Do Deer Eat Coleus? Will They Attract Deer to My Garden?

Thinking of planting some coleus in your garden, but aren't sure if they will attract deer or not? While they may not attract deer like a hosta, there's still some steps you'll need to take if you want to keep deer away from your coleus. In this article, certified master gardener Larua Elison walks through if this plant will bring deer into your garden.

Coleus in Garden Without Deer

You get your garden just how you want it. Beautiful layers of foliage and flowers, everything lush and beautiful. Then the deer come in, and they treat your hours of hard work as their own personal salad bar. This is not what any gardener wants, and can lead to hours of frustration with planting, replanting, and figuring out the best way to keep deer out of your garden.

Deer is a garden pest I have such mixed feelings about. They are such beautiful gentle creatures, but they can cause so much destruction in our gardens. Coleus is a beautiful foliage plant in the mint family, it is mildly toxic, but all in all it is edible for a deer.

But do deer think it is a delicious treat? Or do they leave it be in favor of more delicious plants? And does planting coleus in our gardens signal all the deer in the area to come for a feast? Let’s look into these questions.

The Short Answer

Can deer eat coleus? Yes, they can. But are they attracted to it? No, this plant is not a deer attractant, like other types of plans. They find them unpalatable, similar to other plants. I can confidently say no, deer do not come around to gardens specifically searching for coleus. But if they find it, and there’s nothing else available, then yes, they will find themselves eating coleus as a snack.

About Coleus

When researching coleus, annual sellers often list certain varieties of coleus as a deer resistant annual. It is slightly toxic, and they don’t taste very good to deer. However when I talk to real life everyday gardeners that live in areas where deer are prevalent they say, yes, deer will devour my coleus to stumps.

So coleus itself isn’t delicious or tempting to deer, then why are gardeners reporting it being eaten? It doesn’t help for me to say it’s deer resistant case closed, when deer are devouring your coleus. Let’s dive deeper into the deer, and why they might decide to eat this not so tasty plant.

Deer and Coleus

Coleus Indoors in Container
Depending on where you live, deer may eat whatever is available.

If you live in an area where deer aren’t prevalent, then you don’t have to worry, your pot of coleus or the border of the foliage plant in your garden will not bring deer in from other places. So to answer that question, no, coleus does not attract deer into gardens. They mostly avoid this plant.

However, tell this to the gardener who has had their coleus devoured that deer don’t like it. It’s not so simple. If you live in an area where deer are common and get into your garden, then yes your coleus could be at risk. But not necessarily. It will depend on a few different factors.

Factor 1: What is available for food

Hosta and Coleus Garden
Deer will typically eat hostas first, if they are available in your garden.

When you look in your cupboard looking for a delicious snack, you will reach for the chips first. No chips? Well the crackers will have to do. No crackers? Fine I guess it’s the dry old rice cakes that will have to do. Coleus are the rice cakes in the garden.

Deer will eat almost anything if they are hungry enough. There is a hierarchy of deliciousness to deer and they will prefer things that are tastier to them. But If coleus are the only thing in your garden that looks palatable, that is what they will eat. If you have something more delicious, they will probably choose that over your coleus.

Of course having them munch on your prized roses over your coleus probably doesn’t provide much comfort. I garden in a community with tons of deer, and they never eat the coleus by the front door, they always choose the hydrangeas by the driveway, or the hostas in the front garden. It’s just as annoying and I use a combination of the methods to deter deer that I will list below.

Factor 2: They have the taste for coleus

Coleus Garden With Many Plants
If a deer has already consumed this plant, they will be more likely to come back and eat it again.

Deer aren’t generally attracted to the taste of coleus, it’s pungent and not delicious like a hosta or hydrangea. However, if a deer has sampled coleus, it will be more likely to eat come back and eat it more often. This is why certain gardeners claim deer always eat their coleus, whereas some gardeners report they avoid it.

Will Deer Actually Eat Coleus?

