Going into your fruit and veg patch in the morning to find half-eaten tomatoes is a frustration every gardener takes steps to avoid.
The problem here is that you need to know what’s eating your tomatoes so you know the right steps to take.
When you see damage occurring to your tomato plants at night only, the bite marks, paw prints, or scat left behind can give you a good indication of what’s eating your tomatoes during the night.
Then you can take mitigating steps to stop them.
What is eating my tomatoes at night?
Nocturnal feeders with a fondness for tomato plants include skunks, rats, raccoons, and deer. Skunks do the least damage, taking a bite from a single low-hanging fruit. Deer will cause extensive damage by grazing from the top down. Raccoons and rats will feed more on the lower fruits.
A skunk isn’t going to seek out your garden just to nibble on a tomato. They are opportunistic eaters though.
A good way to tell if a skunk has visited your garden is if you’ve only one tomato, close to the ground with a bite taken out of it.
Whilst skunks can climb, they won’t climb your vine to eat tomatoes.
They prefer to feast on insects and the eggs they leave on leaves. In that respect, they can be helping you.
If they’re hungry enough and on the prowl for food, they’ll take a bite of low-hanging fruit. They won’t eat everything.
What you’re most likely to see as evidence of skunks visiting your garden overnight is holes being dug in your soil. That’s what skunks do to hunt for grubs.
It could be that your low-hanging fruit and ground-covering vegetation is just getting in their way.
They’ll forage through ground vegetation to dig holes in search of underground insects.
The holes a skunk digs are up to 4 inches deep. They’re typically more active in the spring, so by late summer, they’ll have moved on anyway.
Unless that is, you have a severe hornworm or other insect infestation on your plants, or grubs nearby in which case, they’ll have an active hunting ground.
To get rid of a recurring skunk problem, you’ll need to treat whatever’s attracting it. Most likely, garden grubs, voles, tomato hornworms, or a fruit fly infestation.
Raccoons are nocturnal feeders and they’re omnivores, meaning they’ll eat anything.
Insects, fish, plants, fruits, or even frogs in your garden pond. Anything goes with these as they can run, swim and climb.
It’s unlikely you’ll see a raccoon unless you’re using an action camera to catch a garden thief in action.
A cheaper way to identify raccoon visits is to trace their tracks.
Around your tomato plant, place some sand or leave some soil wet so you can get sample footprints to inspect in the morning.
The tracks that raccoons leave are very distinctive. The front legs have five toes that resemble a hand print and the hind legs are the same with an elongated heel.
As they move around, more weight is on their hind legs so that print will be deeper in the soil.
The size of an adult raccoon is between 2 and 3 feet so look for distances between the front and hind paw prints that have that spacing between them.
Whilst raccoons will eat anything, they develop an appetite for fruits later in the year, around fall time.
That’s when you’re more likely to find a raccoon taking chunks out of your tomatoes.
Even then, they still aren’t too keen on them. They’ll pick the tomato off the vine, take a bite, toss it on the ground, then grab another.
Raccoons are extremely messy eaters so if you find a scattering of bitten tomatoes across the ground, it’s likely a raccoon that’s been foraging your crops.
The only effective remedy is live trapping and relocating far away (5 to 10 miles) as they will return to where they know there’s a food source.
If you know of deer sightings within a mile of where you’re growing tomatoes, they definitely need protection from deer.
Deer are nocturnal feeders that like to venture into gardens for an easy buffet.
Every part of the plant will be devoured. If they’re hungry enough, they can eat the entire vine.
A typical day’s food foraging for a deer is between 2 and 4 pounds of vegetation. 5 pounds if food is scarce.
If they’re only eating some of your tomato plants, you’ll see the evidence closer to the top.
Large bites from the top of the plant that include the leaves and the fruits, with little to no damage closer to ground level are likely to be deer grazing on your tomato plants.
To prevent it from happening, enclose your garden behind a tall solid paneled fence to keep the deer out.
Failing that, erecting a wire or plastic mesh cage around your tomato plant can prevent deer from eating your plant.
A sure sign that rats have been visiting is a poop trail.
When rats move around, they stay close to solid walls, like the edge of your garden shed or along the side of a raised bed planter.
Rats leave excrement along their trails, which will be the side of solid structures, such as your house, shed, or raised bed planter.
Rat scat (droppings) are only a half-inch to a quarter-inch in size, resembling pellets.
You’ll find rat droppings in piles, usually around a half dozen to a dozen and it’ll be along the trail they use to reach your tomato plants.
They’re super scared creatures that will not venture across an open lawn.
Rats are most active at night and tend to feed on vegetation close to ground level. But, don’t let that fool you.
Rats are capable of a 48-inch horizontal leap and will survive a fall from 50-feet.
If they spot tomatoes in a raised garden bed, they will jump up to reach it. If they miss, they won’t be scared to try again.
If you have a rodent problem, be it a rat, a colony of them, or even field mice, you need to use rodent deterrents to protect your tomato plants.
There are poisons you can lay around your property that they will eat, or take to their nesting layer for their pack to eat, poisoning them all.
But you’ll be left with a horrid stench of death.
Your best deterrent for rats is traps. That way, you can trap, kill and get rid of them.
Without eliminating rats, the problem will only amplify once they start breeding.
Frequently Asked Questions relating to what eats tomato plants at night
What are the most humane ways to deter wildlife from the garden?
Motion-activated water sprinkler systems can be a humane deterrent to ward off deer and other large animals. For smaller rodents that prefer to hunt in the dark, solar lights are an effective way to make your garden uncomfortable for them to enter for fear of being caught.
Is it safe to eat tomatoes with teeth marks if you wash them?
As every animal is a disease carrier, it’s totally unsafe to do so. As are humans. It’s why you wouldn’t ordinarily share a tomato with a stranger. While there are extremes like rabies being passed from animals to humans, the more probable risk is salmonella, which can be transmitted by an infected animal biting into food that’s then consumed by a human.
Taking care of houseplants and gardening are my greatest passions. I am transforming my apartment into an urban jungle and am growing veggies in my indoor and outdoor garden year-round.