One of the most frustrating parts of growing tomatoes is just how much animals love them. They’re a delicious fruit ripe for the taking, and there are many backyard animals that eat tomato plants and can damage their progress. This is a list of the eight animals you’ll find in your garden, as well as a few tips and tricks to keep both them and your garden happy and healthy.
8 common animals that Eat Tomato Plants
Chipmunks can be adorable additions to your backyard wildlife, but can also pose plenty of problems when gardening. Chipmunks are omnivores and love both nuts and seeds, which unfortunately are abundant in your tomato patch. They’re especially common if your garden is close to a wooded area, as they prefer to make homes in fallen logs and leaf piles.
As an incredibly agile jumper and climber, they can be difficult to control since they can jump over many fences. They usually feed in the early morning and only eat the tomatoes, preferring to leave the main part of the plant alone. This can be frustrating, but no real damage is caused to the crop and they’re relatively neat.
Squirrels, like chipmunks, are also agile gymnasts and able to maneuver through the air and up your plants with ease. They’re omnivores and also prefer the early morning to steal a few bites out of your sweet tomatoes.
Placing a mesh “cage” over your tomato plants, similar to how you squirrel proof a bird feeder, is recommended if they become a large enough problem. Placing a fake snake or owl nearby can also sometimes do the trick, but squirrels can become acclimated to anything relatively quickly and the position and type of animal should be changed frequently.
3. Local Birds
Depending on your location, local birds could be the culprit. If you see more top-down damage on fruits high on the vine, it’s oftentimes your local birds trying to get a taste. Pecking damage is also a pretty distinctive, deep gouge that looks like it came from a beak.
A common way to discourage this is by placing a net or mesh over the top, similar to squirrels. By providing more bird-friendly plants elsewhere in the garden, such as sunflower and marigold or any other local seed-bearing plants, you can encourage biodiversity in your backyard and increase pollination while keeping your precious fruits and veggies safe.
4. Groundhogs (Woodchucks)
Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are the messiest eaters of the garden pests. They commonly trample tomato plants in the process of seeking out the fruits, and will often branch out into beans, peas, and corn as well. They’re a common nuisance that can tear down entire gardens if left unchecked.
Groundhogs are especially difficult to control when they’re damaging plants, as they live in burrows with mounds at the entrances of the holes. They’re wily and surprisingly fast underground, so the only reliable option is to trap and relocate them. It’s recommended to let a local professional do it as humanely as possible.
Rabbits, one of the most common animals that eat tomato plants, are a regular forager of gardens. These garden pests are relatively neat eaters that will rip off chunks of leaves without leaving behind any jagged edges. They’ve also been known to eat the fruit and seedlings as well, usually during the evening, night, and early morning.
Rabbits don’t like to travel far from their burrow to eat, so if you suspect rabbits it’s best to begin by searching for their home to confirm. Should this continue being a problem, electric rabbit fences are a popular deterrent – they consist of two wires that lightly shock the rabbits’ ears, which startles but doesn’t injure them.
Deer are voracious eaters, and backyard gardens are common easy targets for their appetite. They’ll graze on all parts of the tomato plant and will leave little behind. To keep their energy up, deer need to eat as much as 7 pounds of vegetation per day.
It’s rare to actually see the deer eating your garden, but their tracks tell a different story. If you’re worried about deer in your garden, strong-smelling deterrents around the garden may deter them for a short time. This is only short term as deer are surprisingly intelligent and can become accustomed to unusual smells. The best deterrent is a dog – both the scent and the barking are good ways to ensure deer don’t return for your tomatoes.
Voles can cause considerable damage to tomato plants and are a common pest for backyard gardeners. Voles are the most common culprit if entire plants are severed, as they like to chew through stems and leaves. Further evidence of voles is narrow grooves in the leaves that are created by the animal’s two front teeth.
The best way to discourage voles is by destroying their local tunnels; they’re usually located in leaves or grassy areas near the garden. The bright side is voles usually end up controlled rather quickly, as they attract owls and hawks that eventually keep the population back under control. This has the added benefit of those predators keeping the populations of other species on this list down as well.
Raccoons are considered the most intelligent of the garden pests, even if the tree squirrel isn’t far behind. They’re notoriously difficult to control, as they’re avid climbers with dexterous hands. A fence that’s effective against raccoons must be at least 4 feet tall with another food buried in the ground to prevent digging holes in yards, which can be difficult to install and maintain.
The best way to protect your tomatoes from raccoons is to be preemptive and stop them from nesting in your yard in the first place. By keeping pet food indoors and covering garbage cans tightly, you should be able to discourage them from wandering too close to humans and also keeps them from becoming too reliant on neighborhoods for easy food.
It can be frustrating when tomatoes get eaten after working so hard on the garden, but thankfully there are many ways to prevent damage to your plants and the animals that want them. Preemptive measures are best, such as providing other alternate options, strong-smelling deodorants, and fake predators to deter smaller animals. It can end up being rewarding having a positive relationship with your own backyard animals, even through them being in your garden, and eventually, they lead to healthier soil and bigger plants for you.