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, says 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,” Linda says. “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. These include sage, known botanically as Salvia officinalis. Many colorful varieties are available in addition to the standard sage-green.
The same can be said for rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), oregano (origanum or Origanum vulgare), mint (Mentha), thyme, including creeping thyme (Thymus species and varieties) and dill (Anethum graveolens).
Other attractive and traditional aromatic herbs that usually repel deer are lavender of all kinds (Lavandula), catnip (Nepeta cataria), germander (Teucrium) and lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus).
For shrubs, try aromatic varieties such as sagebrush (Artemisia), Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica) or fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). Dwarf or prostrate conifers often work well. All are aromatic and include junipers, cedars and mugo pines (Pinus mugo).
Although it’s not foolproof, you can experiment with other strong-smelling plants to see which ones work in your area.
Check the U.S. Department of Agriculture 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.
Need More Help?
Our homes and gardens often overlap with spaces and resources used by wild animals, both native and nonnative.
The “Manage Wildlife Conﬂicts in Your Home and Garden” publication gives an overview of how and why human/wildlife conﬂicts happen, and offers general tips and strategies to help you handle wildlife problems safely and legally. Acces the publication at https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/pnw719.