What Animal Eats Tomato Plants at Night and on Days?

What Animal Eats Tomato Plants at Night and on Days?

Tomato gardeners often find their prized plants under attack from a variety of pests, both during the day and at night. While some insects like hornworms and aphids are easily identifiable, others leave only signs of their presence, like chewed leaves or half-eaten fruits. Protecting your tomato crop requires being able to identify the animals and insects that pose a threat while understanding their habits and behaviors. In this post, we'll explore the common nocturnal pests that target tomato plants and the evidence they leave behind, so you can have good luck identifying them. We will also provide practical strategies to safeguard your tomato harvest from these hungry invaders.  


what animals eat tomato plants at night

What was in my garden area last night? Nocturnal pests that like to eat Juicy Tomatoes 

When you wake up and find your garden plants destroyed, the first place to look is at the finer details. You can begin to discover which pests you might be dealing with when you look closely and cultivate the skill of being a good observer. It can even be a good idea to take photos before you clean up the mess in your garden, referring to photo evidence later as you do your investigative research. Do your damaged tomato plants have ragged edges on leaves? How about distinctive, 45-degree angle cuts chewed thru the tomato stalks? Have half-eaten tomatoes been left behind and scattered along the yard? Have the entire plants been severed at the base? Is there visible chewing on the leaves? How about grooves left in the tomato leaves? Can you find visible animal tracks or slime trails? Treat your garden as a crime-scene. Take pictures, jot down notes, and put effort into looking close at any evidence left behind. Little details matter in different ways. Knowing which nocturnal pest got into your garden is the first step in taking effective measures towards protecting your tomato plants from further damage.


Here are common nocturnal pests that eat tomatoes, and some evidence they may leave behind:

  • Deer: Leave ragged edges on leaves

  • Rabbits: Leave distinctive 45-degree angle cuts on plants

  • Raccoons: Often leave half-eaten tomatoes and scattered debris

  • Opossums: Known to feed on whole tomato fruits 

  • Skunks: Can cause significant damage to young tomato plants on a first visit

  • Groundhogs: May also feed on tomato plants at night and may burrow underground

  • Cutworms: Caterpillars that sever young plants at the base and chew on leaves

  • Slugs and Snails: Leave slime trails and chew on leaves

  • Earwigs: Hide in plant debris during the day and feed at night

  • Tomato Hornworms: Large green caterpillars that can defoliate tomato plants quickly

  • Voles: Cause damage to tomato plants, often leaving grooves in the leaves, and digging vole tunnels. 

  • Mice and Rats: Leave droppings and half-eaten tomatoes at the base of the tasty plant

The Tomato Garden is a Popular Choice for Various Animals during Daytime 

Your tomato garden can become a buffet for a variety of animals during the daytime, too. Squirrels, chipmunks, and groundhogs are notorious for raiding the garden in broad daylight. Birds like crows and sparrows can also cause significant damage, swooping in from above. Insects such as aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites are also active during the day and can weaken the plants and reduce fruit production. The good news is that daytime intruders are more easily seen and can be caught in the act, but still requires observation and a good sense of animal ID. Once you know what is attacking your garden, you are in a better position to implement preventative protection. 


Here are some daytime pests that like eating tomatoes, and some evidence they may leave behind:

  • Squirrels: leaving behind medium to large holes in the fruit or taking bites out of multiple tomatoes

  • Birds (crows, sparrows, etc.): significant damage by pecking at the tomatoes, often leaving them partially eaten and unusable

  • Groundhogs & Chipmunks: nibble on the fruit and sometimes carry it away to eat in a safer location

  • Aphids, Whiteflies, Spider mites, Tomato Horn Worm:  feeding on the leaves and bare stems

The Bittersweet Heartache of a Sprawling Backyard Paradise Lost

The joy of growing a garden can quickly turn to sorrow when pests invade and wreak havoc on all your hard work and carefully tended plants. Seeing your ripening tomatoes decimated can evoke significant emotional turmoil. Most seasoned gardeners with years of experience have gone through this rite-of-passage to one degree or another. But remember, thieving varmints are a bridge between your personal garden and the larger ecosystem. When an animal eats your tomato, you garden is participating on a more macroscopic level. While that may make you feel a bit better about such a loss, at the end of the day, the gardener must protect the tomato harvest! New strategies and solutions must be implemented to protect and restore the cherished tomato sanctuary.  

