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 (10)

T

Great list. But note for all tree types: male deer rub their antlers on the bark, potentially killing a young tree. And weirdly, I’ve had deer eat every leaf off a tomato in one night. I’ll try again, hoping it was a fluke? Just planted my artichoke without fencing, looking forward to it’s prolific life!

Posted by Tiffany on Mar. 10, 2017 at 2:21:39 PM

Tiffany, you are right about deer eating things that should be deer resistant. If deer only browse it then it would be ok, but if a whole heard browse it, then your plant might be gone. Sometimes deer will eat things they don’t normally eat if they are really hungry. I just put up a big fence and then I don’t have to worry!

Posted by Suzanne at GrowOrganic.com on Mar. 14, 2017 at 5:03:38 PM

A

So I just bought a mission fig based on it’s supposed deer resistance.  It was in the middle of a grassy area with plenty of other greenery to eat.  It lasted about 3 days before the deer ate all the leaves.  NOT deer resistant!

Posted by AVB on Apr. 02, 2017 at 9:35:52 AM

AVB, Deer will browse plants to see if they like them or not. If it was a small tree and enough deer tasted it, I could see it getting eaten. Anything small that is deer resistant, I would put up some kind of barrier until it is able to get established.

Posted by Suzanne at GrowOrganic.com on Apr. 04, 2017 at 1:34:42 PM

J

Deer have always eaten my tomato plants put outside of a fence. Not a fluke.  Hopefully artichokes will be safe as they would take up too much room in the garden.  Am going to try them this year.

Posted by Julia M Calderon on Apr. 21, 2017 at 6:36:14 AM

J

we have had the deer eat anything and everything we have planted, despite an over abundance of apples on the ground from our apple tree, which is about 50 feet from our garden. We solved the deer problem by building a small roof for our garden but have had issues with groundhogs and rabbits in the two years since. Last year the groundhogs even attempted to bite through our metal fencing before digging under it to get in. This year we are rebuilding our garden with a layer of fencing under the dirt but were looking for other things to plant around the outside to help deter the animals. We were considering planting onions, garlic, and leeks around it. Thank you for this list.

Posted by jen on Apr. 30, 2017 at 5:45:19 PM

V

Deer LOVE basil.

Posted by Van on May. 06, 2017 at 9:56:54 AM

R

The deer came right up on my deck and chowed down on my fig…I wasn’t sure that it would survive but it did and I have had them eat my tomato plants down to nothing.

 

Posted by Robin on May. 20, 2017 at 3:13:42 PM

R

Here in Boise Idaho, tomatoes are eaten every year by deer. Until I wrap netting around them. Both leaves and fruit.

Posted by Roxane on Jul. 16, 2017 at 12:42:21 PM

K

I think all new plants are “explored” by the deer as possibly edible.  Deer repellant when they are first planted is helpful….plus gives the plant a chance to become established before the first nibble.

Posted by Katie on Sep. 11, 2017 at 4:09:47 PM

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