.

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

Sage growing with a silvery sheen to the leaves. There are many stems with dozens of leaves visible up close.
Garden sage is a natural deer repellent.

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

Oregano growing in an herb garden and is healthy ready for harvest. The plant is growing in bunches next to one another in a small clump.
The essential oils in the oregano plant will help keep deer away.

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

Thyme plant in the garden. It is blossoming at the top of the plant with purple flowers in the springtime. There are rocks in the background blurred out.
This low-maintenance herb can thrive in just about any type of soil.

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.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm growing with vibrant green leaves. There are many leaves clustered together during the spring growth season.
Lemon Balm has many uses in the garden and will help keep deer away.

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.

Mint

Mint plant growing low to the ground. The plant is healthy and ready to be harvested. There is dirt visible under the plant at the base.
Mint is another herb with a pungent smell.

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.

Chives

Chives growing with purple flowers on top. The garden bed is made of dark brown wood and has several plants growing inside of it.
Chives have a strong smell and can help keep deer out of your garden.

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.

Dill

Dill with yellow flowers growing in garden. There are many small yellow flowers in full bloom atop of the stalks of the dill plant.
Dill has a strong aroma and taste, which help to repel deer.

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!

Horseradish

Horseradish growing in garden on the ground in moist soil. The soil is rich and fertile, and the plant is ready for harvest.
Horseradish has a spicy smell, which will keep deer way.

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.

Tarragon

Tarragon growing in garden on the ground of an herb garden. The plant is growing and has many green leaves shooting off each stem.
Tarragon has a distinctive smell that deer will stay away from.

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.

Final Thoughts

As a rule of thumb, smelly, fragrant, or strong-tasting plants repel deer. The primary exceptions are basil and parsley, which deer will happily chomp up.

If you want to keep deer out of your garden, plant a border landscape of aromatic perennial herbs. To take it up a notch, interplant with other ornamental plants like daffodils and foxgloves that are well known to send those deer looking for food elsewhere.

If all else fails, consider protecting your favorite herbs with a critter cage and critter cover frost blanket. This will keep the deer away and protect your tender plants from pests while insulating against freezing temperatures.

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