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Plants that repel deer! Deer are quirky critters. But there is nothing they seem to like more than a beautiful, freshly planted flower or vegetable garden. To complicate matters, deer are most definitely picky eaters. 

Deer usually form a consensus about what’s toxic and steer clear of stems with milky sap or plants high in bitter-tasting tannins. Bitter is a signal to deer of alkaloidal toxicity and is a contributing factor to plants that repel deer.

But when it comes to a daily diet, there are personal preferences but no absolutes. 

Plants with coarse, fuzzy, or spiny textures are about as appealing as mushed peas to a toddler. In fact, reports state that deer will spit out anything they don’t like.

In addition to taste, visual cues like deep colors or bright shades can deter deer. These are often indicative of dangerous or deadly species such as nightshade. 

Deer also tend to stay away from highly fragrant plants. Heavy scents scramble predator-alert sensors — making them uneasy. And when used in combination, they can work as well as a high fence or large barking dog in keeping the deer away from your garden.

Common Plants That Repel Deer

Based on research and the experience of thousands of gardeners, there is no guarantee of how individual deer will react. Combining highly aromatic plants is usually the most effective strategy. 

Rutgers University has published a fairly comprehensive list of common deer repellant plants. And the Deer Association is always a good resource before you start planting.

The following plants appear to be deer bane and are great plants that repel deer from your garden:

Anise hyssops (Pimpinella) – Strong Licorice Scent

Pimpinella - Anise. A great plant to repel deer from your garden.
Anise – Pimpinella anisum

The herb Anise is part of the parsley family and is frequently used for flavoring. It has a sweet, strong licorice scent. The oils make perfumes and soaps, while the leaves are used to garnish dishes.

Anise is one of the best plants that repel deer. Deer avoid eating anise hyssop plants because of their strong licorice scent and flavor.

Bleeding Hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) – Bitter Deer Repellent

Bleeding Hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) - plants that repel deer
The Bleeding Heart shrub (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

Bleeding hearts are a good plant choice for creating shade. Named for their vibrant colors and heart-shaped blooms, they thrive in cool, moist, shady areas. They have a bitter taste, can be toxic, and are great plants that repel deer.

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia cactus) – Spiky Deterrent

Erect Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia stricta) - spiky plants that repel deer
Erect Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia stricta)

The prickly pear cactus (Opuntia compressa) grows about six to 14 inches tall. After the rain, grand yellow flowers bloom. These flowers reach two to three inches in diameter. While the flowers may seem appetizing, the succulent also has spines dangerous to any deer silly enough to try for a meal.

Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine) – Strong Fragrance and Fuzzy Texture

Stachys byzantina - Lamb's Ear - Plants that repel deer
Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina)

A beautiful flowering plant whose leaves resemble a drooping lamb’s ear. The leaves are covered in wool-like hairs of white and grey. Even the flower spikes are fuzzy, although the blooms are clear. 

The strong fragrance and flavor make it one of the best plants that repel deer and keep your veggie garden safe from deer.

Strangely enough, the lamb’s ear is edible and tastes fishy. It also has numerous medicinal uses.

Lavender (Lavandula) – Deer Deterrent Border Plant

Purple Lavender and salvia among other plants in an attractive border in a garden
Purple Lavender and salvia among other plants in an attractive border in a garden

There are 47 species of Lavender, and all can be a deer deterrent. The pretty purple or blue flowers and the calming scent make this a popular herb.

The most common species include  Lavandula angustifoliaL. latifoliaL. dentataL. stoechas, and L. multifida. These non-toxic plants produce aromatic essential oils.

Lavender plants grow best under full sun and in well-draining, dry soil. You can grow them out of pots creating a deer deterrent border.

Bee Balm (Monarda) – Beautiful Flowers That Repel Deer

Monarda Fireball and Phlox Feelings - great plants that repel deer
Monarda Fireball and Phlox Feelings

This beautiful wildflower’s most common suitors are hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, and bumble bees. These insects can take advantage of the flowers’ long tubular bloom. Bee Balm is indigenous to North America and is sometimes referred to as Bergemont Orange or Horsemint. 

But luckily, the overwhelming scent sends deer packing – one of our favorite plants that repel deer.  