Small Mammals can climb up Raised Beds, even if they are a Large Size. 

Raised beds and large pots are popular choices for many gardeners. While some people prefer the elevated garden beds because they are easier to work in, many gardeners mistakenly think that because they are off the ground, they are automatically more protected. Yes, there is a real ease of maintenance with undeniably improved soil level conditions, all which contribute to healthier plants that are naturally more resilient. But they are certainly not immune to threats of small rodents. Mice and rats are sneaky little climbers, and can be drawn up by the allure of ripe tomatoes. The damage is not just limited to the fruits. Even if they don't gnaw on your juicy reds, the presence alone can disturb the soil and root development, further stressing the plants, and attracting larger predators that may decide to take a bite out of your juicy red fruits.  


Physical Barriers are a Good Way to protect Homegrown Tomatoes from the Common Culprit 

Protective netting is a great way to fortify tomato harvests! Having a fence around your tomato plants can safeguard your whole homegrown harvest, whether you're battling pests during the day or at night. Protective fencing specifically designed for gardening can block out most ground pests while allowing sunlight, air, and water to reach the plants. It can be important to not use too fine of a mesh, because you still want pollinators visiting your garden! And you'll need to regularly inspect your fencing to make sure no pests have breached your defenses.

Small Animals can slip past Tiny Gaps in Animal Fencing

The smallest gap can provide an entry point for determined pests. Despite the best efforts of gardeners to protect their tomato plants with physical barriers, small mammals often find ways to slip through and feast on the juicy fruits inside. Squirrels, with their agile climbing abilities, can easily scale fence netting, attacking tomatoes from above and causing top-down damage. In cases like this, it can be good to have fencing both around your gardening area and above your garden. It makes even more sense to tackle the problems from different angles, rather than rely on fencing to do the entire protection job. There are multiple solutions available for backyard pest control. We recommend synergistic practices to solve your tomato problems! To start, you can look at sprinkling herbal and spicy repellents like cayenne pepper around your garden, which squirrels do not like! If you are feeling brave and aren't squeamish, look into using predator urine to naturally deter prey. 


Larger Animals can cause Significant Damage to the Whole Plant 

While smaller pests like squirrels and chipmunks may content themselves with nibbling on tomato fruits, larger animals can totally destroy an entire plant. Deer are notorious for their voracious appetites, capable of devouring every leaf, stem, and tomato from a plant in a single feeding.  Their tall stature allows them to easily reach and consume the upper portions of the plant. Evidence of deer damage includes ragged torn leaves, stems stripped bare, and only a bare stalk left behind. And if they aren't hungry for some reason, they can easily trample over the crop. Groundhogs, though shorter than deer, can also decimate tomato plants from top to bottom. They have a habit of taking a few bites from various fruits before moving on, leaving a trail of half-eaten damaged tomatoes. 

To protect against this type of extensive plant destruction, gardeners may need to implement more robust deterrents specifically designed against deer. Extra Tall Deer Fencing is recommended to stop deer. For determined grazers, combining multiple deterrent methods like fencing, natural repellents, and scare tactics gives the best chance at safeguarding your entire tomato crop from these larger trespassers. 

Local Birds will eat Juicy Tomatoes too, even on a Small Balcony Garden

Local birds can be a delight in your garden, but they can also become a nuisance, even in small balcony gardens. Birds such as sparrows, starlings, and pigeons are often attracted to the bright red color of ripe tomatoes, pecking at the fruits and causing considerable damage. Small bites taken out of multiple tomatoes will render the whole plant vulnerable to rot and insect infestation. One effective solution is to use bird netting, which can be draped around and over tomato plants to create a dependable physical barrier that prevents birds from reaching the tomatoes. This lightweight, flexible netting can be easily secured to the balcony railing or plant supports in backyard gardens. Bird-X is strong enough to ensure your tomatoes remain safe, while allowing sunlight and air to reach the plants. 

