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Deer-Resistant Edibles for Your Garden

By on May 16, 2014

Not even a deer is going to look at thorny artichokes and say, "Dinner time!"

Here’s the thing about edible gardening—deer agree with us most of the time on what’s edible.

The good, and rather surprising, news is that we eat some herbs, vegetables and berries the deer aren’t so crazy about. Keep in mind there is no such thing as a “deer-proof” plant. Deer resistance is highly regional, seasonal, weather dependent, tied to food availability, and deer populations. Also, deer, like people, have different tastes in food. That said, these edible plants are at least worth a try outside the safety of a deer fence. Deer resistance is usually classified in three categories: Rarely Damaged, Occasionally Damaged, and Frequently Damaged.

So, if you share your yard with a herd of deer you can still grow food that won’t immediately be deer food.

Deer Resistant Garlic

Alliums

Our good friends of the allium family are favored for their pungency by man, but that quality makes beast turn up their noses at an offering of onions. If space in the deer fenced garden is at a premium plant your onions, chives, leeks, and garlic outside. Garlic is a fantastic companion plant for roses, which are on that frequently damaged list. Garlic planted with roses just might make the deer think twice about visiting your roses. Alliums are categorized as rarely damaged.

Mint is eschewed by deer

Aromatic Herbs

We savor the aromas of sage, dill, fennel, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and mint. Deer however find these herbs too much for their delicate noses to handle. Plant your herbs anywhere you like without fear of deer. These herbs fall into the rarely damaged category. Basil is also considered deer resistant, but slide it into the occasionally damaged classification.

Lavender is great for deer resistant borders

Lavender

Lavender is a beautiful and useful addition to the rarely damaged deer resistant garden.

Tomatoes and peppers

Solanaceous Vegetables

Solanaceous vegetables, also called the deadly nightshade group, are vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Peppers and tomatoes carry the badge of rarely damaged. Potatoes are best put in the occasionally damaged slot.

Artichoke Flower

Artichokes

Once you have the artichokes growing you can leave one or two to flower—the bees will arrive en masse to enjoy the bloom! Artichokes are rather prickly, so deer usually find something else to munch on. Grow artichokes from crowns in the winter or from seed in the spring. Artichokes are generally categorized as rarely damaged.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a beautiful edible ornamental. With it’s bright stalks and huge leaves it is quite a statement piece in the yard. Rhubarb is considered a rarely damaged plant.

White Figs

Figs

Ever wonder if there was a fruit tree that deer didn’t adore? It exists, it is the fig. Deer for whatever reason don’t particularly enjoy waxy, latex sap. Figs are rarely damaged by deer.

Lovely olives

Olives

The attractive, long lived olive is another tree deer tend to take a pass on. If it gets desperate enough they will nibble on olives so think of them as occasionally damaged.

Currants

Currants are vitamin C powerhouses. Growing currants was actually part of England’s strategy to keep healthy during World War II when vitamin C rich fruits were scarce on the island. You can grow this cold hardy, easy to grow, berry bush even if you have deer in the area. Currants are usually placed in the occasionally damaged category. I’ve had the tops of the new spring growth nipped off, but never seriously damaged. These shrubs are suited for light to moderate deer pressure. They can benefit from some deer repellent labeled for use on edibles during high deer pressure times such as late summer to early fall.

A deer resistant landscape and an edible landscape don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  Comments (22)

G

When I lived in N. MN where deer are plentiful, I planted at least a double row of sunflowers around my garden and the deer would pretty much leave my stuff alone. They just don’t like the often scratchy-ness of that thick fence!

Posted by Gale Green on May. 17, 2014 at 10:23:37 AM

J

I disagree about deer not eating tomato plants. The blacktail deer on my property here in WA state eat all the soft new growth on tomato plants but they especially love the flowers. They might not kill the plants themselves, but as you have no flowers, and therefore no tomatoes, they might as well eat the whole thing. The mule deer in N. California eat EVERYTHING, there are no such things as deer resistant plants there. Friends who live there complain that they can’t even put up bird feeders, the deer eat the sunflower seeds and tear apart the feeders. Blood, animal urine etc. sprays to deter the deer, aren’t effective much either. Virtually nothing deters deer other than a deer fence.

Posted by Jo W on May. 17, 2014 at 11:01:04 AM

M

Good article as a refresher.  We live outside of Ann Arbor, MI and have a big deer problem in our county.  As an organic gardener, we have had to install 8 foot fences around our two gardens. It has stopped invasion quite well, but occasionally rabbits or groundhogs tunnel under.

Posted by Marge Mills on May. 17, 2014 at 5:04:43 PM

R

this was really good info.  not all of these plants grow in my area and the deer surely do…

Posted by Ruth Beecher on May. 18, 2014 at 11:04:45 AM

Hello Jo W,

Yes, there are places of heavy deer pressure where the deer WILL eat things usually left alone. We’re actually based in Northern California and deal with mule deer regularly and there really are plants they’d rather not eat. Carolyn Singer’s books Deer in My Garden are a must have for the deer troubled gardener of Nor-Cal.

