Fruit damage from birds, bats, and possums is high on the list of complaints from home fruit growers. Netting is by far the most effective option to prevent damage

The thought of netting just feels impossible for many gardeners. Or, they have the generous thought that they’re happy to share some of the fruit with the wildlife.

Unfortunately, the wildlife have different ideas. They’ll usually make the most of a handy food resource like a fruit tree. They may even invite their friends and family, and eat every single piece of fruit.

So netting your fruit trees is often the reality, if you want to reliably pick fruit from your tree every year. It’s also a key strategy for preventing fruit fly from ruining your crop.

This week we look at some netting options, and how they can protect your crop from most pests.

The birds left us the stems!
The birds left us the stems!

Birds just LOVE cherries. We grow cherries here on the farm and have always netted the trees. It’s been a good chance for us to learn a lot about different types of netting.

Enclosure nets

For our first cherry orchard (which had about 1000 trees), we built a complete netting enclosure around the whole orchard.

Full enclosure net over the cherry orchard
Full enclosure net over the cherry orchard

Building the enclosure and working with it over several years and through a number of storms was a fascinating experience. We learned a LOT about nets during that time.

But this is beyond the scale that most home gardeners are interested in. The next type of netting system we tried, on the new cherry orchard, is much more relevant.

Drape nets – a simple solution for backyard fruit trees

The new orchard (planted after the 2011 floods) has been protected with a much simpler system called “drape netting”. It’s cheaper than a full enclosure and quite simple to apply but has some downsides.

One is that the type of birds that love to eat cherries are particularly clever at getting under drape nets. Two of the common ones are parrots and silvereyes.

A cherry that's been pecked by a parrot
A cherry that’s been pecked by a parrot

Drape netting also puts quite a bit of weight on the tree itself. This can result in branches being bent over during the growing period.

This can alter the shape of the tree, and work against your intentions for the shape. However, the effect is only seen at the top of the tree. Most of the bend can usually be removed when pruning.

The tops of the branches on this peach tree have been bent over by the weight of the net
The tops of the branches on this peach tree have been bent over by the weight of the net

Drape netting is very effective against big birds, and can also deter fruit bats. Both of these pests descend on the tree from above and don’t like to get in under nets.

Unless you are really diligent about tying off the net around the trunk, drape netting often won’t stop smaller birds. Smaller birds like parrots are more inclined to nip under the edges of the net and help themselves.

Having said that, it does keep the damage to a minimum and is definitely worthwhile.

A well netted quince tree
A well netted quince tree

Variations on hoop nets

If you’re serious about protecting your fruit trees with nets, and have the capacity to build a small enclosure, a hoop net might be just what you’re looking for.

This simple hoop net (below) has been built from star pickets and pipes. It’s one of the easiest and most effective solutions we’ve seen (and used).

Netting over cherry trees at Kalangadoo orchards
Netting over cherry trees at Kalangadoo orchards

It’s easy to put up (and take down again if you choose), and easy to peg down around the perimeter to stop persistent smaller birds getting in under the net, which can happen with drape netting.

This particular design also has wire netting around the base, which can be useful for stopping larger animals from getting into the enclosure.

The “cross-bar” system in the photo at the top of the blog is another variation on the hoop system. The key similarity is building a simple structure to hold the net off the trees.

The variations are limited only by your imagination.

There are many different netting systems, and choosing the right one will depend on lots of variables.

  • The number of trees you’re trying to protect
  • the specific pests you’re defending against
  • Materials you have available (or can afford to buy)
  • Your capacity to build it
  • The size of the trees
  • What other animals and plants you have around your trees.

Still wondering which netting system will work best for you? The Protect Your Crop from Birds short course includes a video on how to build the hoop netting system.