Tomatoes might not only be your favorite produce but there are also plenty of pests that would gladly feed on them too. Among other animals, gardeners often ask do deer eat tomatoes and how to keep deer from eating tomatoes.
In this article, I’ll be exploring the answer to both questions. Additionally, I’ll be explaining just how safe it is for deer to eat tomatoes, and the answers might surprise you.
- Do Deer Eat Tomatoes?
- Are There Deer-Resistant Tomato Plants?
- How to Keep Deer from Eating Tomatoes
- Making Home-Made Deer Repellents
- Verdict: Do Deer Eat Tomatoes
Do Deer Eat Tomatoes?
Deer will eat both the fruit and the tomato plant, making them one of the prime mammalian tomato crop destroyers. Unlike raccoons, which are known to rip the fruit off, deer bite from the top of the plant. In fact, if left uninterrupted, they can eat the entire tomato plant.
Since they don’t know the difference between ripe and unripe fruit, they’ll often eat green tomatoes too.
Is It Safe for Deer to Eat Tomatoes?
Regarding my comment about their unfussiness when it comes to the color of tomatoes, it’s actually not entirely safe for deer to eat unripe tomatoes.
While tomatoes normally aren’t toxic when ripe, unripe tomatoes contain solanine. Solanine is a toxic alkaloid that causes indigestion, the severity of which depends on the amount of food eaten.
The concentration of solanine is not high in unripe tomatoes, though, and if the animal doesn’t eat too much, it’ll probably be all right (aside from some indigestion). However, eating copious amounts of unripe tomatoes can lead to serious illness.
The symptoms include severe indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, dehydration, and even coma and death. However, a deer would need to eat an incredible amount of unripe tomatoes for this to happen.
This type of poisoning is more common with potatoes, which contain higher amounts of solanine.
The tomato plant with unripe fruit also contains tomatine, an alkaloid with almost identical effects as solanine, although weaker.
If a deer does start to eat your tomatoes, chances are it’ll eat just a little amount before feeling some effects of the solanine causing the animal to move on to another plant. As such, neither the animal nor the plant will come to much harm.
Will Tomato Plants Regrow After Deer Eat Them?
If a deer eats the entire tomato plant, it will most definitely not regrow. However, the re-growth and development of new fruits depend on how much of the plant the deer eats.
For example, if the deer only ate tomato fruits, but left the actual plant alone, then it’s likely that new fruits will grow (unless it’s too late in the season). If a deer eats a part of your plant, the plant should regrow just fine.
Deer are usually interested in the leaves and the fruits of the tomato plant, rarely eating the stem. If that’s the case with the deer invading your garden early to mid-season, know that new leaves can replace old ones and new fruits can develop too.
Are There Deer-Resistant Tomato Plants?
Thanks to the presence of solanine all tomato plants are deer resistant to an extent when they’re unripe. One variety, though, has made a step further in deer resistance.
The Litchi tomato plant, Solanum sisymbriifolium, has grown spines and thorns all over the plant, while it also has a husk covering the tomato fruits. This husk has thorns, making it very difficult for an animal with no fingers (i.e. deer) to get to the fruit safely.
It’s essentially impossible for deer to eat Litchi tomatoes without hurting themselves, which makes this variety the most deer-resistant tomato plant.
On top of the pricks and the thorns, Litchi tomatoes also contain solasodine, which is a chemical compound that causes negative effects when ingested.
How to Keep Deer from Eating Tomatoes
Depending on how tall your tomato variety grows, you could grow them inside a metal cage. Keep in mind though that some varieties can grow more than 6 feet in height which means you’ll need a rather large cage.
Why is this a better option than simply fencing your entire garden? Because it’s cheaper! Many fruits and vegetables can be protected like this – potatoes, pumpkins, squash, etc.
This method, however, only protects your tomatoes. What if you have a problem with deer eating other fruits and vegetables in the garden? Here’s how to protect your garden from these animals.
Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden
Keeping deer out of your garden is surprisingly easy – although they’re great jumpers, deer aren’t good climbers. Installing an 8-foot-tall fence will definitely prevent them from getting into your garden.
This method of deer control is referred to as a mechanical obstacle. Experiments with deer have proven that they can’t jump over 8-foot-tall fences, which makes them a guarantee of a deer-free yard.
Another set of methods you can use is known as scare strategies. Since deer are timid creatures and scare easily, all you have to do is give them a good fright every time they wander into your yard.
There are several methods to this, and gardeners like them because they’re much cheaper and much less imposing than installing a huge fence around the perimeter of your property.
Connecting your sprinklers to a motion detector, for example, is a great way to keep deer out of your yard. Deer will easily be scared off by water shooting at them.
There are also integrated light and sound systems online that you can look up, which are activated by motion. Deer will instinctively run away from sudden noises and lights.
The most effective scare strategy, though, is the use of a dog! Deer fear predators more than anything else, and they’ll surely avoid conflict with a dog.
The last method of deer control is using repellents.
Making Home-Made Deer Repellents
Homemade deer repellents can be no less effective than commercial store-bought repellents.
What’s important to know, though, is that repellents on their own have mixed results. They will likely deter deer for some time, but animals will learn to ignore them after a while.
Therefore they’re great to use with other methods, but not as an individual method of deer deterring.
Smells That Repel Deer
The most effective deer-repelling smell is putrid cooked eggs – some reports suggest that this can be up to 100% effective in deer repelling.
Other effective smells include vinegar and tabasco. Animals with an acute sense of smell find the acidity and spiciness to be intense and uncomfortable and will overwhelm them causing them to be scared off.
How to Make Home-Made Deer Repellent
Making homemade deer repellent is quick, easy, and cheap.
You’ll need some intensely scented ingredients such as the ones mentioned above or a bunch of herbs such as rosemary, lavender, or mint. Plus, two gallons of water.
If you are using liquid ingredients such as herb essences only, you can skip the first step.
Step 1 – Grind the Ingredients
Use a blender to grind rotten eggs (if using) until you have a fine, powdery substance. This will make it possible for the ingredients to blend well with water.
Step 2 – Mix the Ingredients with Water
Mix the ingredients you have with two gallons of water and filter them if there’s anything solid inside. If you’re using vinegar, know that you don’t need more than half a liter per 2 gallons of water to deter deer!
Step 3 – Apply the Mixture
All that’s left is to spray the mixture onto your plants. If you’re relying solely on this method, you’ll need to reapply the repellent every other week or after each time it rains.
Verdict: Do Deer Eat Tomatoes
Knowing how to keep deer from eating tomatoes is a crucial part of growing this delicious and versatile fruit because it’s one of their favorite plants to eat in a vegetable garden.
Green tomatoes are poisonous to deer, so there’s a chance that eating them will poison the animal if it eats too much of your unripe crop.
To prevent deer from eating your tomatoes, you grow them inside a metal cage, or for more wide-scale deer invasions you could invest in raising a fence around your entire garden to keep them away.