Are you annoyed by birds that eat tomatoes off your plants? It is even more frustrating when they take just one bite and leave the rest!
So, how do you protect tomato plants from birds? You can protect tomato plants from birds with physical barriers such as cloches, cages, or netting. You can also distract birds from your tomato plants with water, seeds, or berries. Another tactic is to scare birds away from tomato plants with hanging shiny objects or a scarecrow.
Of course, you can combine a few of these methods to offer even more protection for your plants.
In this article, we’ll take a look at 7 ways to protect tomato plants from birds, along with some of the advantages and drawbacks of each.
How Do You Protect Tomato Plants From Birds?
There are a few basic ways to protect tomato plants from birds:
- Physical Barrier – this keeps the birds from getting anywhere near the tomato plants. For example, you could use cloches, cages, or plant netting as physical barriers.
- Distraction – this causes the birds to go after something else. For example, you could use water, seeds, or berries to tempt birds and keep them away from tomato plants.
- Frightening Objects – these cause birds to completely avoid the area near your tomato plants. For example, noisy wind chimes, shiny hanging objects or scarecrows could all scare birds away.
Cloches are a good way to protect tomato plants from birds (they have other benefits as well), so we’ll start there.
A cloche is a cover that goes over plants to protect them from things such as:
- Cold (on nights when the weather forecast calls for a late spring frost )
- Pests (such as birds, squirrels, and bugs)
Most cloches are fairly small. A cloche is most often used to protect young plants after they are transplanted into the garden. They can also be used to help seeds germinate faster by keeping the soil warm.
You can learn more about cloches in my article here.
You can buy a cloche or you can make your own out of plastic or wire. Both types will protect against birds that may want to pull up young tomato plants.
Plastic Bottle Cloche
First, cut out the bottom of a clear plastic bottle. Be careful when cutting – you may want to use a vice grip to hold the bottle in place.
The leftover part of the bottle will need to be tall enough to cover the plant. So, choose a bottle that will still be large enough after you cut out the bottom.
Then, put the bottle over the tomato seedling to cover it. Remove the cap on the top of the bottle to provide a vent so that the plant doesn’t overheat in the sun on a hot day.
Birds and other pests (such as cutworms) will not be able to reach the plant through the cloche, so it will have a chance to grow.
Maybe you are afraid that your tomato plants will overheat with a plastic cloche. In that case, you can opt for a wire cloche instead.
First, get some rabbit wire and shape it to form a barrier around your tomato plants. You may need to use another piece to go over the top, or you can simply bend or wrap the wire into a cone.
A wire cloche will keep birds from getting to your tomato plants. However, it might not protect against cutworms and other insect pests.
Another thing to remember is that a wire cloche alone will not provide any protection against cold. Of course, you can wrap a blanket over and around a wire cloche to provide overnight frost protection.
A tomato cage is useful for providing support and protection for shorter determinate tomato varieties. Taller indeterminate tomato varieties will outgrow many tomato cages.
A tomato cage by itself may not deter birds if the openings in the cage are too large. However, a cage provides a good support for netting or row covers to protect the fruit once it starts to grow.
Netting is another option for creating a physical barrier to keep birds away from tomatoes. You can wrap the netting around individual plants or around an entire area with many plants.
You can find netting at many garden centers, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. You can order netting online as well – for example, here is some bird netting (26 foot by 26 foot) from Gardener’s Supply Company.
Netting will be more effective and easier to manage if you use supports to hold it up. For example, you can use a tomato cage (as mentioned earlier) to provide support for netting.
You can also use stakes to provide support for netting. First, drive tall stakes into the ground around the perimeter of the area you want to protect.
Then, use the netting around the sides and over the top of the stakes to enclose the plants. Birds will not be able to fly through the netting to eat your tomatoes.
You can also use row covers as an alternative to netting. They will need the same support as netting (cages or stakes), but they will still allow sunlight through to your plants.
There are a few drawbacks to consider if you use netting or row covers to protect tomato plants from birds:
- It will be more difficult for you to access your plants to water, prune, and harvest.
- Also, bees and other pollinators will not be able to get to your plants. This will hinder pollination, but you can still pollinate tomato plants by hand – you can learn how in my article here.
- Finally, when birds cannot go near your plants, they cannot eat the pests that feed on your plants (such as moth larvae). This can lead to an infestation of pests that the birds would otherwise keep at bay.
Give them Water
Instead of using physical barriers to keep birds away from your tomatoes, you can try giving them an alternative to tomatoes.
For example, put out a bird bath and keep it filled with water. Instead of eating your tomatoes to get water, the birds may decide to just get a drink from the bird bath instead.
Offer Another Type of Food as a Distraction
Another way to distract birds from your tomatoes is to offer them another food that is more attractive. For example, birds love seeds, so you could plant sunflowers to give them something they will enjoy.
You could also put sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, and other food for birds in a hanging bird feeder. This will encourage them to stay away from your tomatoes.
Berry bushes are another option to give birds something to eat besides your tomatoes.
Use Hanging Objects to Scare Them
If physical barriers make it difficult to tend to your plants and you don’t want to feed the birds, then consider scaring them away.
One way to do this is by clever use of hanging objects that birds will avoid. For example, you can use:
- CDs – tie one end of a string to a CD (compact disc), and the other end to a branch or stake near your tomato plants. When the CD and string move in the wind, the movement may scare birds away. Also, when birds fly near the CDs, the sun will reflect and may scare them away.
- Reflectors – you can also use reflectors from bicycles or driveway markers to scare birds away. You can fix them to stakes or branches with garden twine, or hang them from string just like CDs.
- Wind chimes – wind chimes make noise that might scare birds away from your plants. You can also hang CDs or reflectors on strings attached to your wind chimes to add an extra “scary” factor.
- Reflective tape – you can put reflective tape on any hanging object, including a wind chime, to try to scare birds away from your plants.
Keep in mind that birds may become accustomed to seeing an object in the same place all the time, so you may need to move your wind chimes or reflectors every so often.
This one is a classic, but you may have some luck with it. The idea is to use a stick as the base and add clothes and straw to make a “person” to scare away birds.
It might be more effective if you hang CDs, reflectors, or wind chimes (as mentioned earlier) from your scarecrow.
Birds may get used to seeing the scarecrow in the same place all the time. As a result, the scare factor may eventually wear off.
In that case, it might help to change the scarecrow’s clothes and change his position to keep the birds on their toes.
The best part about a scarecrow is that he doesn’t need any rest. Letting your dog or cat out into the yard may scare birds away, but you cannot expect them to stay out there on guard duty 24 hours a day!
Now you have a few methods you can try to protect your tomato plants from birds.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.