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

But did you know it can also protect fruit from weather events, like hail – depending on the type of net you use, and how you apply it?

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.

Hailstorms at this time of year are much less damaging than when you have fruit on the trees. However, they’re a great reminder of one of the main benefits of netting your trees.

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

The fruit season is winding down and you probably have a bit more breathing space to think about other things. Now is a great time to 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 fruit from other animals like bats, possums, rats, kangaroos, foxes, or deer?
  • did it provide any protection from weather events like 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 you 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 which 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 of peaches, check this out – gruesome, huh?

Hail damage in cling peaches
Hail damage in cling peaches

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 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.

The other big advantage of drape netting is that it’s much more affordable to use fruit fly netting on individual trees that are vulnerable. Building a whole enclosure out of fruit fly netting would be prohibitively expensive for most home growers.

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

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 type of system can also 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.

You’ll find quite a few different versions in our short course Protect Your Crop From Birds). Which one you’ll use will 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!