How to Protect Your Orchard From Birds and Other Animals
Imagine spending money on high-quality fruit trees and bushes, spending time tending your new orchard and looking forward to enjoying a fresh harvest, only to find that animals are everywhere and they’re eating all your fruit. It’s a frustrating reality. Even the most urban backyard orchards are vulnerable to squirrels, birds and other critters who will find the fruit delicious. They will take every opportunity they can to partake in the bounty of your garden. So what do you do? There are some simple, natural steps you can take to protect your orchard from any number of critters. Here are some ideas to get you started.
In any location, birds are likely to be a major source of fruit lost to animals. Birds live in all climates and growing zones, from the desert to high altitudes, from the Subtropics to the upper Midwest. No matter where you live, birds are probably going to try to eat your fruit. Of course, some people may have more pesky birds than others, but if you find that they are flocking to your orchard for the free food, here are some solutions to try:
- Bird nets. Bird nets are a fine mesh of netting that you can drape right over a fruit tree or bush. You can create a frame over which to drape the tree, which will give you maximum protection. If any fruit is touching the net, a clever bird will still be able to get it, but by simply draping the net over the tree you will save most of your fruit from the birds. It is possible for birds to get caught in nets and die, so netting is a risk. You can mitigate this risk by checking on it regularly and freeing any trapped birds.
- Shiny deterrents. Birds do not like shiny, reflective objects. You can deter birds from your fruit trees by hanging shiny, metallic objects from it, a little like decorating a Christmas tree. You can find metallic strips for this purpose in any home improvement or gardening store, but you can also use old compact discs. Those CDs that you have been keeping because you don’t know what to do with them could save your fruit harvest.
- Electronic deterrents. You can also find devices that are designed specifically to deter birds. Some come with a flashing light that birds trigger with their movement. Others use sound. Either way, the light or the sound should be enough to keep them away from your orchard.
- Bird seed and sunflowers. If you like birds but you don’t want to let them at all your fruit, consider putting out feeders or planting sunflowers to attract them to an area of your yard that is away from your fruit trees and bushes. For instance, if you have fruit only in the backyard, create a bird friendly area in the front yard with sunflowers, feeders and a bird bath.
Deer and Other Bark Eaters
Depending on where you live, deer may also be a problem when it comes to protecting your fruit trees. Unlike birds, they are more interested in the bark and new shoots, and especially your youngest, most vulnerable fruit trees. Mice and voles are also likely to nibble on low shoots and bark. Deer are most often interested in bark in the winter when greens are scarce.
The most effective solution to keeping these animals from destroying your trees is to create a physical barrier. Use a hard plastic tree guard to wrap the lower portion of your trunk. Sink it into the ground about an inch to protect from burrowing critters. Choose a guard that goes up high enough on the trunk to prevent deer from getting at the bark.
Sometimes a trunk guard isn’t enough to keep deer at bay. They are tall and can reach much higher than you may realize. If deer are a real problem in your area, you might want to consider constructing a simple fence around any fruit trees you have. You can also try looking for deer repellants at your local gardening center, although most people have mixed results with these. You can find natural repellants, and you might even try the unappetizing sounding putrescent egg. Check out this impressive research project by a young naturalist. She found the egg product to be most effective.
Like birds, squirrels are nearly everywhere. While we often think about squirrels as eating nuts, which they do, they also won’t turn down the free bounty of a fruit tree. And as prolific and skilled climbers, they can reach every branch. Here are some tips to keep them from taking over your fruit harvest:
- Do not feed squirrels. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Squirrels are notoriously crafty at getting into bird feeders. If you feed birds, find a feeder that is squirrel proof and regularly clean up the mess the birds leave under it. If squirrels know they can’t count on your yard for food, they will spend more time elsewhere, in yards with easy-to-reach feeders.
- Trunk deterrents. There are many different devices you can buy to keep squirrels from being able to climb up the trunk of your tree. Some work better than others. To save the expense, you might want to try a homemade version first. Use clear plastic pop bottles to wrap the trunk. If that doesn’t work, try more advanced devices that you can find at your garden center.
- Keep your trees trimmed. Trunk protection is no use if squirrels can jump onto the branches from another tree or the roof. Keep your trees trimmed back from other trees and any buildings so that squirrels don’t have the ability to leap onto branches from another spot.
- Fake predators. Squirrels have a natural fear of predators, like snakes and owls. Use a fake owl to stand guard over your orchard. You can even try hanging rubber snakes from the branches of your fruit trees.
- A real predator. If you have a dog, put her to use. Most dogs have a good prey drive and don’t need any encouragement to chase squirrels. By letting your dog regularly patrol the yard and chase squirrels, they will mostly stay away from your tree, even when she is off duty. Don’t forget your dog’s safety though. If you don’t have a fenced yard to contain her, make sure she is trained to come back when you call her. Otherwise you may have her chasing squirrels into the road.
Keeping critters away from your fruit may be a matter of trial and error. Some people find different solutions work better than others. If you have a problem with losing your harvest to the animals, try some of these natural techniques until you find one that nips it in the bud.