Do Deer Eat Tomatoes? (Here’s What They Do)

When thinking about deer, we generally imagine them living in forests and meadows. However, many deer live in urban and suburban environments. Like most wild animals, they tend to be opportunistic and take advantage of any food source that’s available to them. This could include your vegetable garden. If you’ve found your tomatoes half-eaten on the vine (or simply gone), you might be wondering if the culprits are the deer in your area. But do they like tomatoes?

Do Deer Eat Tomatoes?

Yes, deer eat tomatoes. However, tomatoes are not high on the list of deer’s preferred foods. If you also grow Swiss chard, lettuce, strawberries, or cantaloupe, deer will most likely eat those first. That’s because the acidic nature of the vegetables in the nightshade family and their mildly toxic nature prevent deer from eating too much of nightshade plant fruits. 

Why Do They Eat Tomatoes?

Like most forest animals, deer eat tomatoes because they are hungry, and tomatoes are readily available. Deer don’t find tomatoes in the wild. That’s why these vegetables aren’t a deer’s first choice of food

However, deer living near farmlands or in urban and suburban areas have learned to take advantage of vegetable gardens and eat whatever they can find at any given time. 

As herbivores, deer will not only eat the tomato fruit, but they can also eat your tomato plants before or after they have produced fruits. Moreover, deer also eat green tomatoes off the vine – although they often leave them only half-eaten.

That’s not to say that deer are the culprits if you find eaten tomatoes in your garden. 

Other animals also eat tomatoes, including raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs, skunks, and opossums. All these animals, including deer, can eat ripe tomatoes, whole tomatoes, or half-eat green tomatoes, so you’ll have to look for signs to identify which pest is nibbling on your vegetables.

Do Deer Eat Tomatoes From The Garden?

As explained, deer eat tomatoes from the garden. They might also eat tomato fruits or plants that you leave for them in feeders throughout the winter. However, they generally prefer other vegetables. 

In North America, whitetail deer are often seen ravaging backyard gardens. Scat is the most common sign of deer presence. Droppings are bullet-shaped, small, and clustered, with a color that can range from brown to black.

Other signs of deer visitation include missing leaves on plant stems, missing new growth on plants, and deer tracks. 

Tomatoes aside, deer also eat numerous other plants you might grow, including decorative flowers such as roses and tulips.

Are Tomatoes Harmful To Deer?

There are no specific studies on whether tomatoes are harmful to deer. However, researchers discovered that high quantities of tomatoes might be toxic to goats and experts believe that the same could apply to other herbivores, including deer.

The reason is a substance called solanine which is present in unripe tomatoes and in the green parts of ripe tomatoes. This substance is also present in other plants in the nightshade family, including peppers and potatoes.

Solanine is a toxic alkaloid that could cause adverse reactions in humans and animals alike. However, it has to be ingested in large quantities for effects to show, and deer usually don’t eat such a high quantity of tomatoes.

Although less palatable than other plants, tomatoes can provide important nutrients to deer. They have the same energy and protein content as high-quality hay, which makes tomatoes and tomato plants a good choice to feed deer in the winter (as long as you limit their quantity and mix them with other plants and fruits, such as lettuce, apples, and kale).

Tomatoes also contain phosphorus, an essential macronutrient that helps transfer calcium to the antlers as they grow. 

However, when ingested in large quantities, tomatoes can produce undesirable effects in deer, including vomiting and gastrointestinal problems.

How Do They Avoid Them?

Wild animals seem to find ways to avoid harmful plants. However, this doesn’t apply to tomatoes. 

Although tomatoes contain solanine, they won’t cause any adverse reactions in deer if eaten in small quantities. Deer rarely eat a large quantity of any given plant, nibbling on different vegetable matters as they feed. Thus, deer do not avoid tomatoes at all. They eat both the fruit and the plant, including new plant growths and green fruits on the vine. 

If you want to protect your tomatoes, you’ll have to find a way to keep deer away from them.

While the only method to keep deer out of your vegetable garden is building a tall-enough fence, there are other ways to deter them.

How To Prevent Deer From Eating Your Tomatoes

Cultivate Plants That Deer Hate

Deer may eat tomatoes, but there are a few plants they can’t stand. These include garlic, onions, ornamental onions, and chives. Herbs such as basil, rosemary, thyme, and sage are also deer-resistant.

Plants with prickly, thorny, or hairy foliage can also deter deer. You can arrange the plants in your garden in a way to keep lettuce, tomatoes, and other desirable vegetables protected behind a barrier of plants that deer dislike.

However, you should keep in mind that deer can damage your plants even if they don’t eat them while trying to get to the vegetables they like.

Use a Motion-Activated Repellent

Motion-activated sprinklers are one of the best ways to keep deer off your property by scaring them. These devices are easy to set up and can be used to scare off other critters, too. However, you should know that a starved deer might still pass through to get to food.

Add Moving Decorations To Your Garden

Yard decorations that move suddenly or make unusual sounds can also repel deer. Think of wind spinners, wind chimes, or solar-powered decorations that move. All these objects should be able to scare off the deer. 

Use Deer Repellents

Deer repellents are chemical substances that use a combination of smell and taste deterrents that keep deer away. Most products include ammonia, blood meal, dried garlic, and other ingredients that have a bad smell or flavor. 

Ammonia and blood meal are two of the most effective repellents, signaling the presence of predators. 

Fence With Hedges 

If you don’t like solid fences, hedges could also act as a deer barrier. Choose some hedges deer don’t like, such as short needle spruces or boxwood, and plant them around the borders of your garden. Not only will these plants act as deterrents, but they will also keep vegetables out of the deer’s sight. Without seeing past the hedges, deer will unlikely leap onto your property.

Layer Your Garden

Deer are not particularly fond of layered landscapes. They don’t like climbing slopes and will generally avoid terraced gardens. You don’t have to invest loads of money into landscaping. Sometimes, stacking wooden pallets around the garden borders is all it takes to keep deer from entering.

Let Your Pet Help

If you have a dog, you could let Fido help you keep deer away. Even if it is a small dog, its barking will usually be loud enough to scare the deer off.

Summary

Tomatoes might not be a deer’s first choice, but deer will still eat tomatoes if given the opportunity. Most deer will go for the ripe tomatoes, either on the vine or fallen on the ground. However, they could also nibble on green tomatoes or tomato plants. Although tomatoes could be toxic if eaten in large quantities, they are rich in nutrients and a good choice for winter feeding – as long as you mix them with other vegetables.

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