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