Herbs to the rescue! Fend off deer with aromatic plants

Spanish lavender is one of the aromatic herbs that usually repel deer. (Photo by Linda McMahan, OSU)

by OSU Extension

Many of the plants that enhance the flavor of our foods also leave a rich aroma as we brush against them in the garden, cut a few for soup or dry them in the fall.

Although aromatic and pleasant to us, many herbs have the opposite effect on deer and other animals that find them unpalatable. For that reason, herbs are some of the best plants to fend off garden nibblers, said Oregon State University horticulturist Linda McMahan.

She offers advice on how to use aromatic herbs to our advantage.

“A word of caution: even the toughest of deer-resistant plants might not always be good deterrents,” she said. “Deer in one area, even a neighborhood, may learn to tolerate some plants while deer in other areas may choose to avoid them.”

Many herbs originated in the Mediterranean or other dry-summer regions of the world and are familiar to us for culinary reasons. The same odors that enhance a stew often will dissuade deer. Sage, for example, is known botanically as Salvia officinalis, and many colorful varieties are available in addition to the standard sage-green.

The same can be said for rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), oregano (Origanum), mint (Mentha), thyme, including creeping thyme (Thymus species and varieties) and dill (Anethumus graveolens).

Other attractive and traditional aromatic herbs that usually repel deer are lavender of all kinds (Lavandula), catnip (Nepeta), germander (Teucreum ) and lavender cotton (Santolina).

For shrubs, try aromatic ones like sagebrush (Artemesia), Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica) or fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatic). Dwarf or prostrate conifers often work well, are all aromatic and include junipers, cedars and mugo pines (Pinus mugo).

Although it’s not fool-proof, you can experiment with other strong-smelling plants to see which ones work in your area. McMahan advises checking the USDA growing zones before you plant, as various areas of the Pacific Northwest have conditions that may not be good for all the plants listed here. Oregon has six of the 11 plant hardiness zones in the United States.

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