When deer compete for a limited food supply, they are likely to eat any plant they can find, a situation that can wreak havoc on suburban, rural and even some urban gardens. But some plants, including lantana, are not especially appealing for deer, and the animals will avoid eating them if possible.
Of the lantana species often grown in gardens in the United States, the shrubby species often referred to simply as lantana or, sometimes, as shrub verbena (Lantana camara) is one of the most ornamental. This species typically grows to a height of 3 to 4 feet, with a spread of 1 to 3 feet. It is characterized by its toothed, rough-textured, 4-inch-long leaves and its round clusters of small, multicolored flowers.
This species is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 to 11, and in USDA zone 9 it may die back in the winter and regrow from its roots in the spring. In areas with frost-free winters, lantana can escape the garden and naturalize, and in some places it is considered a noxious weed. In colder climates, lantana is sometimes grown as a garden annual.
Weeping lantana (Lantana montevidensis), which is also sometimes called trailing lantana, has a rambling growth habit. It typically grows to about 1 or 1 1/2 feet tall and spreads to 3 or 5 feet, and it is often used as a ground cover. Its leaves, like those of the other lantana species, are toothed and rough, and it blooms with clusters of small purple-pink flowers. This species is hardy in USDA zones 8 to 10.
Browsing deer are willing to sample almost any garden plant, especially when conditions are harsh and food is scarce, but some plants are relatively unpalatable, and deer avoid eating them when they can. Deer tend to avoid plants with strong aromas, and they will usually choose plants with tender foliage and shoots over plants with rough or prickly leaves.
Lantana, fortunately, has characteristics that make it far from the first choice of hungry deer. Its leaves have a coarse texture and a surface that feels almost sand-papery. Its leaves, too, give off a strong scent when they're brushed, and the aroma is so strong that gardeners sometimes plant the shrubs away from paths where visitors are likely to bump into the plants. Thanks to these traits, deer will typically leave lantana alone. However, the new leaves of young plants, which are not as coarse as those of mature plants, may be eaten by deer.
Evan Gillespie grew up working in his family's hardware and home-improvement business and is an experienced gardener. He has been writing on home, garden and design topics since 1996. His work has appeared in the South Bend Tribune, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Arts Everywhere magazine and many other publications.