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Don’t Let Your Blueberries Go to the Birds!

June 10, 2013

Having trouble keeping birds out of blueberries? Yep, it’s about that time when the fruit begins to turn from green to pale gray and then suddenly dots of deep purple-blue cover the shrubs. And, we humans aren’t the only ones watching for the day those sweet orbs are ready to devour. All sorts of wild birds are out there keeping an eye on our crops, too.

Blueberries ripening

Blueberries ripening on the shrub in June.

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to keep those hungry winged beasts out of your blueberry patch. All it takes is a bit of temporary netting. And now’s the time to wrap your shrubs in this simple, near-invisible material. Buy netting here.

Here’s how & when to work with it:

Although netting could go up earlier in the season, when shrubs are in bloom, we tend to wait until the fruits are a bit more formed. Blooms tend to easily break free from the bushes under the simplest touch, and without those flowers, no fruits would form. Not-quite-ripe berries, on the other hand, are usually more tightly attached to the shrubs, and while fragile, don’t seem to break off as readily. So, that’s when we put out the netting.

Blueberry flowers

Blueberry bushes flowering for pollination; next comes the fruits!

Covering a blueberry bush in netting is fairly simple. Unroll (or if you’re recycling last year’s netting, untangle) your netting, so it will roll out relatively easily. You don’t want to be struggling with it a lot as you’re putting it over the delicate branches and fruit.

Carefully drape the netting over the entire bush or patch, taking care to tuck the edges of the fabric around all of the fruit. If possible, cover the plant all the way to the ground or some wily birds will hop under the netting and gorge themselves from underneath.

And, that’s about it.

Blueberries under bird netting

Blueberries ripening safely under bird netting

Keep an eye on the patch and the netting. Some dingbat birds — especially new fledglings — may still try to get to your fruit, tangling themselves in the netting along the way. We caught a young robin in our netting a few years back and were able to set it free. We have heard tales of other gardeners finding dead birds strangled in netting. Such is the cost of living in the great outdoors, I suppose.

When your fruit is ripe, and you’re ready to harvest, carefully lift the netting away from your fruit to pick. Or, duck under the netting as you go. As the fruit becomes more ripe, its attachment to the branch also weakens with the intent being to release the seed-filled fruit to the soil where it may form a baby plant. So, try to disturb the netting only minimally to reduce the risk of breaking off ripening fruit.

After your harvest is over, you’re free to remove the netting and store it for the following year. Or, move it from the finished blueberries to other fruit that ripens later — perhaps a late season blueberry patch, goji berries or even your blackberries. If you don’t get to removing the netting right away, don’t worry about it. It’s easy enough to take off your plants when you’re raking up leaves in autumn.

 

10 Comments

  1. Vicki says:

    I thought maybe putting a cage around my raised raspberry patch with chicken wire and covering the top with netting. Will that work to keep the birds out? Or maybe even smaller fencing? Netting gets so tangled in the bush, that I find it a pain to work with.

  2. Vicki, let us know how that works out for you. It sounds like a lot of work to set up and a lot of stuff to wrestle with during harvest. But, it could be the right option for you. Good luck!

  3. Jimmy says:

    Unroll (or if you’re recycling last year’s netting, untangle) your netting, …..ha…you said a mouthful there. If someone could come up with a way to store it back the way it came, they would be a millionaire

  4. Yep, Jimmy…there’s a market for tangle-free netting for sure!

  5. Crystal says:

    I tried this last year, it ripped every berry and flower off my bushes. I had to collect from the ground, and lost a lot of un-ripened berries. This year I plan to build a protective barrier around the plant.

  6. That’s too bad. You’ve got to be very careful and gentle when working with bird netting. And, timing to put the netting out and take it down is important so you don’t damage your flowers & fruit. Sorry you lost so much! Good luck in 2014!

  7. Mike says:

    I covered my strawberries with netting like this. 15 minutes it had captured one bird and killed another. This netting is almost invisible and birds fly right into it. I took it off and threw it away. I’ll look for another deterrent or accept some lost berries

  8. Jim Heflin says:

    Build a in closure using 1×2′s and wire netting. Take 1×2-8ft and cut to height drive these into ground like stakes. Make several square or rectangular frames that are small enough to manage by yourself. Get some z brackets from hardware store attach to 1×2 that you drove into ground and hang frames on them. Repeat for the top just make wide enough to lay on top of sides. They store easily and last for years

  9. Ozzie says:

    Thanks for the post on netting. For berry bushes. I also have stopped using netting when I found a dead chipmunk tangled in netting around strawberries. I felt so bad about that. I have seen so e products for pop up screen tents for protecting plants, but I have not wanted to go to the trouble or expense. For now, I am just sharing with nature and trying to harvest what we can!

  10. Mark says:

    Tried bird netting and it was awful. Catches on the bush and is extremely difficult to remove. Rolling up, storing and untangling is another problem. Tried building a support from plastic 1/2″ tubing made into an “X” and drape the bird netting over the tubing to keep the netting off the bush. But the best solution I have found Tulle. Bought 50 yds of 108″ wide tulle and it can be easily cut with scissors to the desired size and draped right over the plant. Doesn’t catch nearly as much as the bird netting and is easy to remove and is tangle free.

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