Have you ever walked into your vegetable garden to pick some ripe tomatoes for a salad, only to find none? If you’ve already caught the local deer population in your garden a few times, you’re probably wondering do deer eat tomatoes.
Yes, deer eat tomatoes. Although deer aren’t particularly fond of the ripe, red tomato fruit, they love eating the leaves and stems of tomato plants. When hungry, deer will eat almost any plant they come across, including the ripe tomato. Deer will even pull the entire tomato plant and eat the roots.
Keep reading to learn if tomatoes are toxic to deer and how to stop deer from eating tomatoes and other plants in your garden.
Are Tomatoes Poisonous to Deer?
Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family. Natural chemicals called tomatine and solanine are present in young, green tomatoes and the stems and leaves of the tomato plant.
Both of these substances can be harmful in large quantities to humans and animals alike. Solanine is also found in potatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers, among other commonly consumed vegetables.
Deer is unlikely to experience any side effects after eating several leaves of a tomato plant. But ingesting large amounts of solanine can cause digestive problems and, in more severe cases, neurological issues.
Do Deer Eat Tomatoes out of the Garden?
When hungry, deer aren’t very picky about their meals. They’ll eat most greens they stumble upon, including tomatoes.
Deer aren’t particularly fond of ripe tomato fruit but are fond of tomato leaves and stems. When they are particularly hungry, deer will pull entire tomato plants from the ground, eating the leaves, stems, fruit, and roots.
Deer eat a lot of food. An average adult deer can eat anywhere from 6% to 8% of its body weight every day. This means that a 150-pound deer can consume up to 12 pounds of food per day.
In their haste to get as much food and nutrients in their stomachs, deer cause massive damage to plants in gardens. In most cases, what remains of a tomato vine is no longer strong enough to survive, let alone produce fruit.
How Can I Stop Deer from Eating My Tomato Plants?
There are several things you can do once you determine that deer are eating tomatoes and other plants in your garden. Here are a few tested deer-proof garden options that work:
Install a Fence
Fencing your vegetable garden might seem like the obvious solution to your problem. But did you know that deer can easily jump over a six-foot-tall fence to eat tomatoes and other plants in the garden?
If you want to install a fence, make it at least eight-foot tall to prevent deer from finding their way into your vegetable patch. Consider installing an electric fence that gives off a mild electric shock to keep deer and other animals from getting inside your garden.
Set Up a Cage Around Tomatoes
Although wooden and electric fences are effective at keeping deer from the garden, they are also expensive. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly solution, consider building a fence or a cage around the tomatoes.
Use a heavy gauge wire to create a barrier around the vegetable patch that will keep the deer out. Remember to cover the cage from all sides and the top so the deer can’t poke their heads over the fence and eat the tomato foliage.
Deer don’t like strong odors and are repelled by the smell of some plants. Planting some of the following plants near tomato vines can protect them from further damage:
- Chili peppers
- Bee balm
- Japanese boxwood
- Purple fountain grass
Deer Repellent Sprays
Commercial deer repellent sprays are sold in garden centers, hardware stores, and online. These products are specially formulated to target the deer’s keen sense of smell to stop it from coming back to your garden.
Follow the instructions on the label to know how to use the spray around the garden to keep the deer away.
You can also make homemade deer repellent spray by mixing a small amount of hot sauce in four gallons of water. Spray this mixture around your garden and plants to stop the deer from returning.
Motion-activated sprinklers may be small but are highly efficient. As their name suggests, motion-activated sprinklers release a spray of water once they detect any movement in the vicinity.
Most of these sprinklers are battery-operated or work on solar power, so you won’t need an electrical outlet. But they might need a garden hose to spray water to keep the deer away.
What Other Plants Do Deer Eat?
Deer are herbivores with voracious appetites. They will eagerly eat most plants in a garden but prefer tender and broad-leaved plant species without a strong odor or fuzzy petals or leaves.
Tomato plants aren’t the only plants in your garden that are in danger of hungry deer. Here are a few popular garden plants that deer enjoy eating:
Deer like eating most vegetables found in gardens. Consider fencing your garden if you grow any of the vegetables listed below:
- Carrot tops
- Sweet potatoes
Climbers and Vines
Deer love to eat most climbers and vines, including morning glory and clematis. Here are several other vines deer like eating:
- English Ivy
- Passion fruit
In addition to eating tomato plants, deer will also devour most flowers in your garden. Deer can destroy an entire flower bed in one night, and their favorite flowers are:
- Plantain lily
Deer love to eat many plants, including tomatoes. Although they don’t particularly like eating ripe tomato fruits, they enjoy eating tomato leaves and stems. When extremely hungry, deer will pull an entire tomato plant, eating all leaves, stems, fruit, and even roots.
There are several things you can do to stop deer from eating tomatoes from your garden. Installing a fence, building a cage around tomato plants, using a repellent spray, or a motion-activated sprinkler are the best ways to stop deer from eating your tomato plants.