How to Protect Fruit Trees
A whole variety of animals enjoy eating fruit. Birds, insects and small mammals have been enjoying this harvest since time immemorial. In fact, some types of fruit require there services to disperse their seeds and have therefore made themselves attractive to these creatures. This presents a problem for the fruit grower. There are a number of ways to protect your fruit from invasion but try to leave some for the other creatures too. You will find you enjoy their company when you are in the garden and they may help with ridding you of other pests.
However, if you are intent on keeping as much of the produce to yourself here are some options.
Imprisoning your fruit in a cage will certainly keep the animals away but it is rather unattractive. If you use a very large cage to cover a wide area of fruit trees it does allow you to walk around inside. You will be able to maintain the trees and gather the fruits. If you put a cage around single trees then you have the problem of having gain access to the tree which can mean dismantling the cage. This is not ideal if you have a lot of trees and maintenance to be carried out on each one. Large scale fencing can be very expensive. If it is to be a permanent structure then build one with thick posts and galvanized wire netting with a fine mesh. You could use plastic as a cheaper alternative but this will require replacing faster than wire mesh. You can build your own to fit any shape and cover any area. Using scaffolding poles or metal posts will mean they seldom, if ever, need replacing but wooden poles are easier to use. Each post should be treated with a preservative at their base. The posts should be sunk into the ground to at least 60 cm, (depending on their height) for security. They should be sturdy enough to resist strong winds which will cause the netting to billow putting pressure on the posts.
As with everything you can buy fruit cages. They are expensive but come in kit form and are easy to erect. You will be able to specify your requirements and they can be made to any size. When these are erected check them thoroughly so there are no entrances that can be used by birds. You will also need to peg the netting down at ground level or bury it beneath the ground.
You should consider if the covering is a permanent feature. Will this cover be on for the whole year? Are you going to remove some of it on a regular basis? You may find using the creatures you are trying to keep out to deal with insect infestations is a good way of avoiding insecticides. For them to gain access you need to open up an area. The obvious area is the top rather than any of the sides. Use a plastic netting on the top as you can remove this for the birds. If you are in an area with heavy snowfall it would be wise to have a top that can be removed so the snow doesn’t accumulate. Accumulated snow becomes heavy and it can bring the roof or the whole structure down. Protect the netting from becoming damaged when chafing on the frame. Use a rounded finish to the poles at the top or fit something similar if you use scaffolding.
Any fruit trees or bushes which have been grown against walls and fences are much easier to protect with homemade frames. A simple method is to bury the base of the frame into the ground and then affix the top at an appropriate height to the wall or fence. If these posts are set at regular intervals you can lay your netting on top and secure in place. In cold or frosty weather you can also lay felt or fleece to insulate the plants. If the height or length of the area is fairly small, canes work just as well. Bury the cane into the ground and bend to join the battens which hold the wires in place and secure in that position.
For stone fruits grown outdoors the most frequent disease is leaf curl. This is a fungal disease which is transported by water droplets. This causes the leaves to blister, turn white and drop. Use one of the above methods to create a frame for the plants. This time cover the frame with plastic sheeting for the winter months up until early summer. Air has to circulate so the ends of the framework should be left open.
A word of caution. Galvanized wire mesh can lead to zinc toxicity if condensation forms and drips down onto the garden or plants.