What Animals Eat Tomato Plants & How to Protect Your Tomatoes
You’ve been waiting patiently for your tomatoes to change from green to orange. Yesterday you saw red tinges showing through, so today’s the day – today is tomato harvesting day! The excitement is palpable.
But wait, as you approach your plant with basket in hand, you can’t see those glorious orange bulbs hanging from the plant! You experience a moment of denial – they must be covered with leaves or something. Until you spot the remains of half-eaten tomatoes on the ground. The horror! The heart-break! Someone else has been waiting patiently for your tomatoes to ripen too!
It’s moments like these that make you want to scream out of frustration. Who could’ve done such a thing? What kind of animals eat tomato plants!?
Never fear – the Garden Detectives are here! In this article, we are going to help you solve the case of your missing tomatoes!
We’ll be investigating the usual suspects and help you look for clues to help identify primary suspect number one! Once you have identified the main suspect, we’ll explore ways to prevent them from conducting another raid on your tomato plants.
So buckle up, because we have a case to solve!
Suspect 1 – Do Squirrels Eat Tomatoes at Night?
Squirrels are clever little thieves that are extremely determined when it comes to reaching the end goal – your tomato plants.
They are agile and can scale most protective structures that are effective against ground-dwelling animals. These little acrobats can even launch themselves through the air over fences and between trees.
The tell-tale sign that squirrels are getting to your tomatoes is when you see tomatoes scattered on the ground around your tomato plants.
They will generally chew a hole in the side of your tomato, drop it and move onto the next one. It’s almost as if they are purposefully ruining all your tomatoes, so you can’t enjoy even just one fruit from your labor.
How To Prevent Squirrels from Eating your Tomatoes
There are a few ways to discourage squirrels from raiding your tomato crops.
Completely enclosed tomato wire cages are the most effective form of protection for your tomato plants. We made a point of saying ‘wired’ cages, because squirrels have sharp teeth like rats, that can cut through nylon and fabric mesh like butter.
Make sure your cages are completely enclosed. This is important, so we are going to say it again – make sure your tomato cage is COMPLETELY enclosed. If there is the slightest opening in the cage, you can be confident Mr Squirrel will find it.
If you want to implement more preventative measures, placing owl statues around your garden will also help to deter squirrels. We recommend moving the owl around every now and again to give the impression it is real. Squirrels aren’t the most gullible animal around. If an owl statue stays in the same spot indefinitely, it may work once or twice. But they’ll soon cotton on that the statue is not a real threat.
Suspect 2 – Are Birds Raiding Your Tomatoes?
Some birds are opportunistic feeders and will grab a quick meal wherever, whenever they can.
Obviously, this will depend on your region and the variety of local birds you have in the area. We have Common Myna birds patrolling our gardens, and believe us when we say they are extremely clever birds.
We have actually watched our local Common Myna birds methodically test our bird netting for weak areas in the structure to get to our tomatoes. We even witnessed one lift a piece of netting that wasn’t staked in the ground properly, so it could hop underneath. The nerve!
Generally speaking, if birds are attacking your tomato plants, you will see them hanging around in the daytime waiting for you to look away. You’ll also see damage to the tomatoes that are higher up on the plant, rather than lower hanging fruit. Which makes sense since they see everything from the top-down, and it’s easier to fly away.
How to Stop Birds from Eating Your Tomatoes
Like squirrels, using enclosed tomato cages is the best approach to protecting your tomato plants. However, unlike squirrels, birds don’t have the ability to chew through the material. So bird netting will be sufficient for keeping them out.
Make sure to install your bird netting properly, otherwise you may have some particularly smart birds testing it for weaknesses like we experienced.
Some members of the community suggest planting bird-friendly plants to encourage them away from your tomatoes. For example, you could try planting trees that grow berries and fruits that feed the birds, but are inedible to humans. Or you can grow sunflowers that provide food for the birds via their abundant seeds.
While this will work to some degree, it can also have the opposite effect and attract more birds into your garden. And once one food supply has been exhausted, it is only natural for them to begin to search for other sources of food.
One old school method of deterring birds from your garden is to use a scarecrow. They can be effective at first, but like the owl statues above, they should be moved about to keep the birds on their toes.
Suspect 3 – Do Rabbits Eat Tomatoes off the Vine?
The next animal on our suspect list is the adorable rabbit. But don’t let their appearance fool you. A rabbits’ appetite is relentless and can cause a lot of rabbit damage to your tomato (and other vegetable) crops.
Wherever there are tender and fresh leaves and vegetables, you can be guaranteed a rabbit will not be far away. They are a very common pest for home gardeners and are extremely hard to keep out due to their ability to jump and digging ability.
If you suspect a rabbit is responsible for the case of your missing tomatoes, most of your plants will have missing leaves and stems towards the bottom. They will also eat the fruits, but generally devour all or most of the tomatoes. At least they appreciated the entire fruit, unlike those spiteful squirrels.
It is easy to determine whether rabbits are the culprits of your missing tomatoes, because they like to stay close to their burrows for safety. Simply search around your garden (and surrounding gardens) for the rabbits home, and you’ll soon have confirmation who are doing evening raids on your garden.
