Tomato plants (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) technically produce fruits, but people use the fruits as vegetables in salads and other dishes too numerous to list. Unfortunately, squirrels eat tomato fruits, too, passing up unripe green ones to eat only those that are ripe red. Foiling hungry squirrels is never simple. Tomato plants usually are grown as annuals.
Use Dogs and Cats
The old-fashioned method of letting a dog roam the garden is one way of discouraging squirrels from eating tomato fruits. They don't like cats either. Cats prey on squirrels.
Not all dogs are equal for this chore. Some dogs are squirrel specialists_._ For example, the American squirrel dog is bred to chase squirrels. A German pinscher is specifically bred to chase squirrels and other rodents.
Build Physical Barriers
Keep squirrels from eating your tomato fruits by covering your plants with plastic bird netting, chicken wire or hardware cloth; all of those barrier items are available at many garden supply centers. Whether or not this method is practical depends on the variety of tomato plants you grow.
- Indeterminate tomatoes, including heirloom varieties, yield fruits all
summer, but those plants are climbers that need to be staked. They can grow 10 to
12 feet tall, although 6 to 8 feet is more usual, hardly a size that you can
easily surround with a barrier.
- Determinate tomatoes, which usually bear fruits in late June, typically
remain under 5 feet tall. So they are possible candidates for covering with bird netting.
- Dwarf tomatoes, which are hybrid determinate cultivars, grow as low as 3 feet high and spread 3 feet wide. They are small enough to cover with bird netting or even chicken
wire or hardware cloth.
Cage small determinate or dwarf tomato plants by encircling each of them with chicken wire and stringing bird netting over each one's top. Fasten the netting in place with clothespins. When you harvest your tomato fruits, simply remove the netting, and then put it back in place.
Wrap individual ripening tomato fruits with bird netting.
Use Smell, Bad and Good
Squirrels can smell predators, including dogs and cats, and avoid predator-scented areas. Collect dog or cat hair in a vacuum cleaner, or get some from a pet store. Put the hair in a nylon stocking or porous bag, and place the stocking or bag at the foot of your tomato plants. A variation of this method is to spray urine from wolves or other squirrel predators on the ground at the base of your tomato plants. Some garden supply stores offer predator urine.
Squirrels avoid the odor of blood meal, too. It is a dry powder extracted from slaughterhouse waste and sometimes is used as an organic fertilizer; it is available at plant nurseries and garden supply centers. Spread blood meal on the soil around your tomato plants, using fewer than 4 ounces of blood meal per 1 square yard. Blood meal contains high levels of ammonia and nitrogen; so do not apply more than that amount.
Combine 5 ounces bottle of hot pepper sauce and 1 teaspoon of a liquid, mild detergent with 1 gallon of water, and spray the mixture on the bases of your tomato plants. Respray the plants with the mixture every few days for two weeks while the squirrels learn to avoid your tomatoes. Also respray after it rains.
Establish a squirrel hangout with peanuts, corn, sunflower seeds and other food squirrels eat; you could even include some tomatoes in the mix. Give the squirrels water at the hangout, too. Place the hangout in an isolated spot well away from your tomatoes. If they get their fill at the hangout, they'll have no reason to raid your tomatoes.
Use Water and Motion
Install a motion-activated sprinkler that will douse the critters with water when they invade your garden.
Another option is to install pinwheels, compact disks or aluminum pie tins in your garden. They will move and flash whenever the wind blows. These items work for a while, and then squirrels get used to them and go for the garden's tomatoes.
Squirrels are considered game animals in many U.S. states, with seasons reserved for hunting or trapping them. Some trapping practices can be cruel and/or dangerous and are not recommended.
- TimesUnion.com: Squirrels -- Prepare for Battle
- Weedend Gardener: Keep Squirrels Out of Your Garden
- Royal Horticultural Society: Gray Squirrels
- eXtension: Problem -- Squirrels Eating Plants in Vegetable Garden
- Anderson Wildlife Control: How to Keep Squirrels Out of Your Garden
- Louisiana State University Agricultural Center: How to Properly Prune Your Tomatoes
- Los Angeles Times: Gardening -- Dwarf Tomatoes Grow as Garden-Size Shrinks
- National Kennel Club Inc.: American Squirrel Dog Standard
- Floridata: Lycopersicon Lycopersicum
- Today's Homeowner: How to Keep Squirrels from Damaging Your Home
A one-time farm boy, Richard Hoyt, holder of a PhD in American studies, is a former newspaper reporter, magazine writer and college professor. While writing 27 novels of suspense, he has lived on sugar cane, pepper and papaya plantations and helped keep bees in Belize.