Expert Advice from Tomato Growers for the Best Thing in Pest Control

There are many different types of tomatoes. When first deciding to plant a tomato garden, be sure to do the research and select a disease-resistant variety for your local area. When planting, maintain a generous spacing between plants for better air circulation. Choose good companion plants for tomatoes like basil, marigolds, and mint, which can also help deter some pests. Prepare your soil properly. Be sure to give your plants enough water, but over-watering is also an issue and can drown your plants.

Consistently monitor for pestilence and disease. Early intervention is the key to giving your plants a fighting chance to thrive. 

Master gardeners emphasize an integrated, synergistic approach to pest control, combining multiple methods that work together for a better outcome. Stopping pests should go beyond physical barriers and also utilize scare tactics and best gardening practices. The combination of protective netting, scarecrow devices, and cultivating a healthy plant can do more to keep your garden safe than any one method alone. 

An easy DIY Scarecrow for Garden Spaces 

It's a good idea to have something watching out over your garden when you aren't outside working in it.  Reflective objects like old CDs or aluminum foil strips can be hung around the garden to deter birds and rabbits with their flashing light. Pie pans have also been used to hang in trees, and can make a startling noise when they bang together after blowing around in the wind. Read our blog to learn more about how to make a scarecrow. 


Ready-made Scarecrows designed to Scare Animals

Rather than building your own scarecrow devices, your garden can be better protected with gardening products designed to keep pests out of the garden. While pie pans, CDs, and aluminum foil can certainly be crafted into something that does a decent job, there are better options available. Reflective Hanging disks reflect full-spectrum and UV light, and are designed to spin in the wind. Scare Tape has embedded light-reflecting qualities that scare more birds than repurposed kitchenware. 


The Fake Owl is the Best Way to Scare Common Animals 

Great Horned Scare Owls are natural predators and the best option for backyard pest control. The effectiveness of these decoys lies in biomimicry. Dalen's scare decoy poses as a real-life Great Horned Owl, an apex predator that feeds on a huge variety of animals in North America. Having a fake owl in your garden will instinctively scare away animals that might otherwise feast on fruits, tomatoes, vegetables, and flowers. Great Horned Owls are widely regarded as one of nature's most formidable predators. By strategically placing realistic-looking owl decoys around your property, you can tap into this natural fear response and scare away a wide range of common garden pests. 


Gardeners are advised to move these decoys regularly to prevent pests from becoming accustomed to their presence, thereby maximizing their deterrent effect. Regularly moving the decoy to different locations can prevent animals from becoming accustomed to its presence, ensuring a longer-lasting deterrent effect.


What is in a Great Horned Owl's Diet? 


Of all the pests mentioned that eat tomatoes, a real Great Horned Owl feeds on every single one of them, and a whole lot more. Using a fake scare owl really is the best option for a scarecrow device when protecting tomatoes, but at the end of the day, it's just another tool in the toolbox. Any long-lasting efficacy is in the gardener’s hands. Good gardening takes the determination to put all the tools to their proper use. And of course we suggest pairing the owl statue with physical protective nettings and fencing, companion planting, and other best practices to tackle the problem from multiple angles and effectively creating the most holistic gardening synergy. With the right tools, it could be the last year where your Tomato crop is stolen from a common pest!


So what can you expect to scare out of your garden if you use Dalen’s Great Horned Scare Owl Decoy? Here is a list of just a few animals that Great Horned Owls happen to prey on in the United States: 

  • Mammals:

    • Hares

    • Rabbits

    • Mice

    • Voles

    • Ground squirrels

    • Tree squirrels

    • Flying squirrels

    • Woodchucks

    • Raccoons

    • Opossums

    • Chipmunks

    • Skunks

    • Moles

  • Birds:

    • Ducks

    • Geese

    • Rails

    • Pigeons

    • Starlings

    • Crows

    • Chickens

    • Grouse

    • Shorebirds

    • Gulls

    • Bitterns

    • Woodcocks

    • Doves

    • Woodpeckers