strawberries growing in a raised bed with a mesh cover draped over top to protect from critters and birds

Protecting Fruit in an Backyard Garden

by | Jun 22, 2021

It’s the beginning of July, and the garden is rewarding me for months, arguably years, of planning and hard work. All the fruits we planted in the last few years are finally producing and giving us a taste of how our backyard homestead will be in the coming years. The patience required to create a backyard orchard has finally started to pay off, and yet now I’m faced with a new dilemma: learning about protecting ripening fruit in our garden.

Boysenberries, peaches, apricots, strawberries, apples, and lemons are just some of the fruits that are now available this season—-and the animals know it. Before I started gardening, I never saw (or maybe noticed) any kinds of covers in gardens. Most pictures I saw showed everything green and luscious, no hint of bags or unattractive mesh or netting covering fruit. Protecting fruit in the garden from pests was actually not something I ever thought about! The reality is much messier and much more cutthroat than I imagined.

I can’t claim to be an expert on this topic, but I am happy to share what has worked for us in regards to protecting fruit in the garden and being able to eat the fruit we grow!

‘Golden muscat’ grapes growing in my Southern California garden

A little about growing a backyard orchard

Sam and I have been working towards the goal of having some sort of fruit ripening year-round in our backyard. Creating a backyard orchard is not something that happens overnight, especially if you are like us and didn’t start out with this goal in the first place! We had originally wanted a simple kitchen garden on one side of our yard, while the rest was mainly grass and landscaping. Pivoting our entire yard into a backyard orchard and edible landscape was something that kind of took us by surprise. If you are lucky enough to have had this goal in mind from the very beginning, my best advice for you is to get those fruit trees in the ground as soon as possible! Many don’t truly start producing until years 3-4.

Growing fruit trees from bare roots is truly cheaper and just as rewarding as buying a potted tree. I have covered things to consider before buying a fruit tree in a previous post, but I’d like to add that it’s really important to take note of what kind of fruit you (or your loved ones) really enjoy eating and follow that inspiration. Make sure you know your gardening zone, and then research what fruit trees grow well in your zone along with the ripening window!

Last but not least, plan for the mature sizes of your trees. This was something Sam and I did not do well in the beginning, and we are currently battling lots of overgrown and crowded spacing with our backyard fruit trees! Honestly, this makes protecting your fruit from critters even more difficult as they have more areas to hide!

Ways to Protect Ripening Fruit in the Garden

Let me be frank. There is no garden that is free of pests. In fact, if that’s your goal, you will probably drive yourself far crazier attempting to achieve that goal rather than simply accepting some losses. That being said, the next few photos are the different ways we have protected our fruit from insects and animals over the years:

Organza mesh bags are perfect for protecting strawberries from critters. Gotta love organic pest control solutions!

Organza Mesh bags are one product I’ve been using for years to protect various fruits in my garden. Please note that these bags come in many different sizes—some are perfect for strawberries, while I’ve seen bags large enough to cover pomegranates! You can find the various ones I’ve purchased on my Amazon list here. Furthermore, organza bags are reusable, so I simply keep some in my garden shed for whenever I need them. Admittedly, some gardeners have reported that squirrels and rats have chewed through them before, but that still doesn’t make me write them off. Why? Because they have worked well for me and I’ve also seen other gardeners in this city use them as well. So, it’s worth a try!

Our mini boysenberry patch needed to be protected from birds. We used one of our shade mesh covers to drape over them. It wasn’t perfect, but we still got tons of berries!

Mesh covers can also be used to deter birds and other critters from eating your fruit. I do want to point out that this isn’t bird netting. I’ve heard that bird netting is more trouble than anything else—lots of critters get stuck and this can be really difficult to deal with—but I’ve had success using lots of different meshes. One year, for our boysenberries, we draped shade cloth over the trellis. As soon as our boysenberries started to change color, we draped some shade mesh over them to keep birds out. Now, this is one reason why it is important to know what type of critter or pest you are dealing with in the garden! For instance, if rats were eating our berries, I don’t think the draped shade mesh would work. Whereas, a simple draped cover has been enough to keep the birds off the berries.

