With the warmer months rapidly approaching and many fruit crops on their way, now is the time to consider using fruit tree netting and other methods to protect your precious fruit from birds, possums, flying foxes, and other small invaders.
Thankfully, there are numerous ways you can protect your sweet summer bounty, varying in terms of difficulty, effectiveness, and cost, so you should be able to find a solution regardless of your budget or gardening ability.
Know your enemy
The first step in keeping fruit trees protected from interlopers is identifying the type of animal you are dealing with. Birds are easiest to detect, as they generally make their attempts to eat your fruit during the day, and are readily visible. Other nocturnal fruit predators may be more difficult to track down, and will require looking for more subtle signs as to which one is causing the problem. (Read this Queensland government guide on netting fruit trees for more info on identifying your pest.)
Fruit tree protection methods
Once you know what you are dealing with, you can choose from several popular and effective methods of keeping anything from spoiling your valuable fruit (or worse yet, taking up residence in your fruit trees!) Here are some of our favourites:
Fruit tree netting
As one of the more traditional options, fruit tree netting is still a viable and effective method for protecting your trees if used correctly, and is easily available from hardware stores or plant nurseries. Here are some tips:
- Always use a strong netting of knitted mesh (at least 500 microns thick) with holes smaller than 5mm by 5mm. This should be strong enough to keep out both birds and other small animals.
- Keep the netting taut so as to avoid animals becoming entangled in it. One of the best ways to do this is to first build a frame surrounding your tree, using PVC pipe, timber, or star pickets, and drape the netting over the frame, securing it to the ground with tent pegs or heavy objects.
- Use white instead of black bird netting, as birds and flying foxes find it easier to see and are more likely to stay away.
- Remember to leave a way for people to collect the fruit, whether via a flap cut into the net or an overlapping section allowing you to slip through.
Although fruit tree netting is still a highly effective method, it has a few downsides to consider, such as:
- Cost (there are certainly less expensive methods).
- Difficulty and physical risk (depending on the size of your tree, you will need to use a ladder and significant physical exertion to apply the netting).
- Damage to wildlife (it is possible for small birds and mammals to get trapped in the netting if it is not set up properly).
An alternative to fruit tree netting is mild chemical sprays that make the fruit smell or taste unpleasant for both birds and small animals. There are various options available for purchase from your local Bunnings, or you could even consider making your own. (Disclaimer: We haven’t tested this home-made method – individual results may vary!)
Here are some other methods specific to birds and small climbing mammals:
How to protect trees from birds
Flash tape is a simple reflective tape that can be draped around branches. Birds find the reflections unnerving, and will generally leave the draped trees alone.
If you don’t want to fork out for reflective tape, some people have had success hanging old CDs or aluminium pie tins for a similar effect.
Birds will avoid fruit trees if they think any predators are nearby watching them. Thankfully birds can be fooled with decoys (some of which might not look much like predators to us, but can still work for birds). Here are a few options:
- Owl decoys: Owls are a natural predator for most birds, and there are several realistic owl decoys on the market which are effective mimics.
- Balloon “eye” decoys: Though it might seem strange to us, birds can also be intimidated by balloons with predatory eyes printed on them.
- Bird kites: As a relatively new product, you can also use predatory bird kites to keep birds at bay.
Though you’ll be scaling up in cost somewhat, electronic deterrents include automated noisemakers, “silent” ultrasonic deterrents, motion-operated sprinklers, strobe lighting, and even laser deterrents. (You may need to do your own research on these, but technological advances are certainly making the war on pests easier to win.)
Alternative food sources
A supplementary but effective deterrent can be to simply provide an alternative food source to your would-be intruders, such as corn or bird seed, positioned well away from your fruit trees.
How to protect trees from small mammals
A simple collar of metal flashing wrapped around your tree can effectively prevent tree-climbing mammals from reaching your fruit. When using this method, make sure that fruit trees are well pruned away from fences, hedges, buildings, and the ground, so that pests can’t use these to give themselves a “leg up” into your tree.
Though a fairly intensive method, wrapping individual fruit pieces in paper bags can be effective. Just make sure you only wrap fruit that can be reached safely – don’t overreach!
Combining and alternating methods
Unfortunately, most birds and small animals learn quickly, and are capable of ignoring most deterrents if they become too predictable. To avoid this issue, make sure you change up your deterrents regularly, or consider combining methods and using multiple deterrents at once. This will give you the best chance of protecting your fruit, and making sure that at the end of the day, you’ll be the one enjoying the fruits of your labours – and not the pests!