Fruit trees can add a lot to the landscape. They are attractive and come in sizes small enough to grow in big pots or large enough to sit under as shade trees. They offer showy white, pink or red flowers in the spring time, harvest a bounty of healthy, flavorful food in the summer and often turn lovely autumn colors to herald the coming of winter. Unfortunately, people are not the only ones willing to appreciate fruit trees. Wildlife in many forms will delight in the fruit which they consider gifts created especially for their enjoyment. I would be glad to share the bounty from my fruit trees with wildlife if only they, too, were willing to share. Sadly, wildlife is more likely to strip a tree overnight leaving any extras chewed and destroyed and scattered all over the ground. So, since you are likely to be left with neither enough fruit for yourself nor a thank-you note from wildlife showing their appreciation for all your hard work, it is up to you to protect the fruit on your fruit trees for your own consumption.
Birds, raccoons and squirrels are some of the most common fruit raiders. And there are some ingenious contraptions that squirt water or turn on lights that have been invented to scare these and other fruit thieves away. Some of these gimmicks will work well for you. Some won’t work at all. Many of them will work once or twice until the raiding parties figure out the drill. Or you can work out your own clever deterrents yourself.
An old technique for scaring off birds is by using shiny moving objects that will move with the breeze. Aluminum foil used to be a favorite for years, but recycling old CDs has become more popular. The glittering disks throw off sparkling rainbows that make many birds too nervous to get close. CDs are easily dangled from tree branches and then removed once the fruit is harvested.
Probably the most efficient way to protect fruit on fruit trees is to net the tree. It can be a major project on larger trees. When a fruit tree is small, it is not a great challenge to net it over the top, but as the tree grows to adult size, it often takes two determined people to wrap a tree in plastic netting. Make sure there are no holes at the bottom where the net meets the tree trunk or anywhere in the stretched top area. Otherwise birds can get inside the net and become trapped. And squirrels can crawl up a loose spot from beneath if you don’t close up net entryways. There are finer nets available online and in specialist garden centers. These are not the typical plastic ½” netting that catches on just about everything, but a net that is more akin to screening. It is a little more expensive, but a lot easier to use. Make sure your trees have been pollinated and set fruit first since this fine net will prevent most pollinators access to the tree as well as deterring the undesirable pests.
If a raccoon or squirrel is determined to get at your fruit, you will probably not be able to stop it. Clever pests with sharp nails and teeth can find their way through all kinds of barriers. The good news is that most of them get discouraged easily so netting can really help.
Predator scents can be bought in dry or liquid forms and may have some protecting fruit trees from would-be raiders.
One more successful way to discourage agile climbers like squirrels is to wrap a good 2 – 4′ band of thin, smooth sheet metal around the trunk of the fruit tree, ideally about 4 – 6′ above the ground. Make sure the animals have no branches or footholds and cannot jump the distance to get up into the tree. Both squirrels and raccoons are very athletic and dexterous, but if you make the surface smooth enough, they will have a hard time climbing up into your tree.
These are just some suggestions to help protect the fruit on fruit trees.