For strawberries, I’ve simply taken the same crop mesh I’ve used to protect my brassicas from cabbage caterpillars, and draped it over the top. Again, this doesn’t protect from slugs or roly polies, but it can deter birds, squirrels, and even opossums that are searching for easy meals. I think each garden will differ in regards to what works for protecting fruit.

This year we had a lot of apricots on one section of the tree. We took some row cover fabric (the lightest weight) and casually draped it around the branch. I didn’t want to hold in too much heat. Again, it wasn’t a perfect solution, but we got to eat 90 percent of the apricots.

A newer development in my garden (2022 or 2023) has been using mesh tree bags to protect entire young fruit trees. As you can see below, this worked for our fuyu persimmon tree. The mesh tree bags come in two variations—one has a zipper closure and one is just a drawstring closure. Based on experience, we prefer the zipper closure more. Again, this is a product that be used year after year.

mesh tree bag covering persimmon tree to protect fruit in the garden

This was our backyard fuyu persimmon tree in its second year. We decided to try a zipper-closure mesh bag to protect the fruits. It worked so well! Even though mesh bags might not look “pretty” in the garden, it’s worth it to be able to enjoy some homegrown fruit.

Solutions can change over time

Another consideration when protecting fruit in the garden is to decide how much time and effort you are willing to put in. Tools like the organza bags take a lot of time to cover each individual fruit, whereas our draped shade mesh is relatively simple and less time consuming. Furthermore, the more mature/older our fruit trees got, the more fruit they produced and we found ourselves struggling to justify the time spent covering individual fruits! Understandably, a young tree with a few fruit might be the perfect candidate for organza bags, whereas large trees make that method very undesireable. In the end, we have resorted to larger coverings (picture above) and even mesh tree bags to cover our more mature fruit trees. In fact, I put a tree bag over our front yard multi-grafted peach tree and it worked like a charm!

Here is how we decided to cover our ‘golden muscat’ grapes this year. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Covering Grapes with Brown Paper Bags

I posed the question over on Instagram: what’s the easiest way to cover so many bunches of grapes? It was great to hear how all of you are protecting your fruit! Large (wine-sized) organza bags were a logical option for grapes, but they seemed a little pricey to cover all the bunches of grapes. I thought we had 50-75 bunches, but it is looking like more than that!

I really liked brown paper bags, but I didn’t want to staple them. Funny fact, staples bother me. Ever since Sam and I became DIYers around the house I discovered that a lot of things, like carpet, were held down with insanely strong staples that were a pain to remove. Now, whenever we do a project, I always say ‘I want bare minimum staples please!’ It really annoys him. So, personal preference, no staples. Also, I can’t compost staples and I’m thinking I want to just compost the bags. Don’t forget to check out the Compost 101 section of the blog.

The plan? Brown paper bags held closed with clothespins. I already have clothespins in my garden shed for my DIY Fabric Row Covers too! What do you think?

Update 2024: sad news, the brown paper bags didn’t work out as great as I’d hoped. We harvested a lot of grapes that year, but many of the bunches didn’t get airflow and seemed to get mildew and go bad. I suspect the brown bags didn’t allow enough air. Maybe mesh would work better? I’m not really sure. Furthmore, that grapevine died after we had irrigation issues last year, so I had to start over. Oh the ups and downs of gardening!

Final Notes on Urban Gardening & Growing Fruit

If you’ve struggled to protect your fruit, I feel your pain! Even now, we still lose fruit to critters. The only things I know for sure are that critters and pests will always be here and what works for one gardener might not work for others. But this is also why I think it is important to share this information between ourselves! Organic gardening can be frustrating, and yet we are constantly finding new things to add to our gardening toolkits.

If you found this blogpost helpful, please considering sharing it on social media, pin it for later, or even leaving a comment! Thanks so much!

Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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