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This is a guide about protecting tomatoes from birds. Eventually most gardeners become tired of sharing their tomatoes with the local bird population.
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What animal could be eating our tomato plants? We thought it was a groundhog, but now I am not sure. The plants are eaten off at the top so there is just a stem and no leaves. Could it be a rabbit? What do they usually eat? How do we protect the plants that we have? Any information would help. Thanks.
Hardiness Zone: 5a
By Linda from Brighton, MI
It's probably deer. At least that's what it was in our case. We've had some luck using Bobbex, a repellent you apply to each plant. It won't keep the deer out of the garden, but they'll decide that your tomato plants are not something they'd like to eat. Follow the directions carefully.
Have you checked the plants for tomato hornworms? These large caterpillars (get to the size of your finger!) are very hard to see because they look like a curled tomato leaf. They can strip a plant of leaves in a short time. They'll also eat the fruit.
If you see dark green caterpillar poop under the plant, then look for the caterpillars. Squash any you find, unless they have what looks like grains of rice sticking out of their backs. If they have that, they have larva of a parasitic wasp growing in them and will die soon of natural causes. In that case, just move the caterpillar somewhere far from your tomatoes and let it live long enough to produce more natural predators!
Here's some pics:
I've had this happen, not only to tomatoes, but also to seedlings of other plants I recently transplanted into the ground (and let me tell you it is maddeningly after going through the trouble of babying seeds to grow!). It took me a long time to figure it out, but I finally caught the caterpillars doing this.
It's hard to see but the green caterpillars that so damaged my tomato plants were the exact same color green, and it was also as thick or thicker than the stem of the plant, so it was well camouflaged! There is insecticide spray you can buy - one I believe is called Sevin (Seven?) that'll take care of every kind of bug.
Also, you can buy a powder called BT, which kills the caterpillar. But, I don't like buying or using those chemicals, and I don't like killing the pests, so right now my latest test is using 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper and 1 tsp dish soap diluted in a spray bottle of water. I found this after extensive searching on the Internet. I just started it so cannot call it successful yet.
Also, to keep slugs and snails away, I moved one of my parsley plants over near the plants that were being eaten most - supposedly the slugs are repelled by parsley.
When we set out our tomato plants, an animal ate 6 of them to the ground. Also nibbled on the green beans. I searched Thriftyfun to find out what to do and found the tip about hanging Irish Spring Original Scent Soap around the garden.
I made some little bags and my husband made some wire stakes to hang them on. Out of each bar of soap, I put about 1/5 of the bar into each bag and hung them at the beginning and end of several rows around the garden. It is low enough that it is not in the way of plowing and it has worked really well. We have a beautiful garden. No more munching on the plants and no more deer tracks in the garden.
I had the problem with my newly transplanted tomato plants. The leaves were all pulled from the plants. I went out the next morning to check on the plants, and caught the culprit in the middle of the crime! It was a black colored bird, with a yellow beak. I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to birds, so I don't know what kind of bird it was. All I saw was this vicious bird ripping my tomato plant leaves from the stalk! I have since erected a rabbit-proof fence (prep for the future) and a net over the top of the fence.
Ah, I never even thought it could be a bird but after reading that post now I feel differently. Last year the deer went to town on my tomato plants in my NJ garden and they left their fertilizer everywhere. This year some of the tops of my tomatoes- leaves primarily, have been eaten. I didn't notice any deer fertilizer anywhere though which is good. I saved large Costco sized onion and potato mesh bags and covered every plant. So far, so good. The plants are still able to expand, receive sunlight and will hopefully keep the animals away. Thanks for all your tips!
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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.
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)