Growing your own delicious red tomatoes is one of the ultimate joys of vegetable gardening. But first, we have to protect those plants from certain pests that may visit, e.g., rabbits.
Rabbits do eat tomato plants, and they can do quite a bit of damage to your lovingly tendered crop. Not only do rabbits enjoy the lovely fruit, but they will also eat the leaves and stems as well. If you’ve only just planted young tomatoes, you might come out the following day and find your entire plant eaten to the ground.
Let’s look at the damage that rabbits can do to tomato plants and how you can prevent this from happening.
Do Rabbits Eat Tomato Plants?
Rabbits are herbivores, so they eat mostly plants. This includes leaves, stems, fruits, and vegetables. They especially like young, tender plants that haven’t had the chance to fully establish themselves yet. Unfortunately, your tomato plants are not safe from these pests either and can be damaged by roving rabbits.
This brings up an interesting point, however, because most tomato growers know that the green parts of the tomato plant are highly toxic. Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family of plants which also includes potatoes and eggplants. These plants produce a toxin that is called solanine. In tomato plants, this precise substance is referred to as tomatine. It’s a glycoalkaloid that is present in all parts of the tomato plant but mostly in the leaves, flowers, and green fruits.
This means that rabbits that eat your tomato plants will end up with stomach pain, bloating, and diarrhea. Unfortunately, this will not deter rabbits from eating your plants because the lure of fresh, young, tender plants is just too tempting for visiting bunnies. In addition, rabbits would need to eat large quantities of tomato leaves and stems for the toxins to be really dangerous.
Therefore, it’s important to protect your young tomato plants from visiting rabbits. These little furry critters also love to munch on ripe tomato fruits because of their lovely sweet flavor. Rabbits are particularly attracted to sweet foods and will keep coming back for more once they know you have tomatoes growing and ripening.
What Damage Can Rabbits Do To Tomato Plants?
Most of the time, rabbits will be feeding on your tomato plants in the early morning or evening. Therefore, you won’t be out there to scare them away from your precious plants.
If your tomato plants are young, rabbits can totally strip them of leaves and flower buds. This is likely to kill the plant but will certainly stop it from setting fruit if all the flowers have been eaten.
Therefore, you could find your entire crop of young tomatoes totally decimated in one evening, and you’ll have to start planting all over again.
In older plants, you may find that rabbits only nibble on the lower leaves as these are easier to reach. Therefore, once your plants reach a certain height, they might be safe for a while from thieving rabbits.
However, once your plants start setting fruit and the fruit starts to ripen, your problems may easily begin again. You see, tomatoes are high in sugar, and that’s what rabbits really love. Like most of us humans, rabbits have a serious sweet tooth. Therefore, once they get a taste for your lovely ripe and juicy tomatoes, your fruit is in danger of being nibbled at by those pesky bunnies.
And, like many animals that like to steal our fruit, rabbits might just take a few nibbles from each tomato, and hence, you’re left with a whole lot of fruit that you have to discard.
How To Know If Rabbits Are Damaging Your Tomato Plants
Home vegetable gardens can be attractive to all sorts of animals that relish the idea of free feed. Therefore, if something is eating your tomato plants, you need to identify the culprits so you can keep them away from your crops.
So, how do you tell whether rabbits are eating your tomato plants? Here are a few telltale signs to look out for.
- Look for digging around your plants. Rabbits love to dig and scratch around in the soil. Plus, you might just be able to see obvious rabbit tracks in the dirt.
- Check to see if the leaves have been chewed off cleanly without any telltale signs of bite marks. Rabbits are very clean eaters and will bite off chunks of leaves nicely and cleanly.
- Look for rabbit droppings around the base of your plants. Rabbit pellets are normally ¼ to ½ an inch (0.6 to 1.3 cm) in size.
- Set up a trail cam with night vision to catch the culprits on camera.
These are the most common ways of determining whether it’s actually rabbits that are eating your precious plants. Once you know this for a fact, there are a number of things you can do to keep these critters out of your tomato plants.
How To Keep Rabbits Out Of Your Garden
There are many things you can do to keep rabbits out of your vegetable garden.
- Spray plants with a mix of water with grind hot peppers, onions, and garlic. To prepare the mix, grind together three hot peppers, three large onions, and one bunch of garlic in a mortar and pestle or electric grinder. Next, cover the mixture with water and leave it in a covered container overnight. In the morning, strain off the liquid and mix with water to make one gallon of mixture. Spray this onto your plants and repeat again if you’ve had any rain.
