Planting a seed and watching it come to life is one of the most exciting things to us gardeners. Coming back the next day to find that your seedling has been snatched up by a bird can be not only disheartening but frustrating as well.
Netting is sometimes needed to keep seeds, seedlings, and even mature plants safe from birds. There are many methods to choose from, and varying sizes and quality of netting. A netting system set up well is the surest way to keep birds from eating our plants.
From a birds-eye view, your garden looks like a buffet, and we don’t want that. Birds have plenty to eat elsewhere and you deserve to harvest the fruits of your labor. Check out these garden netting tips to keep the bounty of your garden safe from hungry birds, and open to beneficial pollinators.
Best Tips Keep Birds Away From Your Garden
When it comes to garden netting, it’s helpful to be informed on how to pick the right netting, how to set it up safely and effectively, and some extra tips and tricks to make it all come together smoothly.
Read ahead for general tips to help get you started.
Tip #1 – Protect Specific Plants
It’s recommended to use netting only over specific plants that need protection, not an all-encompassing one. Here’s why: some birds are beneficial to your garden, and you want them around.
Certain species will act as natural pest control, eating insects that may harm your plants. These include sparrows, bluebirds, cardinals, and grosbeaks. Some species are particularly known for being pollinators, such as orioles or hummingbirds. Others will help you keep your weeds down by eating the seeds, like finches, towhees, and sparrows.
Therefore, it’s important to locate the specific sites that need protection, likely a vegetable garden, and start there.
Tip #2 – Get Enough Material
It’s important to get enough netting for your specific needs.
To save yourself extra trips, identify the exact area you’d like to protect. Next, measure and get the square footage of the space. Netting is typically sold in rolls by the foot.
Get a little extra to account for the edges. You’ll want some room to be able to adjust and pull the netting taught. To secure it properly, you’ll need a few extra inches where the netting meets the ground.
Save any excess netting for repairs that may be needed in the future.
Tip #3 – Get Good Quality Netting
Keep in mind that not all netting is made equal. They come in varying degrees of quality. You want to look for durable netting with good UV resistance, these won’t wither away in the sun. Generally, black netting is more durable than the popular cheap green netting that you may have seen some landscapers use. Spend a little more initially, and it saves you from needing to buy more netting next season.
In addition, there is netting that’s malleable and netting that is stiffer. Depending on the method you’re using, you’ll want to make sure you get the right netting for your needs.
Keep an eye out for these details, which will be explained on the package of the product.
Tip #4 – Use A Sturdy Frame
Your frame will be whatever is holding your netting up. Common materials used for this are wooden stakes, galvanized steel, PVC, or strong, malleable wire.
Whichever you choose, make sure it’s sturdy, good quality, and in good shape. Repurposing materials is great, but for your frame, you’ll want to make sure it’s going to hold up. The netting itself won’t weigh much, so you don’t need anything heavy-duty. Just make sure it won’t topple over in the first gust of wind.
Also, to make your frame sturdy, be sure to push the PVC, wire, or wooden stakes into the ground at least 5-6 inches. Take this into account when figuring out the length you’ll need each piece to be.
Tip #5 – Small Gauge
Netting comes in different gauge sizes. This refers to the size of the gaps formed by the net. Netting is available in a wide variety of gauges. For bird netting, you’ll want a small gauge, as small as 1/4 inch. Don’t go much bigger than an inch or an inch and a half.
While a bigger gauge may ultimately keep birds out, they run the risk of being a hazard to them as well. If they can get their beak and head in comfortably, but not the rest of their body, they can get stuck or injured. They may also be able to reach your plants through a wide gauge.
Tip #6 – Secure Netting
It’s important to make sure your netting is properly secured and staked to the ground or attached to its frame. Loose netting allows for birds to still get in and get stuck. This can be harmful to both the bird and your plants.
You can often find materials around your house or yard that will work as weights, such as scrap lumber, bricks, or rebar. Garden stakes work well too. Weigh or stake down all corners and sides. Cut away any excess netting.
Tip #7 – Chicken Wire
While plastic netting is preferred by many gardeners, chicken wire can be used as netting too. It is a little more difficult to work with due to its sharp edge points. Be sure to wear gloves when handling chicken wire.
Like plastic netting, make sure the gauge on the chicken wire is small, no more than 1.5 inches. Also, chicken wire will last longer if you store it in a protected area while not using it.
Tip #8 – Leave Enough Room
Sometimes it can be hard to gauge how tall or bushy your plants will grow. It’s always a good idea to keep checking on your plants to make sure the netting isn’t getting in the way of their growth.
While many plants can grow through the gaps, it can still stunt their growth and make harvesting more difficult for you.
To prevent any stunting, or the need to make a bigger frame, take into account how big the plant(s) you are protecting will get. Add an extra foot or two to your estimation to leave room for plants growing bigger than you expected.
Garden Netting Methods
There are several ways to set up your bird netting. Most are fairly simple, and all are effective if set up properly. There are ways to protect long rows, wide beds, container plants, and even fruit trees. Let’s take a look at some common netting methods that you can implement in your garden today.
Tip #1 – Hooped Row Cover
One common method is the hooped row cover. This entails using PVC or strong, thick wire to make arcs along your row or garden bed. Then, netting or garden fabric is draped over the arcs, pulled taught, and secured to the ground with garden stakes or a weight. This is a great option for bigger rows or where you have dense planting.
It is also easy to remove the cloth and check on plants when needed. Make it portable by using two-by-fours as the foundation.
Here’s an insider hack: buy cheap hoola hoops and cut them in half to get ready-made, sturdy arcs in place of PVC or wire.
Tip #2 – A-Frame Cover
Another option is to make an A-frame. Simply place two sturdy sticks or poles at either end of the space that needs protection. Then, drape the netting over the area. The sticks on either end will keep the netting elevated and off of the plants.
