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Most of us think of netting fruit trees as a way to stop pests like birds and fruit flies from damaging the fruit – and it is.

But did you know that netting can also protect fruit from weather events, like frost, and hail?

It all depends on what type of net you choose, and autumn is a great time to think about it.

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How well did your fruit tree netting do its job this season?

Autumn is one of the most stunning times of year here on the farm. But it’s not all beautiful sunny weather, we often get quite a bit of rain and even little hailstorms.

That’s not too much of a problem when the trees don’t have fruit. During the fruit season, it’s a different matter. Hail can cause significant damage to your fruit, resulting in the types of injuries you can see on these plums (below).

Whether you’ve previously suffered the pain of hail damage or not, autumn is a good time to do some planning.

The fruit season is winding down and you probably have a bit more breathing space to think about how you can use netting to protect your trees against future threats.

To start with, review how your netting (if you have any) performed this season. Think about both the pros and cons:

  • was it easy to manage the infrastructure (either building your netting system or putting out and taking in nets)?
  • how well did it protect your fruit from different species of birds?
  • how well did it protect the fruit from other animals like bats, possums, rats, kangaroos, foxes, or deer?
  • did it provide any protection from weather events like frost, rain, hail, or storms?
  • was there a negative impact on birds or wildlife? 
  • were the fruit or trees damaged by the nets?
Bricks and poles holding down a fruit tree net
Nets need to be secured to the ground to keep some pests out

What did your netting failures cost you?

Your fruit tree netting might have been a bit of a pain to manage, or not been completely effective.

Maybe you didn’t net at all, for any one of a number of reasons. Netting can be difficult, and deciding to install a system is a big decision, we get it!

But here comes the real convincer (and it’s probably something you don’t want to think about!)

If you didn’t net your trees this year, try to estimate how much fruit you’ve actually lost. It might have been to birds or other animals. Or it might have been the result of weather events that caused damage that might have been preventable with the right protection in place. 

Considering that a mature tree can easily produce from 20 to 40 kg of fruit (or even more in some cases), you may well be looking at substantial losses!

How to tell whether the cost of netting your fruit trees is worth it

Once you have the answers to the above questions, they’ll steer you in the right direction for making some good decisions about how you’ll approach the question of netting your fruit trees next season.

Unless you have a miraculous absence of pests, it’s definitely worth putting protection in place if you can.

Even if you don’t have a lot of pest pressure, hail is an ever-present worry. If you’ve never seen hail damage to peaches, check this out – gruesome, huh?

Hail damage in cling peaches
Hail damage in cling peaches

Drape netting vs enclosure netting for hail protection

Our farm is in a fruit-growing area, and it’s becoming increasingly common for commercial orchardists to net their orchards to prevent hail damage as well as bird damage.

Two common methods you can use are a permanent enclosure or drape netting the trees each year. Drape nets are usually removed from the trees and stored under cover over winter.

It’s easy to assume you’ll only get hail protection if you put in a highly engineered (and therefore expensive) permanent structure. Surprisingly, both systems can offer substantial protection against hail.

In fact, drape netting has some advantages – not least of which is it’s much cheaper.

Permanent enclosures can be more easily damaged by hail. We saw this in a really bad hailstorm in Harcourt a few years ago, where the weight of the hailstones caused severe damage to the net of a neighbouring orchard (though to be fair, it did protect the crop underneath).

Drape netting may still result in some fruit on the outside of the tree (where it’s in contact with, or just under the net) being damaged by hail, but actually the net deflects most of the hail and provides pretty good coverage for most of the crop.

Using different types of net

The other big advantage of drape netting is that it’s much more affordable to change the type of net at different times of the year.

For example, you can use fruit fly netting on individual trees when they are vulnerable to attack. Building a whole enclosure out of fruit fly netting would be prohibitively expensive for most home growers.

It’s also possible to use frost cloth over the same frame in spring when the trees are flowering, to protect them from frost.

A netted almond tree in Grow Great Fruit members Anna and Nathan's orchard
A netted almond tree in Grow Great Fruit members Anna and Nathan’s orchard

A simple hoop system

In our opinion, the best system for both birds and hail is something like the one above. It’s not in contact with the tree, but it also allows the hail to fall off rather than catching it. This system can be as temporary or permanent as you like and the same structure can also be used for frost cloth or fruit fly cloth if needed.

This is a fantastic and affordable system, but it’s not the only type of netting system for home gardeners. The one you’ll choose will ultimately depend on your garden, your budget, and your capacity to build it.

But we can pretty much guarantee that your future self will thank you for installing the most effective system you can manage!

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