It’s one of the worst feelings in the world.
You’ve been growing your tomatoes for the past 4-5 months, carefully pruning and watering them. And then one morning you come outside to see that some critter has taken bites out of your fruit that you worked so hard to grow.
You were SO close to getting to taste that new variety or share them with friends, and now you’re going to have to wait even longer…and that’s if you’re lucky enough that they didn’t destroy the entire plant.
I know the feeling – rabbits, squirrels, and birds are the biggest culprits at the moment for eating out of my garden. But there are plenty of animals that find tomatoes to be a delicious snack as well.
The good news is that there are some easy ways to keep these critters away from your garden; so let’s walk through what animals eat tomatoes and how to keep them out of your garden.
Animals That Will Eat Your Tomato Plants
There are a bunch of wild animals that will want to reap the benefits of gardening “with you” – and most animals LOVE ripe tomatoes.
Some of the more common animals that eat tomatoes include birds, squirrels, deer, and rabbits. But there are others that you might be dealing with like groundhogs and even a stray cat.
Whatever you do, don’t use harsh chemicals to keep your garden safe! There’s no need to douse your food with insecticides or funky sprays. Here are some of the animals that eat tomatoes and ways you can keep their damage to a minimum.
Birds are one of the more obvious culprits that could be eating your tomatoes. If you have a bird feeder in your yard, there are likely quite a few birds that will wander over to the garden and check out what else is on the menu.
This little feathered “friend” will have no problem feasting on your tomatoes, garden seeds, and other plants.
Types of Birds to Watch For
- Blackbirds – i.e. grackles, starlings, and red-winged blackbirds
- Blue Jays
There are plenty of types of birds that will peck at tomatoes, but those are some of the more common ones. The catch-22 here is that birds will eat worms on your tomatoes too, so you’re missing out on that by trying to keep them away. But if you don’t have any tomatoes, then who cares if there are worms! 🙂
How to Keep Birds Out of a Garden
For the most part, birds are great for the garden. They scratch the earth, leaving behind nutrients in their poop, and keep the worms active. But they can also be a nuisance when it comes to getting into your tomatoes.
Garden or Bird Netting
There are a few ways to keep birds out of your tomato patch, and the main way is to use bird netting. You can drape netting over the plants to help keep them from getting to the fruit. However, you’ll need to stay on top of raising the netting as your plants grow.
You can also use aluminum screening and bend it into an arched shape over the plants you’re trying to save from pecking damage.
Pick Your Tomatoes Early
The other thing is to pick tomatoes before they’re fully ripe. Birds seem to be attracted to tomatoes once they’re bright red and start smelling like food.
Try and pick your tomatoes when they’re in the “breaker” stage, and start turning from green to red (or yellow tomatoes if you’re growing different varieties). Then you can let them ripen on the counter inside where birds can’t get to them.
This isn’t a perfect solution, as some birds will eat green tomatoes as well, but it can definitely help lessen the impact.
You can also use scarecrows as farmers have been doing for hundreds of years. Or plop a fake owl at the corners of the garden to make them think the space isn’t safe.
Squirrels are common in the USA, and good lord they are all over my backyard. Because there are so many of them, there is often as least one looking for food.
I’ve lost so many tomatoes to squirrels that I’m now that crazy person that runs outside when I see a squirrel eyeing up my garden. Squirrels might seem cute for a while – until they sit on your fence eating your tomatoes while staring you directly in the eye.
They’re nimble, can climb just about anything, and will also eat almost anything. Unfortunately for us gardeners, they love tomato plants.
How to Keep Squirrels Off Your Tomato Plants
There are a few good ways to keep squirrels away from your tomatoes:
Yes, you heard that right. These sprinklers can help keep squirrels away, as well as other animals that are easily scared off and sensitive to water:
This is one of my favorite gadgets. It can help keep all kinds of animals away from the garden, including:
- Stray cats
Once the sprinkler detects motion nearby, it immediately shoots water. This is great for keeping your plants watered as well 🙂
You can see it in action on my raised bed here:
A motion activated sprinkler works wonders for keeping animals (and people!) out of your yard. It sprays intermittently as it detects continuous motion so animals won't get used to the timing of it.
I don’t want to jinx myself here, but the fence I put up to keep the rabbits out seems to have kept the squirrels out of the garden. That and the compost pile that is on the complete opposite end of the yard (they LOVE eating out of that).
