Container Crop Loss, or Tomatoes and Rats Revisited

Our roma tomato plant was as big as this cherry tomato plant



Mother’s Day did not start out well for me.

When I got up, Dale said, “Something got one of the tomato plants last night.”

I went out to the party deck and sure enough, two of the three roma tomato stalks had been sheared off almost at the base.

When I wrote about tomatoes and rats a couple of weeks ago, I was writing a general update on what was happening on the deck, I didn’t necessarily think the rat would eat at the tomato plants, but now I’m not so sure.

We’ve been wondering what has been attracting rats up on our deck since we don’t keep dog food or anything else out there.

One night last week, I took Molly and Dakota out for their before bed potty excursion and Molly immediately started chasing a rat on the deck.

All that remains of our roma plant



The icky creature got away from her and ran up the flower stand. In Molly’s younger years, she would have caught and killed it. She did swallow a tiny mouse whole once that got into The Belle Writer’s Studio. She saw me coming for it, and the last I heard of that mouse was it squeaking as she swallowed!

I walked over, trying to get Molly away from the rat on the plant stand, and the rodent just sat on a shelf looking at me. I called for Dale to bait the Rat Zappers and bring them out. We sat them both by the plant stand and the next morning….nothing. We’ve caught plenty of small mice in the zappers since purchasing them, but no rats.

My aunt, who lives down our road, said she caught two rats in her Rat Zappers in her basement just last week. She’s also had problems with something eating her tomatoes at the base of the stalk and said she saw baby rabbits as the culprits.

I checked online and read some reports that rats, squirrels and rabbits might do this. Deer can too, although they typically eat the plant. In our case, the stalks were left behind untouched.

On Sunday night, I brushed the dogs to use their hair and also took human hair from our brushes, placing both in the containers, hoping the scent would scare off anything that tried a second run at the two remaining plants. Nothing came back on Sunday night.

The whole purpose of container gardening is to try to keep the critters from decimating my crop. It’s so frustrating to have fruit on the vine and have them destroyed.

I guess I will be buying another roma tomato plant.

What do you think readers? Do rats do this type of damage to plants or do you think it is something else?

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46 Responses

  1. Alisa Bowman says:

    The deer eat whatever I plant no matter where I plant it. I finally decided that they are hungry and starving to death and probably need the food more than I do, but it’s still discouraging.

    • Kerri says:

      We live so far out that any wildlife has plenty to eat without getting on my deck. They will not win this war! Charge! 🙂

  2. Cindyt says:

    Hi Kerri; It is ALWAYS something it seems! My wonderful Tomatoes out on the fishing deck were doing famously (the key word were) until the catapillers invaded!! I am daily battling them picking them off and giving them the ‘grape’ stomper mash! I hate killing things but it is necessary if I am to enjoy my precious tomatoes. of which I have had many of the yellow cherry sweet tomatoes and my first big vine ripened slicer tomatoe. It was so good that I had it on my lunch sandwich…and that tasted so good I had on a dinner sandwich. Bonus to that no heating up the kitchen with cooking! Days here are now reaching into the 90’s consistently! I fear we are in for a Long Hot Summer!

    I am sorry to hear about the Rat problem! Ick, for some reason they always invoke a primal scream from me….AAAARRRRRUGHQUE!!!! (not knowing how to spell out primal scream but you get the idea I am sure) Good Luck I hope that trap took care of your rogue rat tomatoe killer!!! Love, Cindyt

    • Kerri says:

      Oh, no, Cindy! I’m so sorry to hear that. Damned critters! We have killed 3 rats on the deck in the past week. I hope they’re done for awhile now. I read it will be a hot and dry summer in most areas of the country, including in the typically rainy NW. We are already needing rain badly here. Keep cool and keep on those catepillars.

  3. Irene says:

    Can you call the agricultural extension program to find out how to get rid of rats?

  4. Merr says:

    I feel for you. This happened to us with a container tomato plant, only with insects. Keep going!

  5. Jane Boursaw says:

    I know sometimes people call squirrels “rats with bushy tails,” but I’ll take them over real rats any day! Makes me shudder to think about a rat going after your tomato plant.

  6. Sheryl says:

    Rats make me shiver…ew. Especially hungry ones. Hope whatever it is stays away from those plants!

  7. Oh my goodness. I’ve never heard anyone talk of a tomato being sheared off at the base like that. Seedlings, yes, but a big plant? I don’t have any idea what it could be, though.

  8. Sounds like rats from your experience. We have real problems with skunks and deer around here. The deer eat everything in their path so you have to keep things covered. Does the hair trick work against deer and skunks?

    • Kerri says:

      It does work. Another thing that works very well is a product called “Deer Off,” an organic spray that doesn’t harm plants or animals, but keeps them away. I think we caught THE rat last night, it took out the rest of the roma plant and dug up two of my flowers. It’s either him or a squirrel as I had the dog gate up last night. But one rat is dead, anyway.

  9. Heather L. says:

    We have a horrid slug problem here, but I just read that Sluggo was organic and gets rid of them. Funny though I can’t think of Sluggo without being reminded of the comic strip.

  10. I have never heard of a rat doing something like this! I hope they stay away from your plants from now on!

  11. Vida says:

    HI Kerri,

    I just planted 40 tomato plants and each I fussed over as seedlings, so I feel for you!

    Although if you wish to keep your plant the Roma will probably regrow more stalks, and really quickly. Check if there are little sideshoots sprouting at the base of the branches, each one can grow into a main stalk again.

    Good luck!

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Vida, I had no idea it might regrow!

