A lot of time and effort go into planting and caring for fruit trees. Pruning, watering, fertilizing and mulching are labors of love, endeavors that can be undone all too easily by predators such as birds and squirrels. It can be heartbreaking to watch the fruits of your labor disappear before you’ve even taken a bite. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to protect your trees from damage and thievery.
Cover fruit trees with nets specifically designed to keep the birds from getting to the ripening fruit. The 1-inch mesh is draped across an inexpensive frame that surrounds the tree, allowing sunlight and rain to get in, but keeping birds out. This can also help to prevent squirrels from jumping onto the tree branches from nearby structures.
Slip the developing fruits into a piece of nylon stocking. Simply cut an old pair of nylons into 6-inch strips and then slide the tubes over the fruits, tying the stocking at both ends with bit of thread. Be careful not to tie the strings too tight. As the fruit grows, the nylon will stretch, keeping it safe from birds, squirrels, deer and insects. Alternatively, each fruit can be placed inside a polyethylene bag or newspaper cone with similar results.
Place replicas of natural predators in or near the fruit trees. Both squirrels and birds rely on their sense of sight to spot an approaching enemy at a distance, buying them time to escape. Decoy models of the great horned owl can deter squirrels, birds, rabbits and other small mammals, as they will instinctively avoid any habitat where this particular predator is found. To enhance the effect of the decoy, you can also add balloons that have been designed to look like large eyes.
Tie two foot lengths of red metallic ribbons to the tree branches. When the wind blows, the ribbons will sparkle in the sunlight, which is suggestive of fire. In addition to ribbons, you can also string up old silver pie tins and strips of aluminium foil to help frighten predators away. To be effective, however, these items must be moved around on occasion; otherwise the animals will adjust to their presence.
Cover the trees with pepper spray or other chemical repellents. To make your own spray, combine a quarter cup cayenne pepper powder with 2 cups of boiling water. Allow the pepper to steep for an hour and then pour the resulting brew through a coffee filter to remove any solid particles. Add a quarter cup of liquid detergent and pour the mixture into the canister of a hose-end sprayer. Attach a garden hose and proceed to soak your tree with the repellent. This type of treatment needs to be reapplied periodically because it washes easily away or wears down over time.