The fence is just a bunch of T-posts spaced around 7-8 feet apart with some chicken wire running in between. The birds that sit on the edge of it seem to “dance” as they try to relax, so I wonder if the movement keeps the squirrels from going in. Doubtful, but I’m hopeful 🙂
But to be safe, it might make sense to get an electric fence that will buzz and freak them out when they sit on top.
I’m not talking about any tomato cage, but the mesh ones with the top on them. Putting these overtop of your tomato plants can help keep squirrels and birds out of there.
Pick Tomatoes Before They’re Ripe
Squirrels love eating ripe tomatoes. Harvesting your tomatoes when they’re just starting to turn pink or yellow and letting them ripen inside on the kitchen counter is a great option to avoid unnecessary competition.
Propping a fake owl up near your tomato plants can help. This also applies to adding a snake on the ground, but squirrels will get used to it not moving, so you’ll want to switch it up every so often.
This one has a swiveling head so they don’t get used to it as easily either.
It’s like the Elf on a Shelf, but for your garden!
AKA Woodchucks – Groundhogs definitely eat tomatoes. These fuzzy creatures eat ripe tomatoes, and can tear up a garden in no time flat! They’re vegetarians, so they eat all kinds of plants and garden crops.
While fences can help keep out a lot of pests, if you’re trying to get rid of groundhogs, you’re going to have to be a little more thoughtful about your placement. Groundhogs are burrowing animals (as their name suggests), so if you have your fence several inches underground, they’ll be unable to dig under it.
Deer eat different types of shrubs, grasses, leaves, fungi, and other ferns, but deer will also eat tomatoes and other plants in your garden.
They can travel far greater distances than most people realize and they usually come at night time or early in the morning. You can try many things to prevent them from eating your plants like repellents, fencing, lights, scare tactics, and deer-proof containers.
Do deer eat tomatoes? They do for sure, oftentimes plucking a tomato right off the vine. They will also jump a fence to get to your tomatoes, so if that’s how you’re trying to prevent them, make sure it’s a good-sized fence (over 7 feet).
How to Keep Deer From Eating Tomato Plants
Here are some great options for keeping deer away and protecting tomatoes.
Soap on a String
Sounds strange, but the smell of soap is not a pleasant one for deer. The scent will help keep them away and away from your tomato plant. Soap works great as a deer repellant.
Deer can jump quite high, between 5-8 feet. So your fence will need to be quite high, but over 6 feet should be at least a great deterrent for most deer.
Lights Resembling Other Predators
These are solar-powered lights that resemble the eyes of predators in the dark. Since deer are usually active at dawn and dusk, these can help steer them in another direction.
5. Voles & Moles
Voles are very small rodents that live underground in tunnels. Voles are kind of like moles but they eat plants and their roots vs the worms and grub that moles eat.
Voles eat the roots of plants like carrots, lettuce, peppers, beans, and, you guessed it – tomatoes.
They can dig through your garden soil or use these strong front teeth to rip through the ground. Great.
How to Keep Voles Out of Your Tomato Garden
Keep Your Lawn Tidy
They like piles of leaves, mulch, and grass. If the grass isn’t mowed regularly, this creates a great place for them to burrow and nest.
Voles need some kind of cover to survive, so clearing up the garden space and keeping weeds at bay will help keep the voles away.
Look for Holes
Voles burrow in tunnels, so finding small holes on the surface of the ground is a great indicator you have a vole issue.
Solar Powered Spikes
Solar spikes can be a great option for keeping out gophers, moles, voles, and even groundhogs. Rodents are practically blind, so they rely on vibrations to help them know when an attacker is present, and these vibrations the stakes give off let them know something large is nearby.
Do rabbits eat tomatoes? They absolutely do.
I had a few bunnies come through and destroy my tomatoes, two years in a row. One day I’ll learn my lesson.
Thankfully, some of those tomato plants were resilient and grew back.
But you better believe I built a fence that following day to keep them from getting to the rest of my tomatoes.
Chicken wire fencing, T-posts, a sledgehammer, and about 3 hours later, those suckers were no longer allowed in my garden.
Rabbits are small mammals with large hind legs which help them run fast and get away, often before you even notice them. Rabbits LOVE to eat nightshade plants like tomatoes and peppers, but they also enjoy eating clover, alfalfa, lettuce, and turnips.
They usually come out early morning or at dusk to start eating vegetables that are close to the ground. They can eat a ton, especially during mating season. You can try rabbit repellents, scare tactics, or grow varieties that rabbits won’t eat… but you may have better luck with a fence.
