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Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.

I am lucky enough to live in an area where blueberries thrive. They prefer soils with a lower ph, similar to Mountain Laurel, that we find in a lot of the hill towns here in the region. If you’ve tried to plant blueberries and have struggled, checking your soil would be the first place to look. (Read our article on testing your soil HERE.)

bird eating blueberryWe are nearing that time of year when fresh, ripe blueberries will be upon us. Last year I took my blueberries for granted and did nothing to protect them. One day I had almost ripe blueberries, the next all of them were gone. GONE!  All of those bowls of corn flakes I had planned to top with blueberries — lost forever. All of the pies and parfaits that were going to dot my summer — a dream unrealized. The speed at which the birds got my blueberries was shocking to me. It seemed to happen over night, and if a flock of birds is in the right place at the right time, that’s really all the time it takes. Well, it’s not going to happen this year. Here are some tactics you can use to protect your berry bushes from the birds:

String up something shiny
Birds tend to shy away from flashy moving objects. Use this to your advantage and tie foil tape, pie pans, or old CD’s to the branches of your bushes to scare off the birds.

PROS: This is a cheap, safe way to protect your bushes.
CONS: I don’t spend every spare minute in my garden trying to make it look beautiful just to go out and tie an old Milli Vanilli CD to flap in the wind and be the first and only thing people notice. This method is less than discreet and is fairly unattractive, so if your plants are highly visible, it might not be the best option.

Use netting
By tossing protective netting over your plants, you can prevent birds from getting any access to them, saving all those berries for yourself. An old mosquito net works great for this — anything that will still let sunlight through should do the trick.

netting on blueberry bushesPROS: This is probably the best method for saving the most fruit from birds.
CONS: Birds’ tiny feet can get tangled in the netting or they can get caught under the net if they come in underneath of it. Both will most likely result in a very injured or very dead bird.

Plant enough for everyone
At my last house, I had so many wild blueberry bushes growing in the field that even if the birds ate until they were too fat to fly and I picked until my fingers bled, there would still have been some left over.
PROS: Everyone is happy.
CONS: In less productive years, you might not get the harvest you want.

Set up birdfeeders
If you don’t want me raiding your refrigerator, put a pizza in the hallway on the way to the kitchen. That’s the idea here — if you keep feeders around your fruit, the birds will go for the bird seed instead of the berries.

PROS: You’ll attract birds to your garden and protect the berries at the same time.
CONS: Even if I eat the pizza, I will still probably hit the fridge to grab a Coke to wash it down. Likewise, the birds will still eat some of your berries and all of that pizza, I mean, birdseed can get expensive.

fake snakeUse fake owls, snakes, or scarecrows of other predators
This method is fairly old school and self-explanatory. If you go this route, it is important to move the dummy around, otherwise the birds will get wise.

PROS: After your berries are done you will have a fake snake around to scare your loved ones with.
CONS: You probably aren’t going to fake out all of the birds and will still suffer some loss.

Use a combination of techniques and vigilance for the most success in keeping the birds off of your berry bushes. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a little!

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