Deer in Garden
Deer can eat coleus if they’ve developed a taste for it, but will typically eat other garden plants first.

Now the vague answer to the question will deer eat my coleus? Well, maybe, but probably not, but they might. Sorry, not the answer you were looking for. Here’s the deal, if you have a prized coleus plant and you’re considering placing it outside, and your garden gets lots of deer, perhaps consider testing the waters first.

Place a decoy coleus out and see if they devour it. If they don’t, great, you’re probably in the clear. I would however consider keeping your coleus out of reach if it’s a prized plant. But if you just want to add some coleus to your garden,  try it out and see how it goes.

Gardening is just a big game of trial and error. If deer do devour your coleus, it’s time to employ some deer deterring strategies. In the next section I will help you employ some strategies that can help combat the cute, but destructive, creatures.

Deer Deterrents

If deer are eating your coleus, even though the tag says ‘deer resistant’, here are a few strategies that can help deter deer. This list can be used for any plants deer are munching on, not limited to coleus. Let’s take a look at some options that you have to keep deer away from your coleus and your garden.

Fencing your garden

Of course this is an obvious answer, but not always possible. However, if deer are a huge problem in your area and they are always messing with your hard work, consider fencing the perimeter of your garden.

Hanging baskets

If deer are always munching the same plant on your front steps, coleus, geranium, petunias, whatever, consider hanging them out of their reach. Coleus looks great in a hanging basket, it forms a big ball of beautiful foliage, and it can be hung safely out of reach from hungry deer.

Motion sensor sprinklers

To keep deer away from your coleus, consider adding one of these devices. When it detects motion it will shoot out a spray of water, this will scare the deer away from your coleus beds. This works to a point, but if your whole garden is a tasty snack, you will need too many of these.

Deterrent sprays

You can buy a product from most garden centers that you spray on plants you want deer to avoid. It is made from a bunch of scents that deer detest, like castor oil and garlic. This spray does work, the only problem is that it needs to be reapplied after it rains. So you will need to keep on top of it, which may not be realistic.

Homemade deterrents

There are a lot of folk remedies to deter deer. Some people have great luck with these remedies, other people will say they don’t work. I think trial and error until you find something that works, and even then it might work for a while and then stop working and the deer are back. So having a few different tricks up your sleeve is always good.

  1. The first one is using shavings of Irish Spring soap around your plants, this will have to be done throughout the season, deer hate the smell of it.
  2. Another home remedy is hair clipping, wildlife do not like human hair. So save your hair clippings, and place them around your garden.
  3. Another homemade solution is to make your own spray out of garlic, rosemary, mint, oregano, fish oil, jalapeno etc. and spray it around your garden.
  4. Plant aromatic or toxic plants deer avoid. There are several options here, including marigolds, oregano, chives, daffodils, and bleeding hearts.
  5. Blood meal is a fertilizer that can deter deer from entering your garden. I often use it on bulbs to deter squirrels from digging them up.

Final Thoughts

I think the thing that is most wonderful, and most frustrating about gardening is that there are no straight answers. When giving garden advice, I often feel like a politician that never gives any straight answers. You tell me your houseplant is dying and I tell you well you’re probably over watering it, but might be underwatering it. The same with coleus and deer, well maybe they will, eat it, but they might not.

 I did really dive into this question.  I asked some experienced gardeners and colleagues that live in areas with deer problems if deer ate their coleus. Well, it was split on whether the deer loved their coleus or left it alone. Also, when I asked the gardeners, they were certain their  answer was the only right answer. Either, nope, deer will never eat coleus. Or yes, deer eat all the coleus.

So my final  answer to this question will be, no coleus does not attract deer to your garden. But, yes, deer will eat coleus in your garden, but it’s not their first choice. Don’t let deer stop you from planting coleus, but if they develop a taste for it, use some of the methods I mentioned and see if you can get them to leave your coleus alone.

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