- Install fencing around your vegetables. You can create simple fencing using chicken wire and plastic or wooden stakes. Make sure that the fence is at least 2 feet high (60cm) so that the rabbits can’t jump over it. Also, ensure that the holes in the mesh aren’t larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm). That way, the rabbits can’t wriggle through them. Most importantly, make sure that you peg down the bottom of the mesh so that the rabbits can’t get under it.
- Fence off individual plants. If fencing off your entire vegetable garden is not doable, you can just fence off individual plants. You can use chicken wire or plastic mesh for this. Just make sure that you bury the bottom of the mesh at least 6 inches (15cm) into the ground.
- Use rabbit repellents. You could either purchase commercial repellents or make your own. Rabbits are sensitive to certain types of odors that will keep them away from your plants. Commercially available deer repellents also work well with rabbits. These products contain things such as garlic, dried bovine blood, and sulfured eggs. Alternatively, you could spray your plants with hot pepper spray or garlic or make a mixture of both. Or, you could sprinkle powdered red pepper around your plants.
- Scare them away with predators. Many people use fake owls and plastic snakes to deter rabbits from their gardens. This might work for a while. However, rabbits will soon realize that these fake “predators” are nothing to be scared of. It’s a good idea to keep moving them around to try and fool the rabbits for as long as possible.
- Try some companion planting. There are certain plants that rabbits don’t like, and by planting these, you could deter the bunnies away from your garden. These plants include herbs like spearmint, lavender, onions, and Corsican mint. Rabbits just don’t like the smell of these plants and will stay away from them.
- Sprinkle dried sulfur around your plants. Once again, rabbits dislike the smell, so this should keep them away.
- Hang mothballs around your plants. Grab some old stockings and fill them with mothballs. Hang these around your plants, as they’ll deter the rabbits due to their odor.
- Make your garden unappealing. Try to keep your garden nice and clean of any undergrowth. This gives rabbits nowhere to hide or build their burrows. If there are burrows in your garden, fill them in. You can also plant flowers such as marigolds, zinnias, daffodils, and snapdragons around the perimeter of your vegetable garden, as rabbits don’t like these.
- Use rabbit traps. If all else fails, you could get some rabbit traps and trap the bunnies to release them far away from your garden. You can buy a trap, or you might be able to hire one. Place some lovely fresh greens inside the trap and include things like carrots, apples, and cabbage. Cover the trap with a piece of canvas to make it feel safe for the bunnies.
What Other Animals Could Be Causing Damage To Your Tomato Plants?
Apart from rabbits, depending on where you live, there are a few other animals that could be chomping away on your tomato plants. Let’s discuss these individually and find out how to deter them from your garden.
Deer are also herbivores and, if allowed to, will happily eat your tomato plants. Many times, you’ll actually be able to see deer feeding in your garden as they generally do so during the day. If you haven’t been able to see them, you should be able to find their tracks in the soil.
The best way to try and deter deer from your garden is to use strong scents that deer don’t like. These include animal products such as bone meal or strong-scented pepper or garlic sprays. You can also purchase commercially prepared deer repellent sprays that are quite effective. However, one of the most effective ways to deter deer from your garden is with a barking dog.
If a woodchuck has eaten your tomato plants, you’ll know because of the mess that it leaves behind. These animals are messy eaters and are likely to trample your plants as well as feed on them.
Woodchucks are difficult to keep out of your garden as they’re excellent diggers. You could try fencing, but this must be at least 3 feet (90cm) high and has to be buried in the ground several inches deep. In addition, the buried end must be bent at a right angle that faces away from the plants.
Electric fencing may also be useful if you have one strand about 4 inches from the ground and the second strand around 9 inches off the ground.
Squirrels and Chipmunks
Both squirrels and chipmunks will love feeding on your tomatoes. However, they prefer to eat the ripe fruit rather than the plants themselves. Squirrels feed during the day, so you’ll be able to spot them in your garden or at least see evidence of them being there during daylight hours.
One of the best ways to keep these critters away from your tomato plants is to cover each plant with a wire cage so that the animals can’t get to the fruit. Remember that both of these animals are agile climbers, so a simple fence just won’t be enough.
Another thing you can do is build a strong frame around your plants and cover this with strong bird netting. Make sure that you keep the netting nice and tight so that it won’t sag if an animal jumps onto it.
Raccoons tend to pull the entire tomato off the plant rather than just taking a few bites out of it. These critters will only feed on your tomatoes during the night. So, if you see half-eaten tomatoes on the ground in the morning, it’s likely that raccoons have been in your garden.
It’s not easy to keep raccoons out of your garden, but you can protect your precious tomato plants by either using a wire cage or putting a mesh fence around them. For raccoons, the fence needs to be at least 4 feet high and needs to be buried at least 12 inches into the ground with a right angle, similar to what you do for deterring woodchucks.