Tomato Plant Protection: How To Protect Tomato Plants From Animals
By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
While birds, hornworms and other insects are common pests of tomato plants, animals can also be a problem sometimes too. Our gardens can be full of almost ripened fruits and vegetables one day, then eaten down to bare stalks the next day. Continue reading to learn about animals that target tomato plants and tomato plant protection.
Tomato Plant Protection
If your tomato plants are being eaten and you have ruled out birds or insects as the culprits, animals could be the problem. Most gardeners are used to battling rabbits, squirrels or deer but don’t think much about protecting plants from these other animal pests:
We also don’t like to think that our own pets and livestock (like goats) could be the problem.
Mole or vole damage to plants is oftentimes not detected until it is too late to save the plant. These animal pests eat the roots of the plant, not anything above the ground. In fact, you will most likely never see the mole or vole because if they do come above ground, it is usually only at night and even then it is rare. So, if foliage and fruits of your tomato plant are being eaten by something, it’s very unlikely that it is moles or voles.
How to Protect Tomato Plants from Animals
Try raised beds for keeping animal pests from eating tomatoes and other garden plants. Raised beds that are 18 inches high or higher are difficult for rabbits and other smaller animals to get into. It is also a good idea to have 6 inches or more of the wood planks below the soil level so that small animals do not just burrow underneath the raised beds.
You can also lay down a barrier of heavy duty hardware cloth or wire mesh below raised beds to prevent animals from burrowing in to your garden. If you have limited space, tomatoes grow very well in large pots, which will also make them too high for some animal pests.
Another benefit to growing tomatoes in pots, is that you can place these pots on balconies, patios or other well travelled areas where animals are not likely to go. Deer, raccoons and rabbits generally avoid being too close to people or areas frequented by pets. You can also place your garden beds up near the house or in the vicinity of a motion light to scare off animal pests.
A few other ways of protecting tomatoes from animals include the use of animal deterrent sprays, like liquid fence or using bird netting around the plants.
Sometimes, the best thing to for keeping animal pests from eating tomatoes is to build a fence around the garden. Fences are great options when it comes to your pets or livestock out of the garden. To keep rabbits out, the fence needs to sit below the soil level and have gaps that are no bigger than one inch. To keep deer out, the fence needs to be 8 feet or taller. I once read that placing human hair in the garden will deter deer, but I have not tried it myself. Though, I do usually toss hair from my hairbrush outside for birds and other creatures to use for nests.
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How to Protect Tomato Plants From Animals
Plump, juicy tomatoes reward you for spending months tending to the plants, but many gardeners face competition for the bounty. From gophers, deer and rabbits to your own dog, animals can cause severe damage to your tomato crop. Once you identify the type of animals bugging your tomato plants, you can choose the appropriate safeguards to keep them away. The right planting location, physical barriers and deterrents are options for keeping animals away to preserve your tomato crop.
Choose a planting location away from animal traffic. If the family dog is the culprit, plant your tomatoes in an area of the yard where the dog doesn't play. If you live near a wooded area, plant the tomatoes as far away from it as possible. You're still likely to have wild animals wander near the plants to get a nibble, but the location makes it more difficult for them.
Plant the tomatoes in a raised bed a minimum of 18 inches high to limit access for rabbits. Attach hardware cloth to the bottom of the raised bed before filling it with dirt if burrowing animals, such as gophers or moles, are the problem. An alternative is to plant tomatoes in large pots. Tomatoes grow well in container gardens.
Build a fence around the tomato garden to keep the animals away. Install a fence 8 feet high if deer munch on your tomatoes. If the tomatoes are planted in a raised bed, add fence posts at least 4 feet tall at each corner and attach fencing to the posts. To prevent damage by rabbits, use a fence with gaps of no more than 1 inch, and bury the bottom of the fencing at least 4 inches deep. This prevents rabbits from squeezing through or digging under the fence.
Place tomato cages around each plant. Cover the cages with bird netting to keep smaller animals away from the plants. Use stakes to hold the bottom of the netting down.