Pull the netting outward away from the plants, making an A shape, then stake or weigh down the netting to hold it in place. For longer rows, add another pole in the middle to support the netting from sagging.
Tip #3 – Multiple Post Cover
The third option is simple as well. If you have a garden bed with adequate space between plants, secure bamboo poles or sturdy sticks upright in between plants.
Depending on the size of the plant you’re growing, you’ll want these poles to be at least 2.5 ft in length. Then, place overturned, small flower pots on the tops of the poles/sticks. This creates a solid structure for you to then cast your netting over. The pots keep the netting from slipping down the poles.
Secure the loose netting to the ground with garden steaks.
Tip #4 – Use a Cloche
For individual plants or containers, consider purchasing a garden cloche. A garden cloche is a sturdy covering, though they are usually only big enough to protect one or two plants.
They are typically bell-shaped, with a wireframe and study chicken wire used as the netting. These are nice because they are easily portable and will last a long time.
Tip #5 – Simple Drape
Some gardeners do away with the structural aspect and simply drape a thin garden cloth over their row of vegetables. This is a viable option as well but only works with garden fabric, not plastic netting. If the netting is directly on the plant and not elevated, birds can still access the plants.
Make sure to use designated garden fabric. It will look like a very fine mesh, and be lightweight. This allows for air circulation and sunlight to reach the plant while covered.
Tip #6 – Protect Seeds Too
Mature plants aren’t the only thing that attracts birds. Birds can start having a feast in your garden before plants have even emerged. They are smart creatures, and I’ve seen them swoop down on a row that I had just laid seeds in. To them, seeds are just as good of a snack as a leafy green.
To protect your seeds, you’ll need to use garden fabric or row covers. A row cover is any thin, lightweight material that you place directly on the row or garden bed that has seeds in the germination process. Simply lay the fabric, or row cover, directly over where you planted your seeds. Secure all sides with garden stakes or weights to ensure the cover doesn’t blow away.
This row cover serves a dual purpose. It helps to keep in moisture, which is essential for good germination. Note that it’s important to remove the row cover as soon as your seeds start to germinate.
Tip #7 – Protect Fruit Trees
Fruit can be very attractive to birds. As fruit trees can get quite large, some forget that you can use netting on them as well. With a little effort, you can protect the abundance of fruit from getting eaten by birds.
All you need is some soft PVC and small gauge, plastic netting. Similar to the hooped row cover, you will arch 3-5 pieces of PVC over the tree, spaced about 2-3 feet apart. Then, thread one piece of PVC down the middle and zip-tie it to the top of the arches.
Now you’re ready to drape the netting over. Be sure to leave some extra netting at the bottom to stake or weigh it all down. You can still easily harvest the fruit by removing the weights or stakes from one side and lifting the netting.
Tip #8 – Protect Seed Flats/Trays
Freshly sprouted plants in seed flats/trays are just as attractive to birds as baby plants in the garden. I kid you not, I have come home to a seed tray that had been completely stripped of all the seedlings that had emerged only days before. If this has happened to you, or your planning to start your own seeds this year, it’s a good idea to protect your seed trays.
To protect trays with baby plants in them, you will mimic what you will be doing/have done in your garden, just smaller.
Seed trays are typically rectangles, 10inX20in. You’ll want to get thin pieces of lumber and cut them a couple of inches larger than your seed tray and screw them together, making a frame that can be lifted off your seed tray.
Next, you will need strong but flexible wire to make into arches across your frame. Drill holes on either side of your wooden frame to house the ends of your wire arches. Now, drape netting over the arches and staple the sides and ends to the frame, making it taught, cut away any excess netting.
Tip #9 – Store Netting
It’s a good idea to store your netting, as well as any materials used for frames, in a protected area when not in use. While netting is made of durable plastic, it can be affected by the elements and will last longer if stored indoors.
If you are using lumber or wooden stakes for your frame or weights, be sure to store these too. Lumber won’t stay sturdy for long if left out in the rain.
Wait, Is Garden Netting Safe?
Some gardeners and landscapers have concerns about the safety of bird netting and urge people against using it.
These concerns come from incidents where wildlife has been negatively impacted by netting. People have found various animals entangled in their netting including snakes, hummingbirds, and raccoons.
While this is unfortunate, it’s usually due to improperly set up and secured netting systems. If you have a bundle of extra netting on the sides or ends of your rows or garden beds, this creates the main hazard for wildlife.
That is why it is so important to make your netting taught and weigh/stake down the sides and ends. If you have a lot of excess netting around the sides or ends of your protected area, trim the netting back. Also, be sure to store any unused netting in a shed, garage, or somewhere protected from wildlife.
What About Scarecrows and Other Methods?
Sometimes the netting method may seem like too much effort, and the next common go-to method is scarecrows. But are they really effective?
Scarecrows work if you move them regularly, but even that’s not guaranteed. Birds are smart, they will catch on to the fact that the “person” in the garden hasn’t moved an inch in several days. If resorting to a scarecrow, opt for one built on a stake that you can easily move around.
It’s certainly not as reliable and effective as netting, but it doesn’t hurt to try, and you may even have fun making one!
Some other methods include decoy owls, shiny streamers or CDs, and colorful plastic snakes. Similar to the scarecrows, decoy animals won’t be effective for very long once the birds realize they aren’t actually moving. CDs and shiny streamers make reflections that birds don’t like. But these may only work in a very limited space and can be an eyesore to gardeners.
Bird netting is the only sure way to keep birds away from your veggie garden and fruit trees. With a small gauge, high-quality netting that is properly secured, and sturdy frames to hold it up, you will surely keep your produce safe.
Take the time to protect your garden, and you will be happy you did come harvest time.