How to Prevent Rabbits from Reaching Your Tomato Plants
Given rabbits are ground dwelling animals, they are relatively easier to keep away from your plants. Installing rabbit cages around your tomatoes will help to keep them out.
Check out this short video by Farmer Fred from Plant Smart Living where he shows you how to construct a DIY rabbit – proof fence for his veggie patch.
Other natural deterrent you can use to keep rabbits away is sprinkling some organic powders on the ground around your plants. You can use things like chili, talcum powder, and red pepper powder. The goal is for the rabbits to sniff the unappealing substances and move on from your garden to greener pastures.
Some gardeners have reported that spreading human hair clippings around their plants has helped to keep rabbits away. When rabbits smell the human scent on the ground, it makes them nervous, and they move to safer areas (hopefully away from your garden).
Suspect 4 – Do Deer Eat Tomatoes off the Vine?
When given the opportunity, deer can devastate a tomato plant crop within a very short period. When we say devastate, we mean it. They will eat the entire plant, leaves, fruit, and stem, leaving very little behind.
When a deer raids your garden, it will do so in the twilight hours, like dawn and dusk. The challenge is they will eat very quickly. So, by the time you realize they have gotten into your garden, your entire crop will be gone. Which means you are starting from scratch.
How to Keep Deer out of Your Tomato Patch
Installing a deer – proof fence around your entire garden is generally the recommended practice for protecting your garden patch, but this isn’t always practical and can be unsightly.
As with deterring rabbits, some home gardeners say placing bar soap or human hair near the plants helps to deter them.
Others have installed motion sensors near the plants to shine bright lights when triggered.
There are commercial spray products that claim to repel deer (deer-repellant spray). You would spray the plants on the perimeter of your garden to form a boundary. We recommend testing the deer-repellant spray on a small part of the plant to see if there are any adverse effects, before spraying your garden on a larger scale.
Suspect 5 – Do Voles Eat Tomato Plants
Voles can prove to be equally devastating to tomato plants as deer. However, voles won’t eat the entire plant. Instead, they will chew through the stems of your tomato plants, leaving them severed. Unfortunately, the result is the same, because voles will kill the main plant, leaving you to start from the beginning again.
Voles will also eat the fruit, taking chunks out of the tomatoes, leaving them to rot and unsalvageable.
How to Prevent Voles From Destroying Your Tomato Plants
Voles, like other rodents, are hard to contain because they are so small, agile and quick. They are great climbers, so the only real defense against them is to enclose your tomato plants in a wire cage, like chicken wire.
The holes in the cage need to be small enough to prevent voles from squeezing through and reaching your tomato plants.
You can also try using owl statues, similar to the squirrel scare tactic strategy. But, you will need to move it around to mimic a real animal.
Suspect 6 – Are Raccoons Eating Your Tomatoes?
Raccoons are infamously hard to keep out of your home garden. The reason is they are wily and clever animals that can troubleshoot their way through fences that would keep most other pests at bay. This includes possessing the ability to dig their way under fences.
They are also great climbers, which means aerial assaults on your tomato crops are not a problem.
How to Prevent Raccoons from Eating Your Tomatoes?
Given these creatures are so intelligent, how do you keep raccoons out of your tomato patch?
Some clever gardeners have used cucumber plants to disrupt their pathways into the garden. For example, growing cucumber vines along their fences helps to deter raccoons. They hate the feeling of the prickly vines and leaves, including the spiked fruit.
We also recommend maintaining a clean and neat garden. Clear away rubbish and food sources immediately before raccoons can be attracted to your yard. This includes cleaning your rubbish bins regularly to prevent them from smelling, as well as keeping the lid tightly sealed.
The goal here is PREVENTION, so the raccoons are attracted to other sources of food – and not your garden.
Suspect 7 – Are Groundhogs Eating Your Tomato Plants?
Groundhogs are definitely high on the list in the case of your missing tomatoes. They love to snack on ripe tomatoes, and will make light work of any tomato plant within a single night.
You’ll know when a groundhog has been through your tomato plants, because your garden will be in shambles. Groundhogs are not the neatest of eaters. In fact, they will bulldoze your plants to get to the fruits that are higher up on your vines.
How to Prevent Groundhogs from Eat your Tomatoes
Groundhogs are difficult to control. They are terrific burrowers, which means fences will not defend against these troublesome creatures.
They are also quite strong, so keeping things out of their reach will also be difficult, since they’ll just drag them down to their level.
Some gardeners swear that a sprinkling of Epsom salts at the entrance of their burrow will do the trick. While other gardeners say castor oil has worked for them.
You can also try spreading clippings of human hair around your plants to discourage them from approaching your tomatoes.
Final Thoughts on What Animals Eat Tomato Plants
Solving the case of your missing tomatoes is not easy. The list of suspects is long. But, by starting with the evidence, and investigating the crime scene, you will soon be able to pick up on a few clues that will single out the prime suspects.
If your tomatoes are only partially eaten then we’d suggest looking into some prevention methods targeting rabbits, birds or squirrels.
If your entire tomato plant is missing, then deer would be our primary suspect.
Voles could be responsible for severed tomato plants, whereas trodden down plants would be the work of a groundhog.
Hopefully we’ve helped you get closer to identifying your mystery thief!