Grow plants that aren't appealing to the animals near the tomatoes. Choose plants that are prickly, tough to eat or have a strong smell. Examples of prickly plants include fuchsia flowered gooseberry and California holly grape. The California bush anemone is tough to chew, while sage plants have a strong scent that keeps animals away. Animal-resistant plants aren't guaranteed to work, but they may limit the number of animals that try to munch your tomato plants.
Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.
Birds Eating Tomato Plants
If you're certain it's the birds eating the tomatoes, Home Depot carries a product called "bird netting". It's a very lightweight black nylon net. My garden has bush bunnies (saw the droppings) that ate my strawberries, so I tented a fine wire mesh fencing over one and some cheesecloth over the other. I'm waiting to see if either works.
I didn't know about birds eating tomatoes. I just re-planted seedlings on my patio, which is a hangout for Scrub jays, Black Phoebes, Mourning Doves, and Robins. I'd love to know if you try the netting and how it works. (07/25/2006)
Birds Eating Tomato Plants
You might try hanging red Christmas bulbs on plants. The birds will peck them thinking they are the tomatoes. They won't like that kind of tomato and will leave them alone. (07/26/2006)
Birds Eating Tomato Plants
You could also try hanging old CDs on fishing line on the plants or above them. They don't like the reflections from the light on them. (07/26/2006)
Birds Eating Tomato Plants
For protection, you can use a BirdBusta(R) clip with a paper cup covering the tomato.
See www.birdbusta.com . (12/10/2006)
Birds Eating Tomato Plants
I have had some success using a lunch size paper bag. I put the tomato in the bag just as it is turning pink and tighten the bag at the end to hold it on stem. The tomato will continue to vine ripen in the bag. (07/23/2007)
Birds Eating Tomato Plants
Take the tape out of a old VHS or a cassette, put up stakes at the end of the row and one in the middle, and string up the tape over the plants. Birds absolutely will not bother. I read this years ago, and do it every year. After they get some growth on them, you can take the tape down. Birds only like tender young plants. (05/20/2008)
How to Protect Your Tomato Plants From Animals
Pets and wild animals love a healthy tomato garden. Not only is the moist soil a fun place for dogs to dig, the plants themselves provide a source of nutrition for your neighborhood squirrels, rabbits, and birds. If you leave your tomatoes without adequate protection, your harvest is likely to be a meager one.
Thus, if you have pets or wild animals in your area that could inadvertently damage your tomato plants, it is important to take steps ahead of time to protect them. Thus, you can ensure that your tomatoes have the opportunity to flourish unharmed.
1. Grow Your Tomatoes Out of Reach
A tomato plant is extremely versatile and will grow well under a variety of circumstances. You can choose to grow tomatoes in your yard or in containers. Container gardening is growing in popularity for those who do not have the necessary space to plant a standard garden.
Container gardening also permits gardeners to grow their tomato plants in an area that is not accessible by animals. If your main concern is keeping your dog or cat out of your tomato plants, you may consider growing them in pots on a porch or balcony that your pets cannot reach.
If you happen to have a screened in porch, you may grow your tomatoes in pots outdoors during the day and bring them into the screened in area overnight. This keeps the plants safe while you sleep, and your pets roam the yard without supervision.
If wild animals are your main problem, you can purchase special containers for hanging plants that will prevent wild animals, such as squirrels and birds, from being able to reach the plants themselves. These containers consist of a pot for the plants and a protective netting.
You may then hang your tomato pot on a porch, balcony, or overhang, and place the netting over the top of the plant. The netting prevents squirrels and birds from being able to feast on your hard work. It can also prevent large insects from damaging the tomato plants.
2. Fence In Your Tomato Crop
To provide modest protection for each individual plant, you may consider wrapping the plants in chicken wire. Chicken wire is most often used to keep chickens in a coop, but it works equally well for keeping pests out of your tomatoes.
An added benefit of chicken wire is that it provides a support system for taller tomato plants and prevents them from sagging or worse – falling over. If you opt to surround your tomatoes with chicken wire, you should also consider placing a dome made of the wire over the top of each tomato plant. This prevents pests, such as birds, from attacking the plants from above.
