Alliums are one of the few plants that are almost guaranteed to be ignored by deer in the garden. The edible and ornamental types both contain sulfur compounds that make them very smelly and unpalatable to browsing deer. Ornamental alliums contain far lower levels of these compounds, so they will not make your garden smell like an onion patch. In fact, many varieties have a pleasantly fragrant bloom.
According to Rutgers University, this plant is Rarely Damaged on their rating scale from Rarely Damaged to Frequently Severely Damaged. All deer can get desperate for food, especially during the winter. Luckily, alliums are usually dormant during the winter and are not likely to be browsed or even disturbed.
Keeping Deer Away From Alliums
Since alliums are not bothered by deer, there is no reason to invest in costly repellents or fencing to protect them. In fact, the stronger-smelling edible alliums can be used to deter deer from other plants. Using chives as edging for garden beds is a decorative way to keep deer away from more tender favorites such as tulips and hydrangea. Homemade spray repellents can be formulated from crushed garlic and other strong-smelling ingredients. The sprays will need to be reapplied after heavy watering or rain, since the smell will wash off the plants.
Will Alliums Come Back After Deer Eat Them?
On the very remote chance that deer eat parts of your alliums, there is no danger that the plant will be permanently injured. The bloom may be eaten for the season, but as long as the bulb is left intact, the allium will survive to bloom again next year. An application of bone meal or pre-mixed bulb fertilizer will give the bulbs a boost, making them stronger for the next season.
Sources: Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station ‘Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance’ 2018
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Author Robbin Small - Published 7-19-2022