Have you ever found your tomato plants munched on and ruined and wondered what or who the culprit is? Rabbits are found in many household gardens, especially if there are fields or wild spaces nearby, and you might be wondering “do rabbits eat tomato plants?” as you stare at shredded stems and chewed leaves.
No, rabbits don’t usually eat tomato plants. Tomatoes are from the deadly nightshade family and while their fruits are safe, the plants can be somewhat toxic. Few rabbits eat tomato plants, but they might knock them over and steal the fruits, so you still don’t want them around.
Why Don’t Rabbits Eat Tomato Plants?
Rabbits don’t eat tomato plants because they are toxic when consumed in significant quantities. Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family and many people are aware of their potential toxicity. If you have ever rubbed your hand over a tomato plant, you may have noticed that it makes your skin itch and prickle.
However, tomato plants aren’t as toxic as some members of this family, and the idea that they are completely poisonous has been debunked. They do contain some harmful compounds, such as tomatine, solanine, and some alkaloids, but the quantities are low enough not to be very harmful to humans.
While a single bite of the stem or a leaf probably wouldn’t do much harm to a rabbit, eating the plant in any noticeable quantity could kill it. They are much smaller than humans and can tolerate far less in terms of toxins in their food.
Rabbits also don’t have the ability to vomit, so once they have eaten something toxic, they either must digest it, or it kills them. They have no way of ejecting disagreeable foods from their systems.
Consequently, rabbits simply don’t eat tomatoes in most cases. You might be wondering how they know which plants to eat and which to avoid, and it isn’t really clear, but it is thought that most learn from other family members.
Young rabbits observe what the older ones eat and avoid, and therefore most will avoid tomato plants. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule that every rabbit everywhere will follow. You may, on occasion, find that a tomato plant has been nibbled by a young and inexperienced bunny that thought it looked tasty.
If this happens, you will probably see very neat chunks taken out of the leaves and possibly the stem. The rabbits may also take the fruit of your tomatoes, especially if these drop to the ground.
Do Rabbits Eat Tomato Fruit?
Yes, rabbits do sometimes eat tomato fruit. This contains less of the toxins, especially as it gets riper, and people who have pet rabbits sometimes feed them tomatoes as a treat. Wild rabbits will take tomato fruit if they can get it, so if fruits have dropped from your plant, don’t be surprised to find them munched – or just gone.
There are some nutrients in tomatoes that are good for rabbits, however, tomatoes are high in sugar, which means they aren’t the most healthy food, though they are considered an excellent treat. You might find that rabbits steal the fruits and leave your plants bare, which can be frustrating.
Rabbits may not find tomatoes, since they are usually high off the ground, but if they do, they will certainly take and eat the fruit, even if they don’t touch the leaves.
Will Rabbits Knock My Tomatoes Over?
If you have found your tomato plants in a heap on the floor and the fruits have been stolen, rabbits could be the culprits. If they see or smell the fruits, they may pull or push the plants over so that they can access them.
A few curious rabbits may take a bite or two out of the leaves at the same time, but most will content themselves with taking the tomatoes and leaving your plants in a pile. This is very annoying, especially as tomato stems tend to be brittle and will usually break if the plant is pulled over – ruining all your hard work.
How To Stop Rabbits
No matter how fond you might be of fluffy little bunnies, you probably don’t want to share your tomatoes with them, especially when you have put hours of work into planting, pruning, feeding, watering, and tending to them.
So, what can you do if rabbits seem determined to eat either your tomato plants (unlikely) or the tomatoes themselves at the expense of the plant? Let’s explore a few strategies.
Tip One: Lift Your Tomatoes Up
If your tomatoes are at ground level, they are practically inviting rabbits to come and investigate them, and rabbits will certainly oblige. Even if they don’t knock the plants over or steal the fruit, they may still damage the lower foliage as they hop around, or dig at the soil the tomatoes are planted in.
If you are growing your tomatoes in pots, as many people do, a simple technique is to get them off ground level. While rabbits can jump, they rarely forage at height, and you will probably solve the problem entirely just by lifting your tomato plants onto a shelf out of harm’s way.
You may be able to get second hand shelving, or buy a bench or even get a few crates. As long as the item is tall enough to make it an effort to get up onto, you will deter rabbits from doing so and keep your plants safer.
Tip Two: Fencing
A shelf may not be practical in your setup, in which case, you could consider fencing. You might either fence your whole garden, or just erect a fence around your tomato plants, depending on how much you care about the various other things in your garden.
Fencing your whole garden is obviously an expensive operation. The fencing needs to be high enough to keep the rabbits out, but it must also be dug into the ground, as rabbits are excellent tunnelers and will easily go under the fence otherwise.
To be safe, you should dig the fencing down to at least twelve inches. This should stop the rabbits from getting under it.
You can find a good fence like this one online at Amazon. Besides looking at the overall size of the net, you should pay particular attention to the size of the openings, as openings larger than 2 inches might let some rabbits in.
Fencing will keep your plants safe, but it must be checked regularly and carefully maintained so that it doesn’t become a hazard to wildlife. Damaged fencing can be dangerous and may trap birds or other creatures, leading to a slow death if they aren’t found.
If you are just fencing in your tomatoes, you may find that rabbits don’t bother to dig under unless they are really attracted to the plants. This will depend on what other food is available and how much they like tomatoes.
Tip Three: Try Repellents
Rabbits have keen noses, so you may be able to keep them away from your tomatoes by creating a strong and unpleasant smell near the plants. This might be enough to dull their interest and deter them.
There are many commercial repellent sprays that can be purchased which should discourage rabbits from entering your garden or approaching your tomato plants, and you can also make some sprays at home.
You can mix eggs with water, wait for the mixture to rot, and then spray it onto your tomato plants. This will keep rabbits well away, but be aware that it stinks and you will have to put up with it yourself. Make sure you wash tomatoes that are harvested after using a mix like this, to remove any residue.
The biggest problem with sprays is that they need repeated applications. If you do decide to use them, the key is in very consistent applications. You may need to apply them as often as every few days, especially if the weather is wet, as this will wash the spray off the plants more quickly.
Unless you make your own repellent (and possibly even if you do), this will work out as more expensive and certainly more time consuming in the long term than building a fence would. However, you may find that it works for you, or serves as a temporary solution while you come up with something else.
Tip Four: Reduce The Foliage And Hiding Spots
Rabbits don’t like being out in the open, so if you reduce their hiding places in the garden, especially near your tomato plants, you will probably find that you end up with fewer rabbits overall. Try removing pots, cutting back bushes, and clearing away junk.
If rabbits don’t feel safe in your garden, they won’t come in as often.
Rabbits are unlikely to eat your tomato plants, but they may steal the fruit and knock the plants over, so you probably want to deter them even if they don’t go for the actual foliage. Try the above tricks for keeping your tomatoes rabbit-free!