Easy Blueberry Bush Bird Protection

by Daisy on 07/01/2014

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Many years ago I tried draping deer netting over my blueberry bushes. It was a complete failure. I didn’t secure the netting at ground level so the birds got up under the net, it was a pain to crawl under there to pick, and the birds could sit on the outside and pick berries through the net.

In the years that passed after I gave up on the net, my default strategy has been to get out there early in the morning and try to pick as many berries as I could before the birds got to them. I’d pick them a little underripe, too, greedily snatching them up before someone else could greedily snatch them up. Contrary to much popular advice, blueberries do sweeten up a bit after picking. Still, if I had my druthers, I’d rather pick completely ripe berries.

This strategy was partially effective, especially in years where the berries were abundant. Meaning, I felt I was getting enough to pacify myself although the birds were getting A LOT of berries, too. Still, it’s aggravating to watch birds fly off with ripe berries. Even more aggravating is seeing partially-eaten berries on the ground, berries with beak-marks, and perhaps most goading of all, watching birds snatch berries right in front of me WHILE I was picking. Cheeky!

I read up on various caging methods and decided on one of my own. It’s extremely basic, easy to remove and store in the off-season, and relatively inexpensive. It uses PVC pipes so the netting slides easily on them (unlike wood which snags the netting like a beast), a little bit of rebar, and of course netting.

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This method works easiest if your blueberry bushes are in a row, although it can be done with individual or widely-spaced plants, just use a couple of pipe hoops and separate sheets of netting for each blueberry bush.

Judge the length of pipe you need based on the height of your plants. Measure your blueberry plants, high and wide, and take these measurements to the store. Get a partner at the store to hold one end of the pipe  while you gently bend it into a hoop and measure to see if it will clear your plants with several inches to spare; leave some growing room all around.

The pipes I bought were “bell-end” which means one end is shaped to fit over another length of pipe. As it happened, I needed to cut off about a foot of my 12′ pipe. I cut off the bell-end, flipped it bell-end up, pounded it into the ground (using a piece of wood to cushion the hammer blows), and used it to mount one end of the hoop.

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I bent the other side around and fit it over a 1′ piece of re-bar pounded into the ground on the opposite side of the blueberry.

I spaced more hoops about 3 feet apart over the plants, locating the end hoops a bit outside the edge of the canopy to give me some picking room under the netting.

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For the netting, I used standard deer-proof netting, cut to size and pieced together with zip ties.

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It’s awkward to do this by yourself; get a helper or two. It you plan on snipping your ties apart when you fold and store after harvest is over, leave a little space in the tie to get your scissor in (thanks for the tip, Sallie).

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Mine is small enough that I plan to leave it intact to store it, but if you’re netting a larger area, you may want to do this.

Leave enough extra netting all around so you can weight it down at ground level to keep birds from sneaking underneath.

So far the birds are unable to get in and we’ve had the first summer without having to rush out and beat the birds to the berries. Yes!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Atnip July 1, 2014 at 2:36 pm

I would like to see a photo of a frustrated bird trying to get in, but unable to. Hah!

Daisy July 1, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Jeff–One of the keys to outwitting animal pests is to eliminate habituation. In this case, putting up the netting before the birds become habituated to snacking on the berries is important. I think I’ve done that for the most part this year, and while birds do seem to have good memories in some cases, there were few berries last year because of the pruning I did and this year I haven’t had much interest in them so far. I hope to have derailed some habituation; no photos of frustrated birds forthcoming, although that would be a sight.

Melanie July 2, 2014 at 2:29 am

We have a small peach tree that tries to produce fruit every year, but the squirrels always get those peaches before we can harvest them…we had almost fifty peaches this year! Do you think this would work for those darned squirrels too?

Daisy July 2, 2014 at 6:59 am

Melanie–A determined squirrel can gnaw through wood, so I imagine it would tear through the netting. I suggest you search the garden forums (Dave’s Garden, GardenWeb) for squirrel ideas; they usually have a plethora of things you can try. Good luck and sorry about your precious peaches!

JayJay July 2, 2014 at 11:14 am

”It’s awkward to do this by yourself; get a helper or two.”

That is sooo funny!! I just sawed the ends of two 2 X 2s to put into the ground after drilling holes for the string. Then attached string in the holes tied through open-ended(yep screw driver and grit!!) S hooks over my window trim.
Why?? you ask. Runners for my cucumbers planted in my pea gravel flower bed!!

Ashley July 3, 2014 at 4:56 am

Thanks for this. I have some blackberries ripening for the first time (we planted them last year), and I’ve been wondering how I’m going to keep the birds off of them this summer. I’ll have to try this route … quickly. From what I can tell, we’re about 2 weeks away from ripe berries. Since only 2 of my brambles survived the winter, I’m a little protective of my meager harvest.

Nathan July 3, 2014 at 5:18 am

I’m impressed you could actually get a blueberry bush to grow! I’ve been trying for several years now and our midwestern soil just doesn’t really lend itself to thriving blueberries though. Never one to give up, I’ll keep trying.

Sallie July 3, 2014 at 5:46 am

Help! I have netting and a mother Cardinal on her nest in my Blueberry bush. Talk about raising kids in the grocery store….which is not a bad idea. Suggestions?

Daisy July 3, 2014 at 6:57 am

Sallie–Oh boy. That is a conundrum. Out of my field, too. Any birders want to chime in? You might call some bird experts and see if they know what to do.

Daisy July 3, 2014 at 7:21 am

Nathan–I’m surprised to hear they have don’t grow well in the midwest. I didn’t know that was the case. For my part, I have a trio of currant bushes that don’t like it here, but I keep them anyway in the improbable hope that one year they will suddenly change their minds.

Daisy July 3, 2014 at 7:23 am

Ashley–I hope it works for you. I have blackberries, too, and the birds don’t attack them like they do the blueberries. One theory is because my blackberries are the thorny variety. They will peck at the ones near the ground where they can hop up and reach, though. Blackberries grow fast; you should have lots of berries if not this year then certainly the next, I predict.

Cinnamon Vogue July 3, 2014 at 9:33 am

Daisy I like your innovative bird cage. Albeit one that keeps them on outside. 🙂 Unfortunately some of the larger birds can break through this kind of netting, just like those pesky squirrels.

I have been using a using a multi point strategy. Spraying Cinnamon Oil on the edges to keep the Ants, Aphids and Squirrels away. Mirrors and bells to frighten the Squirrels and an electronic pest repellent. And Mesh netting although not as nice as yours. Except this one ground Squirrel who came from underneath and got my strawberries. I got one with a cage, then to discover another. That took another 2 weeks to catch. Now I am thinking of putting a brick and concrete barrier underneath the plant bed. :-). Maybe better to build a green house I am thinking.

Samantha July 3, 2014 at 12:28 pm

This year is the first year I let this “weed” grow to bushsize and I was happy to discover its actually a mulberry bush.:-) only issue is those pesky birds got them ALL!. Wondering if this could work for mulberry bush?

Daisy July 3, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Samantha–Pretty nice for a weed! I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I’d say the main limitations would be the height of your mulberry. If it fits, I say try it.

RC October 1, 2014 at 9:18 am

If I can find helpers next spring, I am making this netting. SO MANY honeyberries picked unripe because I have to beat the birds (not with a broom although I’d like to when my bushes are naked!)

Thanks for this idea.

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