      • Vida says:

        Yep. As a matter of fact for other varieties that crop continuously throughout the season (not ROMA, though) it’s alot of work to pinch out the little sideshoots and leave only three main stalks. With lots of plants, sooner or later some get overlooked and before you know it they are huge stalks with MORE sideshoots. One cherry tomato plant I left completely untouched as an experiment and at the end of the season it looked like a tropical jungle monster.

        • Kerri says:

          We lost the remaining stalk last night. We did, however, catch the rat in the zapper, so maybe? Fingers crossed our problems are over.

  12. Haley says:

    I love glue traps but since it’s outside in the open you don’t want to trap other animals or your dogs….. sounds like time to get a party deck kitty!

    • Kerri says:

      We can’t have cats here, Haley, they call them “coyote bait,” they just don’t last very long. As well, I’m not sure the dogs would leave them alone either. I don’t like the glue traps. I find them very inhumane, I’ve seen mice literally rip their little feet off trying to get off of them. And poison, even the kind that is not supposed to harm other animals if they eat the mice bodies, is not good either. These rat zappers are too small for anything else to get into except mice and rats and we don’t put them out until after the dogs are all in for the night. If we have to resort to the slam traps, we also won’t put them out until the dogs are in. As well, I’m putting up the dog gate on the deck so nothing else can get up there at night like rabbits or raccoons.

  13. My tomato plants have been decimated by slugs. And deer, when they get into our yard. Never rats.

  14. Vicki says:

    I do not know if this will help or not Kerri.
    I am having a epidemic possum problem here at the trailer park, and we are going to try to use something that coyote hunters use here, coyote urine to set deterrant areas up. I am using women’s feminine pads soaked with this stuff and then tacking it at specific spots around the perimeter of the trailer and the yard. The city won’t help or Game and Parks, so we are on our own here. I cannot trap them as it is posted as illegal and a 10.000 fine and 5-10 yrs in jail, if you can believe it.
    I will keep you posted as to see if this works well or not. It may work also for you to tell critters that there are predetors around, but then again, I am not sure if it would bring in the predators which you don’t need either.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Vicki. Let us know if it works. We’re using dog hair around the deck right now. No problems since that first night.

  15. Mindy Hicks Evans says:

    I’m not sure how compatible with tomatoes this would be, but I have had a lot of luck planting mint around my house. You might try planting mint in container near your tomatoes. I also understand that mint essential oil mixed with a little water and sprayed around can deter the little critters. Caution here: don’t use mint extract because you only end up with drunken rodents. You might try spraying the outside of the planters and around the base. Hope this helps!

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks for the tips, Mindy. I will pick some up the next time I go into town. I’m willing to try anything. My mother also used to plant marigolds next to her tomatoes, they’re supposed to keep some critters away, I will do that as well.

  16. Deanna says:

    I add my vote for the rats and they are not just a city problem. I have a persistent population of big brown rats on my farm and they invade my attic in the winter. I have had plants chewed off at the base of the stem and left and have associated it with the rats.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Deanna. I looked for signs of cut worms last night and I really don’t think that’s what it is. I think it’s a bigger critter. I’ve been setting the traps and also putting the dog gate up on the deck at night. We’ve been able to have the windows open, so the dogs could hear a squirrel or rabbit get on the deck.

  17. Lindsay says:

    Hi Kerri, we have had the exact same thing happen to us here with our tomatoes. I have lost 7 plants total and we also have a container garden. It turned out to be a packrat. They aren’t collecting the plants to eat them but instead for nesting materials. We finally caught it in a kill trap and this thing was the size of a chinchilla. It’s no wonder it was getting up onto our porch and into the pots. We had a few quiet days after it was caught and then last night it started happening again. So I guess we will keep setting the traps and keep replanting. It is really frustrating to see all your hard work and patience just go down the drain. I don’t know what you can do other than set traps for them. I was putting cut up milk jugs over mine for awhile but yours look much too big for that. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. It also got into of a few of my other plants and has destroyed most of my strawberries. Sigh : / One of the downsides to living way out in the country.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Lindsay, for your input. We haven’t had this problem in the 4 growing seasons prior since moving down here, but it was just this winter that we heard the damned thing chewing on our house. I could not believe how fearless it was the other night just sitting there looking at us on my plant stand. We’ve put the rat zapper out multiple times and all we’re getting are small field mice. What did you use to trap them?

  18. Alexandra says:

    I was really surprised to hear you have rats. I thought that was a city problem.

    • Kerri says:

      We have wood rats here, Alexandra, or some people call them pack rats. The problem is so common that car fires are a norm here. If you leave your vehicles outdoors (which we don’t), they will get under the hood and either nest there or eat the wiring.

  19. My tomato plants are thriving and growing but so far, no blooms. I didn’t have trouble with anything eating them last year, but none of them produced a single tomato. I would see yellow blooms and get excited, then a few days later the blooms were gone. Pretty disheartening, but gardening friends of mine said last year was the worst for tomatoes and even veteran tomato growers came up empty. So, I have high hopes for this year’s crop and am hoping to be eating a BLT with my homegrown tomatoes sometime this summer! Good luck with getting the culprit responsible for eating your plants, and also hope you get those nasty rats! Yikes- those things just creep me out!

  20. Dagne Goodwin says:

    Was there a big mess of dirt etc around the pots afterwards? If not it was likely a cut worm that did your plants in.

    • Kerri says:

      I guess I dismissed cutworms after the first night because they didn’t take the remaining stalk. I am going to check around the plants for them. Thanks!

  21. Carol says:

    I vote for the rats probably with the help of any mice that might be passing by. When my mom lived at our little house, she had a coyote that would eat the tomato fruit off the vine. Too funny!