Living Columns & Blogs

Ask a Gardener: How do I keep birds from eating my blueberries?

Keep your blueberry crop safe from birds with netting held up on rebar.
Keep your blueberry crop safe from birds with netting held up on rebar. The Bellingham Herald

Question: Last year I lost a huge amount of my blueberries to marauding birds. What’s a good way to keep my hard-earned bounty for myself?

Answer: Rebar and netting. Buy lengths of rebar taller than your blueberry bushes, then place them around the perimeter of your plants. Top each length of rebar with an old tennis ball to avoid injuring either yourself or a guest visiting your garden.

Then, simply drape bird netting over the stakes until it touches the ground. Secure the netting on the ground with rocks or boards. This job is best accomplished with the help of another person. The tall stakes prevent the netting from tangling into the branches (well, mostly…). When your plants reward you with a bountiful harvest, all you’ll need to get to it is ducking under the netting, or even removing the netting temporarily while harvesting.

Wooden stakes works as well, and either the rebar or wood, as well as the netting, can be stored and used for years. It may be that you will need to do some pruning, but now’s not the time. Late fall through the winter, when the trees are dormant, is the time to prune. Consult a good pruning book for help.

Thin fruit trees

Q: I’ve heard that I need to “thin” my fruit trees. Why? When? How?

A: Yes, indeed, you heard right. Thinning fruit trees yields you bigger fruit, and protects your trees from overloading and resulting branch breakage. Overcrowded fruit could also be more prone to insect damage. I know it hurts to destroy the baby fruit, but you’ll become a believer when you see the results of thinning.

The rule of thumb is to thin to 4 inches apart. That gives ample space and air to produce the best fruit. Thinning needs to be done when fruit is marble-sized. And as you thin, don’t just drop the prunings on the ground. It increases the change of harboring disease and/or insects.

Potatoes sacks

Q: I don’t have deep enough soil (or room) to plant potatoes, but I have heard there might be another way?

A: Indeed there is a fun way to plant potatoes, or many other plants, even when there’s no plantable soil. It’s a novel way, and works like a charm.

I’m talking here about growing plants in bags. You can buy bags from nurseries, and they are usually made from very heavy-duty felt. Better yet, growing bags can be made from the plastic bags that are used to contain animal feed, or potting soil, etc. So if you have a cat, dog, chickens, horse or cow, you might buy their feed in 30- to 50-pound bags. If you’re like me, and have many bags and always feel badly about simply trashing the feed bags, here’s a good way to put them to use.

Make sure your planting bag drains adequately. If it doesn’t, punch a few drainage holes in your feed bags. Find a sunny spot for your bag(s). They will be heavy and you want to site them before filling.

Fill your bag with about 6 inches of good soil. Lay 6-8 seed potatoes or pieces of seed potatoes, each with at least one eye, on top of the soil you’ve put in the bag. Cover the potatoes completely with soil — another 4-6 inches. Water well, but don’t flood the bag. Roll the bag down so it’s just above the soil level.

When the potatoes sprout and have grown several inches, add more soil to loosely cover most of the plant, leaving only a few leaves showing. Water with each soil addition. As the plants grow, unroll the bag a bit each time and add more soil.

You will be amazed how many potatoes one of these planting bags will grow. If you don’t have access to your own feed bags, ask friends who I’m sure will be happy to find a good use for their otherwise trashed bags.

Visitors to your garden will be drawn by the colorful bags. And a footnote: If you have scads of bags, and want another way to use them, make tarps by stitching them together. They’re great for use in gardening, but also make fun and colorful tablecloths for picnic tables!

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a life-long gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com. For more gardening information online, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

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