Marigold (Tagetes) – Overwhelming Scent

Tagetes erecta, gold marigold flower
Tagetes erecta, gold marigold flower

All varieties of marigolds have an overwhelming scent that actively deters deer. It is not an unpleasant scent but rather an intense one.

However, in many kitchen gardens, signet marigolds have a light citrusy smell and flavor, making them perfect for culinary garnish and seasoning. But not as effective as plants that repel deer.

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) – Needle-Shaped Deer Repellent

Salvia rosmarinus, great plants that repel deer
Salvia rosmarinus – Rosemary

Rosemary may be therapeutic to humans but is unappealing to deer.  

This modest herb produces aromatic needle-shaped leathery leaves with woolly hairs on the underside. Rosemary is a beautiful plant that can be shaped into a dense shrub or curated in pots for a mobile defense perimeter. It’s also one of the best plants to repel deer!

Russian Sage (Salvia officinalis) – Pungent With Fuzzy Texture

Russian Sage (Salvia officinalis) as plants that repel deer
Russian Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Native to the Mediterranean, many used it to heal ailments and ward off evil. Modern gardeners use this heavily scented plant to deter North American deer from eating itself and nearby plants.

Salvia officinalis is pungent and annoying, with fuzzy trichomes. Trichomes are the downy white hairs on leaves that take in nutrients from the air and water. This dual combination of scent and texture prevents sage from making the deer’s favorite list.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – One of the Best Plants to Deter Deer

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Available in various colors, this perennial wildflower with bright blooms is extremely easy to grow. But Yarrow is one of the worst-tasting plants in a gardener’s arsenal. It packs a one-two punch, deterring deer with vibrant colors and a strong scent.

Verbena (Verbenaceae) – Vibrant Deer Deterrent

Verbena bonariensis flowers (Argentinian Vervain or Purpletop Vervain
Verbena bonariensis flowers (Argentinian Vervain or Purpletop Vervain)

Verbena, also known as vervain or verveine, has over 150 species of the genus Verbenaceae. These plants have deliciously scented flowers full of citrus, lemon, and pine notes. The small floral clusters come in many colors: white, lavender, purple, dark red, yellow, pink, and blue.

But as beautiful as Verbena is to humans, deer are not fond of this small plant and it is one of the best plants that repel deer. The plant’s taste, texture, and aroma combine with the stiff stems and hairy leaves, making it a snack of last resort during environmental stress.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) – Tolerates Deer Browsing

Closeup of a Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) - tolerates deer browsing
Closeup of a Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

Canadian wild ginger is an indigenous plant. It is excellent for moist soil, shade, or a garden pathway. Ginger will not send the stags running. However, the plant tolerates deer browsing exceptionally well. This means the plant will survive and continue to thrive even with several rounds of munching.

Thyme (Lamiaceae) – Pungent Scent Plants to Repel Deer

Thyme or Thymus vulgaris
Thyme or Thymus vulgaris

There are several species of Thyme, all of the genus Lamiaceae. They grow like ivy or shrubs. Part of the mint family, thyme is another herb that makes an excellent border plant.

Its pungent smell deters deer before they even get into your garden. Unfortunately, thyme is not resilient; one deer herd can destroy the crop. 

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) – Unpalatable Perimeter Herb

Origanum vulgare flowers - unpalatable to deer, great plants that repel deer
Origanum vulgare flowers

Oregano is a species of flowering plant also of the mint family, Lamiaceae.  It is an aromatic herb that releases its strong flavor when chopped or chewed – making it unpalatable to deer. 

Effective as a perimeter herb, Oregano is most aromatic each summer, which helps it survive roaming herds. 

Garlic (Allium sativum) – Overwhelming Taste and Scent

Deer have the best noses in the game. Their smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than a human. That is why garlic overwhelms deer in taste and smell. It is also why garlic is one of the best plants that repel deer.

Plant the garlic bulbs in a patch or in between other vegetables. Garlic will cause deer to avoid using your garden as a fast food lane.

All gardeners know that deer can be persistent. And although many common herbs are technically deterrents, a hungry buck may sample the buffet before moving on. These include basil, mint, catmint, lemon balm, sorrel, and cilantro. And in times of environmental stress, when food is scarce, all bets are off. 

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