There is nothing worse than watching backyard fruits and veggies get devoured by deer, groundhogs, chipmunks, squirrels, birds, or insects. After all that time spent weeding, pruning, fertilizing, and pampering our plants in anticipation of eating homegrown food, we’d like to keep it for ourselves.
While there are never sure answers to stop every garden pest, there are several efficient and cost-effective methods to stop critters from destroying crops. These are strategies for protecting a handful of trees, bushes, or small plants when you don’t want to fence in an entire yard, or field.
BIRD NETTING: This is thin plastic netting that is draped over fruit-bearing bushes and trees. It can be purchased at home improvement centers. The advantage of using bird netting is that it is inexpensive and weighs very little when draped over crops. The disadvantage is that the fine netting tends to get tangled in branches and leaves, and small animals can get stuck in it.
TULLE: This fine transparent netting, usually made from nylon or rayon, is the common material decorating frilly dresses. It is inexpensive and easily purchased in most fabric stores. Tulle can be gently draped over fruit bushes, trees, and vegetable plants and then gathered and clipped together using clothespins or string to make the fruit inaccessible to birds. Blueberry and tree fruits are good candidates for this technique. The only drawback is viewing fruit through a veil of gauze.
CAGES: These work well when you just have a few younger trees to protect from deer. Cages can be constructed out of four-foot tall wire fencing purchased by the foot or roll. This material is often sold by home improvement centers as garden or deer fencing. We prefer the rigid fencing coated in green plastic that’s four feet high and sold in 50-foot rolls. A 10 to 14 foot section of fencing cut off in one piece and brought together end-to-end provides a circular enclosure for a tree. Secure the ends with wire. A slight overlap will help keep the cage rigid at the seam. Stake cages to prevent movement. A cage prevents a full frontal assault by deer, although they might nip at a branch or two. The advantage of wire cages is that it is a relatively inexpensive method of protecting a tree until it gets bigger. The disadvantage is that to do any maintenance or care you must either lift the cage up to reach underneath it or untwist the metal ends to have access to the tree.
FRUIT TREE MAGGOT BARRIERS: These are individual nylon bags made out of the same material as hosiery. These bags are individually slipped over each fruit when it gets about the size of a nickel, and the edge of each bag is gently twisted together sealing the fruit from insect damage. Individually wrapping each fruit may seem extreme but may be worth it when your fruit is so delicious that you will do anything to eat it!
These barriers were originally designed for apple and pear trees to prevent maggot fly infestations and codling moth damage. This product can be purchased through mail order garden suppliers.
FLOATING ROW COVER: This is a lightly spun white polyester film that gets draped over your crop and can be secured down by pins, stones, or small logs. This allows the fabric to lie loosely over the crop to allow water and light to get through the delicately spun fabric, but discourages fruit stealers. This is a good techinique for deterring chipmunks from raiding strawberry beds. Row cover is sold at garden supply centers and mail order garden suppliers. The disadvantage of row cover is that it is aesthetically unappealing.
TREE TANGLEFOOT: This is an insect barrier used in situations where ants and other insects crawl up the side of a tree to feed on the fruit that has been broken open by other pests. Tanglefoot is a gooey barrier that stays sticky, thus repelling crawling insects. It is very simple to use. Tie a piece of fabric securely around a tree trunk and squeeze the Tanglefoot barrier onto the fabric like caulk in a circle around the trunk. It can be purchased through mail order specialty garden suppliers.
SURROUND: This is a clay-based product that is mixed with water and sprayed on fruit trees to deter insect predators. The main ingredient is kaolin, a nontoxic natural clay. The light clay coating interferes with insect feeding and egg depositing on fruit. It was designed to protect against apple maggot, plum curculio, pear psylla, Japanese beetles, and other pests. This product works well when used consistently. There are two drawbacks to this product: Surround needs to be reapplied after storms, and it looks aesthetically unappealing, as if your tree has been sprayed lightly with white paint. Surround can be purchased through mail order specialty garden suppliers, often listed as an organic insecticide.
CATCH-AND-RELEASE TRAPS: For those unstoppable chipmunks that strip fruit from low-lying fruit bushes, or those persistent groundhogs that love eating squash, a catch-and-release trap is the best solution. Baited with a small piece of fruit the critters can be caught and released in an area where it is legal to do so. These traps can be purchased at hardware stores and garden centers.
Gardening is supposed to be a rewarding experience. If the critters have been getting in the way of this, try some of these pest management techniques. The results are often immediate, and your plants will thank you for it.
by Allyson Levy & Scott Serrano of Hortus Conclusus www.Hortus.biz