Do Deer Eat Coleus?


Written by Phil Dubley

Updated: November 15, 2022

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Although deer aren’t picky eaters, they won’t just munch down anything they find. This usually includes Coleus, a family of perennial shrubs that grow in humid climates and are typically used as decoration in gardens all over the world.

You may be looking to add some color to your garden and think coleus is the answer, yet there are some things to consider before exposing these plants to wild animals. In this article, we’ll discuss the risks of deer discovering your coleus and show you ways of preventing them from eating your whole garden. Let’s get started!

Will Deer Eat My Coleus?

Yes, deer will eat Coleus, but only if there aren’t better options nearby.

First of all, you should know that even if deer don’t just eat anything, they probably can eat everything that’s in your garden if they wish to. There have been many reports of deer eating coleus when there aren’t more suitable plants around to have for lunch. Moreover, coleus won’t attract deer to your property, but if they live nearby and find nothing else to eat, they will go out of their way to munch on it.

That said, deer are known for having quite the appetite for common garden plants. They even have an internal hierarchy of preferences, preferring specific tastes and plants over others. For example, they famously prefer hostas over roses — or anything else.

When talking about coleus, it is important to note that it is slightly toxic. This gives it a naturally offputting taste, making deer prefer most other plants to coleus. However, if there aren’t any more edible plants around and the deer is hungry enough, they’ll likely eat your coleus.

This should be good news, however, as it means that your coleus plants are most likely safe as long as you have tastier flowers around for deer to snack on!

Using Decoy Coleus

If you have other plants in your garden, deer are more likely to go after them. However, gardening is always about trial and error. If you have prized coleus that you want to plant outside, and know deer live close, put a small plant out first and see if they eat it. 

If they don’t, great, you’re safe. The decoy plant strategy is often the simplest one to determine whether it’s okay to plant a species in a garden permeable to wildlife. If they eat it, however, they are more likely to eat it again if you plant the rest.

This is because deer are intelligent creatures, and once they sample a plant, they’ll be more likely to prefer it to other unsampled snacks. If you find that your decoy coleus was eaten overnight, there is a big chance that deer will come back looking for some more later.

Even though most annual sellers list their coleus as “deer resistant,” we recommend you do this test to prevent disappointment.

Should I Worry About My Coleus?

You should only worry for your coleus if there aren’t any other plants nearby that deer will prefer in your garden. 

Some gardeners report their deer always devour their coleus, and some say deer avoid it. Still, you can be sure if they’ve eaten it once, they are more likely to do it again. The short answer is that while coleus is deer resistant, it isn’t deer-proof. Its natural toxicity makes it a low-quality snack for deer, but if a deer is hungry enough and there aren’t any more palatable plants around, it may eat your coleus.

Thankfully, there are things you can easily buy or do to prevent deer from doing this if you have a valuable coleus plant in your garden. Anything from deterrent sprays to motion-activated sprinklers should do the trick to keep your coleus safe from hungry deer.


Coleus is a popular plant found in gardens around the world. It’s also something that deer may enjoy munching on.

© Potashkin

Preventing Deer From Eating Your Coleus

If you find that the deer in your area have developed a fine taste for coleus plants but still wish to plant them outside, there are a few things you can try. While none are sure to stop deer from doing anything, they will help prevent them from munching on your garden. 

  • Deterrent sprays: Most garden stores offer sprays you can buy that deter deer from your plants. It’s generally made from oils like castor oil, which deer hate, and they’re easy to apply. The only downside is that you’ll need to spray it all over again if it rains.
  • Automatic sprinklers: Another good idea is to add a motion-activated water sprinkler to your garden and near your coleus. When hungry deer come near it, it will spray enough water to scare them away and keep your plants healthy.
  • Traditional deterrents: Try aromatic plants, like oregano or chives, or make a pungent spray using garlic, jalapeño, and other smelly ingredients. Also, deer hate the smell of Irish spring soap, so you can use shavings to make deer avoid areas of your garden.

Want to learn even more about this amazing plant? Check out our complete guide to coleus here.

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About the Author

My name is Phil Dubley, I am a Canadian living in Argentina, but tomorrow I could be writing from anywhere else. Throughout my life, I've been in love with nature: plants, animals, people, and everything in it. I have a passion for wild animals - snakes, sharks, and felines have always fascinated me. As for plants, I love succulents. I have a collection of over ten different varieties on my terrace. Also, I use the hemp plant as CBD oil for sleep: it has been the only thing to tackle my insomnia effectively. I want to share all my knowledge about the areas I am passionate about with others who feel the same way. I hope you enjoy my articles, and in each one, you learn something new!

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