Chickens, jays, and mockingbirds can wreak havoc on your fruit and nut tree crops unless you provide protection.
Floating eye balloons, hanging old CDs, motion-sensing sprinklers, and noise cannons are just a few of the countless methods ‘guaranteed’ to protect your fruit and nut crop from marauding birds, but most of them do not work; not for long, anyway. Caging your tree is the only way to be sure that you get the lion’s share of your fruit or nut crop.
The netting used over your tree cage will still allow pollinators easy access. Unfortunately, it also allows codling moths and other flying insect pests to reach your fruit and nut trees. Even so, birds and squirrels can take a big bite out of apple, apricot, almond, nectarine, fig, and other crops. Tree cages can stop that damage before it even starts. Plus, these cages stay up, year round, so there's no wrestling with netting every spring and fall.
Store bought vs. DIY tree cages
Store bought tree cages can be astronomically expensive and most of the really nice ones are in the UK. The added shipping costs make it impossible or unrealistic for most of us. Luckily, it is surprisingly easy to make a tree cage yourself for less than $50. If you can scrounge old tree supports, it’s even cheaper.
Make your own tree cage
This tree cage design is intended for dwarf variety trees that will be pruned to 6 to 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide. You can adjust the measurements for bigger trees, but longer lodge poles can be harder to find and more expensive.
2. Using four lodge poles, flat on the ground, mark out an 8-foot (or smaller) square around your tree. On the inside of each corner, dig a hole at least one foot deep with the post hole digger. [If the ground is really hard clay, like mine, you can use a drill fitted with a large drill bit as an auger. It works surprisingly well.] Place one lodge pole in each hole and gently press the dirt you dug up back into the hole, making sure that the drilled hole runs outside to inside of the tree space, rather than side-to-side. You’ll see why in a minute. Also, dig one more hole to create the doorway space.
3. Take both 1”x2” boards and cut a 1/2-inch notch out of the middle of each, only cutting halfway through. I used a handsaw to make the perpendicular cuts and then a hammer and chisel to knock out the chad. Fit the 1”x2”s together in the middle and hammer together into a giant X-shape.
5. Staple 2’ chicken wire to the lodge poles, all the way around.
6. If you are really handy (which I am not), you can build yourself a fancy door. I opted for something far more simple: I cut a piece of bird netting that was larger than the door opening, attached it to the opening at the top, and ran a piece of thin scrap wood through the holes at the bottom. The wood weighs the netting down enough to keep chickens, mockingbirds, and jays away from my fruit and nut trees, and it’s easy to use. For added stability, you can add a cross piece above head height between one of the four lodge poles and the door lodge pole.
7. Drape bird netting over the X-shape and staple it down to make it taut. Ideally, you want birds and bats to bounce off, not get tangled. Bring the netting down over the sides until it reaches the chicken wire. You can use the wrapping wire from the roll of chicken wire (or string) to “sew” the netting to the chicken wire. I used heavy duty black thread and an embroidery needle.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!