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Deer notoriously view home gardens as their own personal buffets, to the extent that some people find this minor annoyance humorous. Many gardeners go to great lengths to plant deer-friendly gardens and choose plants that are said to be deer resistant, such as coleus. But do deer eat coleus? 

Coleus is a common ornamental plant with a reputation for being deer-resistant. However, some gardeners have scratched their heads in bewilderment after discovering that deer have eaten their coleus plants as though they were a midnight snack. 

Granted, deer rarely eat coleus due to the plant’s low toxicity levels. Occasionally, you may spot a deer grazing upon a coleus plant, but that’s only if they’ve acquired a taste for it. Deer may eat coleus if hungry enough, but they prefer other plants. 

Are Deer Attracted to Coleus? 

Deer aren’t attracted to coleus, which is good news for gardeners. Your coleus plants won’t draw deer into your garden. 

As long as you don’t live in a rural area where deer are plentiful, there’s no need to worry about deer flocking into your garden to devour your potted coleus or its foliage. However, other plants in your garden may attract deer. If that’s the case, your coleus plant may be an unintended casualty. 

Telltale Signs of Deer Damage 

Since deer rarely eat coleus, there’s no available deer damage information specific to the coleus plant. However, there are a few tell-tale ways to determine whether deer are the culprit of your coleus plant damage. 


Deer lack upper teeth, so they must rip plants apart when feeding. Torn leaves or uneven stalks are surefire signs that deer have gotten into your garden. 

Antler Rubbing 

Male deer are infamous for rubbing their antlers against trees. If you notice vertical scrapes and shredded bark on your trees, deer have been grazing your property and may have stopped for a snack in your garden. 

Deer Tracks 

Deer tracks are two to three inches long and shaped like a broken heart. If you’ve seen these tracks in and around your garden, deer may be the cause of your plant damage. 

Deer Droppings 

If you’re dead set on figuring out what’s been in your garden, look for any droppings that an animal may have left behind. Deer droppings look like rabbit droppings, except they’re often clumped together. 

Can Deer Eat Coleus, or Is It Poisonous? 

Coleus is poisonous for both humans and animals if consumed in large amounts. However, coleus is considered only mildly toxic to deer. They can still eat it, just not regularly. Fortunately, most deer are smart enough to avoid coleus. 

Even though it’s unlikely that coleus will make your local deer fall ill, coleus is poisonous to other animals, including cats, dogs, and horses. If you own pets, you need to be cautious when planting coleus. Or better yet, you could just choose to plant something else. 

Are There Deer Resistant Varieties?

Coleus in garden

You may occasionally come across a story about deer devouring coleus, but this is far from the norm. If a deer is desperate for food, it may settle for eating coleus as a last resort. However, all varieties of coleus are said to be deer resistant. 

Keep in mind that deer-resistant doesn’t necessarily mean deer-proof. Wildlife and deer gardening experts never use the phrase ‘deer-proof’ because no plant is entirely exempt from damage caused by wild animals. 

Does Coleus Grow Back After a Deer Eats It? 

Coleus leaves are needed to conduct photosynthesis and store energy for the following year. Without its leaves, coleus will most likely not grow back. So, if deer -or any other animal- devours the coleus leaves, the plant will not be able to continue to grow. 

However, it’s relatively simple to propagate coleus. If you are concerned about deer destroying your coleus, you can plan ahead by placing a leaf cutting in water and planting the rooted cuttings. 

How to Protect Coleus Plants From Deer 

Most likely deer will stay away from your coleus plants, but if you were ever amongst the unfortunate few whose coleus plants were destroyed by deer, there are several ways to protect your plants in the future. 

  • Homemade or organic sprays. While you’ll want to avoid exposing deer to harmful chemicals, you can buy organic deer repellents at many retailers. Alternatively, you can create your own homemade repellent by mixing eggs, garlic, and cayenne pepper. 
  • Human hair or soap shavings. Anything that puts off a human-like scent will deter deer. Placing Irish spring soap shavings or strands of hair from your hairbrush around the perimeter of your garden is said to keep deer away.
  • Build a deer fence. A deer fence is a common-sense approach to keeping deer out of your garden. However, deer fences aren’t always plausible because deer are great jumpers. Deer fences need to be six to ten feet high to be effective. 
  • Install motion-activated lighting. The jury is still out on this approach, but it’s been claimed that motion-activated outdoor lighting will scare deer off your property. But the lights will need to shine directly on your garden for this to work. 

Verdict: Is Coleus Deer Resistant? 

When compared to other plants, coleus is indeed deer resistant. Deer are not attracted to coleus and rarely eat it due to its mild toxicity. Simply put, deer don’t find coleus foliage very appealing. 

However, coleus isn’t deer proof, and your garden may one day encounter a deer who is hungry enough to eat coleus or has come to like the taste of it. Fortunately, there are environment- friendly ways to keep deer away from your garden. 

Keep reading!

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