Posted by GrowOrganic.com on May. 19, 2014 at 9:11:25 AM

S

We don’t have deer in the high desert of Southern CA but we do have ground squirrels which climb ANY fence as well as dig. Be glad if all you have are deer which can be excluded with a simple chain link fence!

Posted by Steve on May. 22, 2014 at 10:37:11 AM

P

I have to net everything. The deer will eat everything other wise. I reuse it every year. I use pvc pipe to cage everything. It’s work but I love to garden so it all works.

Posted by Penny on Jun. 01, 2014 at 11:31:07 AM

N

I live in southern cal by grand terrace. there are deer in the area but my big problem is the wild burros that roam through the rv park at night. They love my grape leaves but I deter them with several hot pepper plants along the edge of my space. now my grapes are growing very well!

Posted by nolan tew on Oct. 16, 2014 at 10:10:40 AM

L

Great list.  Except deer have eaten every leaf and flower off my tomato and pepper plants every time I’ve tried to grow them outside the fence.

The deer don’t seem to eat my wild thimble berries, though, which make fantastic jam.

Posted by Lisa on Mar. 28, 2015 at 1:06:59 PM

S

Nice article. I was having a brain freeze on what plants are good for ‘forest gardening’ that repel deer, and this list jogged my memory. Thank you!

Posted by Susan on Jul. 20, 2015 at 7:21:18 PM

D

Our deer DO EAT our tomato plants and our dill (only the fern leaf dill).

Posted by Dianne on Aug. 07, 2015 at 2:33:22 PM

J

Locate your dog run on the full length of the woods side of the garden.  Even though the dog sleeps inside, I think the deer still smell the dog & stay away.

Posted by Jenny on Oct. 17, 2015 at 12:31:26 PM

C

What I use for deer control, besides my rifle during hunting season, is 30 lb monofilament fishing line., 4 poles, fishing line and placed 12 inches apart to about 6 feet high. They can’t see it and don’t know how high it is. It’s a must to be 30 lb and DO NOT tie ribbons or markers to the line. That defeats the purpose. Keeps all deer out. I can post pictures if needed.  The fishing line must be clear.

Posted by Cory P on May. 22, 2016 at 7:54:29 PM

A

The only thing I have found so far that is effective for keeping herds of deer away from our plants is a motion detection sprinkler. All last year they stayed away from the area while the flower and vegetables were not touched. I got it at Home Depot for about $70.

Posted by Alan on Jun. 04, 2016 at 12:27:32 PM

H

Here in Long Island,  New York the Whitetail Deer especially like solanaceous crops such as Tomatoes , Peppers and Potatoes.  I’ve been able to control them briefly by applying a mixed garlic/ hot pepper spray especially on pumpkins ,squash & melons , but because they put out new growth so rapidly It’s difficult to stay ahead. I also stake a milk crate over the fruit which they go after as well.

Posted by Haig Seferian on Jun. 20, 2016 at 1:49:34 PM

M

We have alot of whitetail deer in NE Ohio and they love the tomato and pepper plants. I had a few volunteer tomato plants and they ate them before eating the hostas

Posted by Michelle on Jul. 08, 2016 at 6:22:47 PM

N

Had heard figs were deer resistant so planted one. Deer had it stripped to a twig in under a week. Same blacktail nibble our tomatoes all the time. They also did a number on my olives when first planted although damage there wasn’t as bad as some. They have hit it once or twice since in less than a year.

Posted by Nathan on Jul. 17, 2016 at 5:01:46 PM

B

Deer don’t just eat tomato plants…they annihilate tomato plants.

Posted by Bob on Aug. 05, 2016 at 10:34:22 AM

K

I agree with Jo W.  I watched 3 deer eat my tall tomato plants, including the young, green tomatoes.

Posted by Kris N. on Oct. 21, 2016 at 3:26:24 PM

Deer will eat many things that they would not typically eat if they are starving. But also deer are browsers and if you have enough deer browse a plant then it will be gone. The best thing is a fence to keep deer out of your garden… a very tall one!

Posted by Suzanne at GrowOrganic.com on Oct. 25, 2016 at 10:55:01 AM

D

I live in Napa CA on a street that butts right up to a creek and the wilderness. My grandmother had planted so many beautiful roses in the front yard and they grew and flowered like crazy. Now that I am living here, the deer have eaten the roses down to the stumps. I’ve even put fencing around each one on all of them and still any little thing that sticks out gets eaten. They have not bloomed in 3 years. I’m afraid they will all die. The deer even stick their heads in the tiny circular fences 3’ high around the rosesand eat them down as far as possible. Just don’t know what else to do. I’m on the verge of getting a hunting permit.

Posted by Danielle Diakoff-King on Dec. 07, 2016 at 9:49:07 PM

Danielle, deer can certainly be frustrating when you are trying to grow a garden or flowers. If you continue with the fencing, you might try moving it away from the plants so the deer can’t push it in. You could use a vertical support to attach the fencing to. The other solution is to use a repellent like the Liquid Fence Deer Repellent or the Plantskydd. These are quite effective, but you will need to re-apply according to the label.

Posted by Suzanne at GrowOrganic.com on Dec. 08, 2016 at 2:26:55 PM

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