A small vinyl fence can be very effective in keeping larger animals away from your garden. You can purchase vinyl garden fencing at your local home improvement store. For the pet owner with a small garden, vinyl fencing is a must. Easily installed and reasonably priced, vinyl garden fencing comes in a variety of heights to suit any gardener’s needs.
An added benefit of vinyl fencing is that it is decorative. You can purchase the fence in any color and style to match your home. Because many individuals opt to set up a vinyl garden fence solely for decoration, it won’t be immediately apparent to your guests that you are having problems with animals getting into your tomato garden.
All your guests will see is a cozy and inviting garden area full of healthy, unmolested tomatoes.
3. Use a Deterrent Spray
Animals that raid your tomato crop can be deterred by a variety of different protective sprays. These sprays don’t harm your tomatoes but are unpalatable for critters who may attempt to devour your plants. You can purchase a spray deterrent at your local retail store or make one yourself at home out of hot pepper juice and water.
To send small pests packing, consider a urine deterrent. When placed around your tomato plants, urine deterrents lead smaller pests to believe that a bigger predator is lurking just around the corner. Squirrels and rabbits won’t take the time to make a meal out of your tomatoes if they believes that a predator is nearby waiting to make a meal out of them.
It is important to remember that raising tomatoes is never an exact science. What may work to deter some animals won’t work on others. Try different methods separately and together to find what works best for your situation.
Once you find a solution to the problem, you can put it into practice every year to ensure that you have an ample tomato crop that is permitted to grow and flourish without being ravaged by wild and domesticated animals.
Article by Ciele Edward, who is a freelance writer currently living in Georgia. She enjoys container gardening and experimenting with different tomato varieties.
Can you sprinkle the tomatoes with baking soda?Or some other powder that is not toxic?
9 Answers 9
This is a situation where a net might be the best option. Put it on stakes to hold it over the plants, and arrange it so it can be easily lifted or pulled aside for harvesting. make sure the net touches the ground so squirrels can't get underneath.
This spring I made little teepees of chicken wire to keep them off my yucca seedlings. You will want something lighter (and in larger sheets). For squirrels the netting has to go over the plants, they'll easily climb over or jump into a fenced off area.
I sprinkle cayenne pepper on the fruits and around the base of the plant, and this seems to keep the squirrels away.
Cayenne is also available as a "hot pepper wax spray" which may also work.
I think I would go with winwaed's answer, but if you find out the culprit is a slightly bigger creature, I might then be tempted to look into getting a "Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler" system (like this one) to humanely scare away the hungry creatures.
You could always remove the animal from the equation, as long as it isn't a protected species.
- A large rat trap baited with peanut butter can permanently solve the solution for squirrels/mice/rats. I remember catching a squirrel that had taken up residence in my parent's attic using this method.
- If you want to catch the animal alive and relocate it, you could always use a live trap.
- If you like to hunt, I'd recommend a .17 HMR or .22 rifle if you're out in the country where it's legal to shoot it. Just be aware of your surroundings and what's behind your target. The best time for catching the critters in the act would be either in the early morning or in the evening. Also remember to check your state laws to determine if you need a hunting license and if so when the season is.
- If you're in the suburbs, you should be able to use a quiet .177 pellet rifle. I would advise against using a BB gun unless the offending animal is a mouse, and you're sure that you can hit it in the head. I killed a mouse in my apartment a few years ago this way by using a BB gun from about 15'. But then again I've been plinking with it since I was 8 years old, so I've had lots of target practice.
Laura Smith (author) from Pittsburgh, PA on June 30, 2019:
Yes, the deer fence that I put up each year seems to be the most effective method. Everything else seems to be a temporary deterrent.
Jessica on June 30, 2019:
It sounds like you're using multiple methods to keep critters out. Have you tried using just one method for a period of time to see which one is working best?
JT on June 01, 2019:
Mix a 32 once spray bottle with water 1 egg yoke and one heaping table spoon of baking powder. Keep shaking bottle when spraying to keep ingredients mixed. Reapply after watering or rain. I use this on my rose and vegetable garden. it works.