How to Tell If Rabbits Are Eating Your Tomatoes
You can often sense if rabbits are eating your tomatoes by three things:
- Their footprints
- The 💩 or scat they leave behind
- If you see rabbits in the area (even if not in your garden)
If you’re part of any gardening Facebook group, you’ve probably seen someone posting a picture of some rabbits nest in their garden.
How to Keep Rabbits From Eating Your Tomato Plants
I personally built a fence to keep the bunnies out.
The fence lasted the remainder of the season and did a great job. I did find a bunny in there once trying to get out, but other than that I don’t believe he ate anything.
Instead of putting up a full fence, you can also put cages around the plants you know rabbits are going to want.
There are plenty of options for cages to use, but I like these ones because they can be placed around existing plants.
Build a Decoy Garden
You can also create a garden that you plan to leave for these animals that eat tomato plants.
I ended up leaving some of the clover that was growing on the other side of the property for them and just didn’t mow that area as often. Deer love clover too, so this could help with both.
Raccoons are equal opportunity eaters and will eat almost anything including plants like corn, beans, and, of course, tomatoes.
You can tell if a raccoon has been around by looking for its tracks. Raccoon paw prints are very distinctive and almost look like a child’s handprint with really long claw indentations.
Are Raccoons Eating Your Tomatoes?
Here are some signs that a raccoon is rummaging through your garden.
- Holes in mulch piles
- Holes in yard
- Raccoon prints
Raccoons may also dig holes in the ground looking for bugs, and may inadvertently dig up your plants without even trying.
How to Keep Raccoons Away
Here are a few ideas for keeping raccoons away from your tomatoes.
If your garden is positioned far enough away from your house (and you’re neighbors’ houses), you can put a radio in the garden and play some heavy metal all night. These guys do not like loud noises, so it can be a good way to get rid of raccoons.
Motion-activated lights are great for the garden and will deter raccoons (and other pests) from getting too comfortable in the garden at night. Although it won’t be a perfect option, it can definitely help when paired with other methods.
Simulated Red Eyes
I love this idea. These simulate larger prey and will definitely help keep raccoons away.
Other Animals That Eat Tomatoes
Stray cats are opportunists, and they will get hungry from time to time. Although spring and summer are usually when they have the most opportunities to catch rodents, mice, and other prey, so they’re probably not the culprit. However, they will tear up a garden with their feces and urine, so it’s helpful to keep them out.
The Family Dog
Now, I know you might not want to believe it, but dogs get into EVERYTHING. If you have a dog that roams around on the property, they could be taking nibbles at your plants. I caught my dog chomping on a pumpkin that I’m guessing a squirrel had started for him.
It happens, so just keep an eye out.
If you’re lucky enough to have chickens roaming your property, you’ll have to keep an eye out. They like eating worms so the garden is definitely a place you’ll find those. So you may inadvertently lose a few tomato fruits or plants in the process.
Possums eat tomatoes as well, but will rarely eat the entire fruit. Plus, these enjoy eating ticks and other bugs more.
How to Know What is Eating Your Tomato Plants
What if you know something is eating your tomatoes, but you just have no clue what it is?
Instead of sitting out by the garden for hours every day (although I highly recommend doing that sometime), you can use a trail camera to help you out.
Most have great night vision to help you see if a nocturnal animal is snatching up your tomatoes, or if those half-eaten gouges are coming from some deer nearby.
My Favorite Method: Picking Tomatoes Early
Most animals that eat tomatoes go after them when they are red, ripe, and ready to be eaten. But did you know that you can pick tomatoes a few days before they are fully ripe to avoid this extra competition?
I like to pick tomatoes during the breaker stage, which is when they are starting to turn pink (or yellow if you’re growing yellow tomatoes). They are still going to ripen, but that will be done safely on your kitchen counter.
While this isn’t a catchall as some birds like sparrows have been known to eat unripe and even green tomatoes, it can definitely help you keep more of your harvest.
Keeping animal pests away from your tomatoes can be a challenge, but it’s worth it in my opinion. Alternatively, you can grow tomatoes in pots near your home, or even indoors to help reduce the pest pressure.
What Animal Eats Green Tomatoes?
While ripe tomatoes are usually the ones targeted by animals, they will often eat green ones as well.
This includes squirrels, birds, and raccoons. Oftentimes this will happen in the height of the summer as they’re looking for a drink of water or a refreshing snack, and even a green tomato is both!