A fruit cage can be very useful when it comes to growing fruit trees, cane fruits and fruit bushes. It can remove obstacles with pests, and help you make sure you can harvest your crop before wildlife pinches the lot. A fruit cage provides a physical barrier which allows you to garden organically with lower yield losses.
But layout and design can be especially important where physical structures are used which limit the size of the space. So here are some layout and design tips for fruit cages. They should help you think about the fundamentals and make the most of the space within them. A fruit cage can be used for other things too. Chickens, for example. But in this article we will focus on layout and design tips for its most common usage.
Choosing a Fruit Cage
First of all, you need to think about choosing a fruit cage. One of the first decisions to make, of course, is whether you will buy a fruit cage, or make your own. Bespoke options are available if you do not have the time or DIY skills to take on the project yourself.
You will have to decide early on how large your fruit cage needs to be. When trying to decide how large a fruit cage to make or buy, you will naturally be limited by the amount of space available to you in your garden. Take a look at how much relatively level land there is on your property, in a location suitable for fruit or other crop production. Think about whether you will build on level paved areas or hardstanding. Or on an existing area with garden beds or lawn.
In many cases, you will be limited in scope by the size of your garden and the suitable space available. However, you may have some leeway if you have a larger property. If you have a larger garden, what plants you wish to grow will help inform your choices when it comes to choosing a fruit cage.
What To Place in a Fruit Cage
Concurrently with thinking about which fruit cage structure will be right for you, you should think carefully about what you will place within a fruit cage. And which plants might best be placed outside the structure, elsewhere in your garden. A fruit cage is typically used to project fruit canes and berry bushes. You might place raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, blueberries and much more inside. Dwarf fruit trees may also benefit from protection within such a structure.
Of course, a cage structure can also be used to protect other crops – brassicas, for example, which are often eaten by birds, can benefit from the physical barrier protection. A fruit cage might be used for vegetables and herbs too… Think about the protection a fruit cage can provide. And which plants might benefit most from that protection.
Once you have decided which plants you would like to place within a fruit cage, it is a good idea to be organised and make a list of all those plants. Think about how much space each will require initially, and also when fully grown. Early on, when plants are smaller, you may well be able to fit in more plants than when the main shrubs/small trees are fully grown. Bear this in mind – this is something we will return to a little later in this article.
One of the things most often overlooked in garden design is access. But access to the various growing areas, and between plants and growing areas, is very important to garden function. Get the paths wrong and it can be a constant source of annoyance. It can make your life as a gardener a lot more challenging if you cannot easily reach all your plants.
It can be tempting to crowd in plants – especially in a structure like a fruit cage where space is limited. But it is important to remember that you will need to be able to get into the fruit cage easily. You will need to move between the plants to tend and harvest.
Make sure, where you are growing in beds or in the ground, to leave sufficient space between them for access. And also be make sure that you can reach all your plants without having to stand on any of the growing areas, which can damage the soil and cause compaction.
Where you are using containers, growing plants in larger planters and pots, access, again, is important. Make sure you think carefully about placing containers to allow access to each one throughout the year. And do not place them in such a way that they will easily be knocked over as you move around the space.
Sunlight and Shade
Another key consideration, of course, is light. You need to think about sunlight and shade when positioning your fruit cage in the first place. Most of the time, fruit trees, cane fruits and fruit/ berry bushes will fruit better in areas which receive plenty of sun.
But in addition to thinking about sunlight and shade when positioning a fruit cage, you also need to think about these things when determining the layout of plants within one. In the UK, it will usually be best to install taller trees/ plants to the north of the fruit cage. And shorter specimens to the south.
The exception to this, of course, would be where shorter plants will benefit from receiving shade during the summer months. In which case, you might wish to place them to the north of shade-casting plants.
Companion Planting/ Guilds
You could simply place a series of trees/ canes or bushes in pots, or in the ground in a fruit cage. And keep things simple. But in order to make the most of the space, and keep these key plants as healthy and productive as possible, it is a very good idea to consider companion planting, and the creating of guilds of beneficial plants that will aid the central species.
Planting herbs, flowers and other beneficial companion plants around key fruiting plants can help make sure that there are plenty of pollinators around. This is essential to ensure good fruit production. When growing in containers, placing containers with these companion plants around your trees and shrubs can be beneficial. Creating in-ground guilds inside a fruit cage can also be extremely helpful.
Remember, companion planting can also bring a huge range of other benefits, including bringing in other beneficial insects, or repelling pests. This, along with the physical barrier, can be an added layer of defence. It can help protect fruit crops and other edible plants in an organic garden.
Have you thought about companion planting in your fruit cage? How have you laid out the space? Share your own hints, tips, experiences and suggestions in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.