Most gardeners agree that a hungry deer will eat almost anything. As housing sprawl has brought deer and humans into closer and more frequent contact, deer have survived decimation of habitat by expanding their menu options. To all those who have weathered 20-minute tulips and lunchable lilies, deer-resistant flowering plants are particularly treasured. Lavender is one of those plants.
In general, deer do have foods they prefer. Smooth leaves, stems and flowers distinguish many deer favorites. Prickles, stickers, thorns and even fuzzy areas appear to be turn-offs. This issue, best described as mouth-feel, accounts for the success of barberry deer-hedges when other shrubs have failed. Lavender leaves display slight roughness, which may help deter investigation by deer.
Although we do not know how it tastes to deer, lavender shares an aromatic quality that distinguishes many plants deer avoid. Among plants deer appear to dislike are oregano, thyme, sage and members of the mint family. Deer also appear to dislike onions and garlic, probably for the same aromatic reasons.
Lavender is known for fairly good heat tolerance. To keep deer at bay, plant lavender in full sun. Further, allow soil to dry thoroughly between waterings. This stimulates lavender to grow "hard." Hard-growing means that new shoots become woody as rapidly as possible rather than remaining tender and appealing to browsing deer.
Lavender Planting Strategies
Use lavender to border (disguise and defend) plantings with higher deer appeal. Lavender along with other aromatic herbs planted in a 12- to 18-inch border may allow you to grow early lettuce and spinach, shield a rose bush or make flowering bulbs less appealing. Narrow borders are less successful because they can be ignored. They are, however, effective outside fencing as one more obstacle for deer.
Lavender Landscaping Strategies
Use lavender's heat and drought tolerant qualities to form a backdrop for other deer-resistant plantings. Gardeners find it blends well with native plants such as coneflower, daylily and coreopsis. Lavender's long blooming season also makes it a natural companion to both early-spring daffodils (much disliked by deer) and fall chrysanthemums (verdicts vary). Whether planted as a feature or a filler, lavender will help you establish a basis for filling your yard with blooms deer do not like.