Something is eating your tomato plants while you sleep. Your tomato plants were healthy and visually appealing the last time you checked before retiring to bed.
But when you wake up to tend to them, you may find holes on the leaves, bare branches, bare stems, or even nearly entire plants gone. What is happening?
Animals and pests are eating your tomato plants at night. These include raccoons, opossums, skunks, groundhogs, snails, slugs, hornworms, cutworms, rabbits, and deer. To identify the pest or animal, you can start by checking the marks left on the plant.
From irregularly shaped holes on the leaves to chewed stems, common culprits and their signature damage are listed below:
|Pest||How to Tell|
|Snails and slugs||Holes on the leaf surface but with healthy edges plus slime trails|
|Hornworms||Defoliates a tomato plant|
|Leaf-cutting bees||Half-moon shaped holes on edges|
|Cutworms||Cutting of plants one inch above or at soil level|
|Colorado Potato Beetle||Irregular tears from the edges plus holes on the surface|
|Rabbits||Neatly clipped stems and cut leaves near the ground|
|Deer||Torn leaves and flowers|
Before you dash after your pesticides, you may want to read more. In this article, we cover in detail what might be eating your tomato plants and provide effective remedies for the problems.
What Is Eating My Tomato Plants At Night?
Most tomato plant pests are more active at night, so you might only see the damage they’ve done in the morning light. The following details will show you what could eat your tomato plants and the marks they leave.
1. Snails And Slugs
These slimy creatures like to stay in moisture and shade. However, you can also find them in sunny areas as long as they can hide in mulch, the shadow side of pots, and other shaded places.
While most pests feed on leaves from the edges coming inwards, slugs and snails cause irregularly-shaped holes on the leaf blade and not the sides.
Signs You’ve Got Slugs
If you check the underside of the tomato leaves right after dark, you’ll likely find these creatures still hanging around. However, another way to know it’s them is by checking a slimy path they might have traced.
How to Combat Slugs
Here’s how you can control snails and slugs:
- Coffee grounds: Sprinkle coffee grounds around your plants and garden: It discomforts the creatures and may be toxic to them in large doses.
- Beer: Keep a small container (less than 5 inches high) filled with beer to attract and drown them.
- Eggshells: Spread mildly crushed eggshells around your plants: It hurts most snails and would discourage them from climbing over.
- Slug repellant products: Use slug tape and slug fence, and they won’t be able to reach your plants.
- Slug killer: Use a pet-friendly slug killer that also helps with other pests like cutworms and bugs.
These destructive worms are usually huge and around three inches long. Despite their size, they may be hard to spot thanks to their green color, which perfectly camouflages to your tomato plants.
They hide on the inner stems or the underside of the leaves and come out in the evening when it’s cooler.
Tomato hornworm starts slow, gradually eating individual leaves, but as they stick around, they can defoliate a whole plant.
That’s why it’s essential to get rid of them early enough, so the rest of the eggs don’t compound to more hornworms.
How to Control Hornworms
- Handpicking for small gardens: You can squash them or feed them to your poultry. Use soapy water spray to discomfort them so they can become conspicuous.
- Use Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), a worm killer that keeps other beneficial insects safe.
- Attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, braconid wasps, and green lace wigs to eat the hornworms and their eggs.
- Try herbs. You can also use basil, dill, and marigolds as companion plants for your tomatoes. They repel hornworms.
(Source: The Old Farmer’s Almanac)
3. Leaf-cutting Bees
While these creatures are useful in pollination, they also cut your leaves. You’ll know it’s them from the neat half-moon cuts around the edges of the leaves.
They don’t particularly eat your tomato plants, though. They use those leaf pieces to lay eggs.
Although leaf-cutting bees can be a nuisance, they merely do aesthetic damage to tomato plants. But if you wish to get rid of them either way, the best strategy is to cover your plants for some time.
So they can find another place to pollinate and possibly find material for their eggs.
These worms are fat, mostly one-inch, and they come in gray or black colors. They aren’t just worms. They’re moth larvae hiding in the soil during the day and coming out to eat at night.
Cutworms chew stems mostly at ground level, going through to cut the plant entirely.
Getting Rid of Cutworms
- Use plant collars. Surround each plant with cardboard or use toilet paper tubes when transplanting. Wait until the stems are too thick for the cutworm to bite and remove the collars.
- Hand-picking. For a few nights, go into your garden with your flashlight and pick the cutworms to dispose of them.
- Sprinkle Bt around your plants.
- Attract fireflies to your garden so they can kill the cutworms.
- Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around your plant to create a larvae barrier.
You can also dig around your destroyed plant and destroy the cutworm. Here’s a demonstration:
5. Colorado Potato Beetles
These beetles show up in black striped wing covers with an overall yellow-orange look when they reach adulthood.
However, even young ones feed on tomato plants and often look brownish-red, humped-back with black dots on the sides.
Colorado potato beetles make tears from the edges of the plant and also perforate leaf surfaces irregularly.
Since they feed in groups, they can damage your tomato leaves within a short period. You might spot them instantly or find elongated orange eggs on the leaves.
Eliminating the Colorado Potato Beetle
- Handpick the beetles, larvae, and eggs and put them in soapy water to destroy them.
- Use floating covers to protect your plants from flying pests.
- Incorporate plants like tansy, catnip, and sage to repel the beetles.
- Attract other insects. Ladybugs, ground beetles, and lace wigs feed on Colorado potato beetles.
- Use a handheld bug vacuum or try using your existing vacuum cleaner to clean everything from eggs to the adult beetles.
- Use Bt.
These non-insect nuisances may be what’s eating your tomato plants at night. They’re neat eaters, so you’ll probably find snipped shoots and sharply cut leaves.
As long as they can reach where your plants are, they can damage your garden overnight. From stems to fruits, nothing about a tomato plant is beyond eating to rabbits.
Reducing Rabbits in the Garden
- Fencing your garden, so the rabbit doesn’t get through. You should not only think about height but also the depth of the fence since some intelligent rabbits know they can dig and reach the other side.
- Trapping the rabbits and release them somewhere else. But check your area laws first to see if it’s legal.
- Spreading sulfur or planting onions to repel them with the smell.
If deer can reach your garden, they’ll probably come at night when it’s quiet They can eat any part of the tomato plant like rabbits but mostly focus on shoots or other nutritious parts that catch their eye.
They tear your plants’ foliage, and you might see their heart-shaped footprints that formed as they moved around your garden.
Keeping Deer Out of your Garden
- A homemade deer-repellant spray using hot sauce and water to spray your tomatoes.
- A Deer Out Repellant
- Soak stockings in strong smells like soap and tie them around your garden. Also, anything that smells like you, a human, works.
- Fencing your garden
- Laying down a meshy wire around the garden. You don’t have to install a fence, a wire on the deer’s path would unsettle and keep them away.
- Using an outdoor ultrasonic deer repellant.