Deer populations across the country have expanded significantly in the last several decades. White-tailed deer in the eastern United States, and mule deer and black-tailed deer in the west, have adapted to the suburban landscape, where there are few predators but cars, and plenty of landscape shrubs, ornamentals, and garden vegetables to eat. Your choice of herb, flower, and vegetable plants can deter or even repel deer from your garden.
Deer have a highly developed sense of smell, so plants with a strong scent will deter deer browsing--and may even repel deer from other nearby edibles by confusing their food-tracking noses, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service. Among the strong-smelling herbs listed by the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Extension Service as being highly deer-resistant are: Anise, anise hyssop, catmint, common tansy, garden sage, horehound, horseradish, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, monkshood, oregano, rosemary, and rue.
Flowers and Ornamental Foliage Plants
Many flowers and ornamental foliage plants with strong scents, bitter chemical components, or fuzzy, prickly foliage will deter or repel deer. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service lists chrysanthemum, foxglove, oriental poppies and yarrow as deer-resistant perennial flowers, while the fuzz on wormwood and lambs' ears foliage keeps deer at bay. The Oregon State University Extension recommends irises, columbine, jasmine, and lilacs as deer-resistant flowering plants. Lily of the valley and many fern varieties work as deer-repelling ground covers in shade. Any of the many varieties of holly provide prickly deer-resistant foliage, and are available in glossy green or variegated cultivars.
Vegetables present the most difficult challenge for the gardener trying to outwit hungry deer. According to the Oklahoma State University Extension, many vegetable garden species are resistant to deer when the plants are mature, such as peppers, corn and squash, but will be browsed down by deer when set out as unprotected young transplants. Row covers, cloches, and hot pepper spray may deter deer from young vegetable plants until they can reach adequate size for resistance. Onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, and cucumbers also deter deer when they reach mature size. The Oregon State University Extension also recommends edible fig trees for a deer-tolerant fruit addition to your garden.