There are several humane ways to keep squirrels and birds from stealing the apples from your apple tree – the fruits of your labour, like scarecrows, metal collars and baffles around the trunk of your tree, bird netting, noise makers and hot pepper.
Before getting into the different methods of keeping squirrels away from ripening apples, start by limiting their access points to the trunk of the tree only. That means pruning branches that lean too low to the ground, that rest on fence tops or telephone lines, or that sit on roof tops. This should reduce the squirrels ability to jump into the tree and make it that much harder to access the ripening apples.
Owl or hawk decoys strategically placed around your yard could help deter both squirrels and birds from the temptation of ripe apples. Make sure you regularly change locations of the decoys so the squirrels and birds don’t get used to their presence.
Hanging fake snakes in your apple trees has also been reported to deter squirrels depending on your region, and whether snakes live in your climate.
A smooth metal collar around the trunk of your apple tree can help prevent squirrels from climbing up the tree from the trunk. There are a few different collar types that work effectively, the first being a 2ft diameter cone shaped collar that you can secure to the trunk of the apple tree right below the first few branches. The sides of the cone will slope downward preventing the squirrels from climbing up the trunk and around the cone. These are the same cones – or ‘baffles’ – used to protect bird feeders from squirrels.
The second type of collar is a simple metal tube around the trunk of the apple tree from about 6 inches off the ground up to the first few branches, or about 2ft tall. Think metal ducting at your local home improvement store about 2-3 inches in diameter, wrapped around the trunk of the tree. This will prevent the squirrels from jumping from the ground and latching onto the trunk for grip. The smooth sheet metal should reduce their grip.
Bonus points if you add an oil or grease to the metal collar. It will cause the squirrels to slide back down as they attempt to climb the sheet metal, as they won’t have a strong enough grip.
Draping bird netting over your apple tree is a great way to prevent birds from stealing your harvest, and is relatively inexpensive and easy to do. If you have a dwarf or semi-dwarf apple tree, you can probably throw the bird netting over the tree from standing on the ground. Use clothes pins to hold the sides of the netting closed, and to secure the netting to a few branches. Wrap the excess netting around the trunk and secure it with more clothes pins or a rope.
If you have a larger apple tree, you may need a ladder to help drape the bird netting over the tree.
While bird netting is great at deterring birds, it might not be as effective at deterring squirrels – they might easily rip the plastic netting. Use bird netting with a metal collar around the trunk of the apple tree for the best line of defence against both birds and squirrels.
A fruit cage is similar to draping bird netting over your apple tree, but consists of an enclosed cage that surrounds the entire tree from the ground up.
One can be build out of simple lumber or T-posts hammered into the ground about 3ft (1m) away from the trunk of the tree to enclose all the limbs. Hammer 4 posts into the ground, and connect the top of the 4 corners with lumber or plastic tubing. Then drape plastic netting over the entire structure, and staple it to the edges all the way down to the ground.
This will completely prevent birds and squirrels from touching your ripe apples, but depending on the type of netting, can also prevent beneficial insects and pollinators from entering the cage.
Fruit bags are small mesh bags that close with a drawstring or twist tie. Each bag can protect a single ripening apple. Apply the bags as soon as the apples start forming and reach 1 inch in diameter.
Fruit bags also have the added advantage of protecting your apples from not only pests like birds and squirrels, but other harmful insects as well.
Squirrels are put off from the capsaicin in hot peppers. There are commercial squirrel deterrents that use capsaicin or hot pepper oil, but you can just as easily make your own at home.
Mix cayenne pepper, and chilli’s in a spray bottle filled with water and spray around your apple tree. Or mix cayenne pepper with petroleum jelly and rub it around the base of the apple tree.
You can also sprinkle some loose cayenne pepper powder around the base of the apple tree and in the squirrels likely path. They will be put off and won’t even attempt to climb the trunk of the tree.
Hanging old CDs or aluminum plates by the branches of your apple tree can also scare off squirrels and birds. The noise they make when the wind hits them together with how the sunlight reflects off the aluminum will put off most squirrels and birds.
Hanging a wind chime can produce the same results. With a small breeze the wind chime will make enough noise to scare off birds and squirrels.
If you have enough space, consider a sacrificial apple tree. Plant an apple tree for the sole purpose of leaving it unprotected. Sacrifice the harvest of one fruit tree to save the other apples on your protected apple trees.
The unprotected tree will attract the squirrels and birds and deter them from stealing apples from the apple trees that are more protected. After all, they will go for the easiest fruit.
Alternate Feeding Source
Another method to reduce the loss of apples from your apple tree is by providing an alternative food source for the squirrels in another part of your yard. A dedicated squirrel feeder that is well stocked can ensure they don’t eat all your apples.
Squirrels are territorial, so feeding the squirrels will not attract more squirrels.
For the most effective plan, use a combination of the 9 tips above to humanely prevent birds and squirrels from eating your apples this summer.