Tomato Plant Protection: How To Protect Tomato Plants From Animals
While birds, hornwormsand 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, squirrelsor deerbut 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.
OSU offers tips to deter pillaging raccoons
- Bring pet food and water bowls inside at night;
- Cover fish ponds with a net, if they’re small;
- Use tight-fitting trashcan lids or wire the loose ones shut;
- Harvest your garden produce as soon as it is ready and pick up wind-fall fruit promptly;
- Trim tree branches so they don’t touch house and shed roofs;
- Block foundation vents;
- Use a two-wire electric fence – with wires five and 10 inches above ground – if you decide to place an electric hot wire around a fish pond, corn patch or berry vines;
- Install wooden lattice to keep raccoons from living under your deck. Be careful not to trap any that might already be inside.
If an animal is present under your deck, close up all but a one-foot diameter opening, return at night, after the animal has left, and close completely. If a female has kits, you may need to wait until they have left their den (3-7 weeks after birth) to close the area safely.
Another option is to trap the raccoons, but Sanchez cautions: “You must have a plan for dealing with the animal once captured. Raccoons are cute but not cuddly. Do not attempt to pet or pick up a wild raccoon.”
For people who would like help removing raccoons, Sanchez recommends that they hire a wildlife control operator licensed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. A listing of such businesses is on their website.
When it comes to insects in your garden, don’t be quick to kill. Not all insects are enemies. In fact, most insects are essential players in your organic garden’s success. Others are neutral and don’t cause any harm. Yet some will ruin your harvest.
Spotting the difference between the good and the bad can be tricky, so keep your eyes peeled.
It doesn’t matter if you’re growing hybrids or heirlooms, there are a few pests you don’t want around. Identify harmful pests early before damage is done.
Four Common Tomato Plant Pests:
If you spot a hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand.
Hornworms – These destructive caterpillars can grow to about 3-3½” at full size, but their green color makes them difficult to spot. If you spot hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand. However, where there is one, there are usually more. If there is a large infestation, consider spraying tomato plants with an organic approved pest control.
Photo courtesy of courtesy of Flex at en.wikipedia
Fruitworm – Adult tomato fruitworms are moths, typically yellow or olive in color. They often lay eggs near the leaves of the plant. If you see fruitworms, check leaves for eggs. Larvae feed on leaves and foliage before moving to the tomato, giving you more time to stop potential damage.
Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
Potato Aphids – These tiny insects are usually found in dense clusters. Potato aphids are typically not serious enough to kill plants, but a large enough infestation can stunt growth and lead to mold and disease. If you spot an infestation, remove it and be sure to throw in the garbage. If thrown on the ground, aphids will re-infest the plant. To control, apply insect soap.
Photo courtesy of USDA.
Beet Armyworm – Similar to the fruitworm, beet armyworm adults are moths with gray and brown upper wings and white or pale gray lower wings. They typically lay eggs on the underside of leaves. When larvae hatch, they feed on foliage before attacking the tomato itself. Remove beet armyworm caterpillars by hand before they become moths.
When it comes to tomato pests, the best way to stop damage is to spot pests early. Keep a close eye on your tomato plants, especially in the early stages. Introduce beneficial insects such as lacewings or ladybugs into your garden to naturally control common pests.
Pruning tomato plants and giving them the right support can also make pests easier to spot and keep bugs at bay.
For more tips on tomatoes, check out our Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes.
Animals Eating My Tomato Plants
By Ellen Brown
Q: I have planted my tomatoes twice during the past week. Each time some animal has cut the tops off about 4 inches above the ground. He usually eats the tops and leaves the stems sticking out of the ground. What is doing this and what can I do about it?
I want to plant again but this is getting expensive. Please help!
Hardiness Zone: 4b
Sanddd from Minnesota
It sounds like you have a rabbit, deer, or rodent problem. You’ll save yourself some money and a lot of additional frustration if you invest in some kind of physical cages or barriers for your tomato plants. There are a number of other tactics, like pie tins, bags, shiny streamers, etc., but animals tend to become accustomed to these in a hurry. You’re better off purchasing a cheap roll of chicken wire and fashion some growing cages for your tomatoes.
If you are already supporting them with hoops, simply wrap the chicken wire around the hoops and secure it with florist’s wire or even baggy ties. Push the cage into the soil and secure it in place with stakes or pieces of bent wire. Make sure you cover the tops of the cages with wire too, to prevent them from reaching down and nibbling off the tops of the plants. If possible, make these cages big enough so you can leave the tomato plants covered the entire season. Then as the tomato fruits appear, you won’t have to worry about them being targeted by chipmunks or birds.
About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.
Animal Eating My Tomato Plants
Could be bunny rabbits, or cut worms. Put a small cage around your plants, OR, use a large juice can, coffee can, or large plastic jar with the bottoms cut off of all of the above mentioned, dig your hole, plant your plants, and plant them inside the container, with the plant just even with the top of container. Critter can’t get to your plants this way, AND as an added bonus, you can fill the container with water from your hose, and the water will go right to the roots of your plant. Hope this helps. You can even make a circular container out of chicken wire. And if it is cut worms you will find out this way. (05/25/2006)
Go to the local Menards, Home Depot, or Lowe’s and purchase chicken wire and stake it around your plants. It will keep rodents and deer away from plants. Deer will snip the tops off plants and pine trees, so you may have to close the tops of the wire until they are larger. I have also seen people place tin pie plates, or plastic Walmart bags to the wire; the sound of plastic scares the animals away. (05/26/2006)
Sprinkle the tomatoes with cayenne pepper or garlic powder. They are safe for all and the local critters hate the taste. Reapply after rain. Did this to a freshly planted rose bush that rabbits decided was too good to pass up every time it sprouted a new leaf. Once I put the spices on it they immediately left it alone, didn’t like the flavor, and now three years later it is beautiful. I buy the big economy size if I know I’m going to be planting, our area has tons of neighborhood rabbits, they’re everywhere! So spice it up, a bottle of spice is way less expensive than anything you can buy at the garden center and so much better for all living things. It shouldn’t hurt your tomatoes either. (05/26/2006)
Another idea is to use moth crystals. You can get them at your local hardware store. Place them on the ground all around your plants and just the smell will keep them away. Moth crystals also keep animals out of your trees, garden, or even your shed. (12/06/2007)
Put some moth balls around the plants like a fence and the animals will go away. They don’t like the smell of the moth balls.
Editor’s Note: Mothballs can be harmful to pets so make sure your pets don’t get them. (05/22/2008)
I have the same exact problem! No leaves left, just a 4 foot stalk. No tell-tale foot prints in the fresh dirt either (a.k.a. my fat foot stepping on them!). I have ruled out deer because the first one happened in broad daylight within the time of planting (around noon) and my getting straw (around 6 pm) (and no prints, and we don’t usually have deer in the yard). Also, I have ruled out rabbits because my garden is fenced (for that reason :). It’s obviously not cut worms (due to the short time frame-one night, and the fact that it’s the top of the plant being targeted, not the stem at the air-ground interface), which leaves squirrels or birds I would think (neither of which I would really suspect of eating the plant itself?).
Other possible animals that may pass through the yard at night may include raccoons, cats, foxes, opossum, skunks, none of which I would suspect to eat the plant itself, and they don’t explain the one that was eaten in broad daylight. One other peculiarity I noticed is that only my Roma tomatoes are being targeted, not my others. Is this the case with you? (05/13/2009)