Dame Edna Everage often greeted her audience with “Hello possums” and I wonder if her irreverence towards her devoted subjects may have had its roots in a possum problem in her Moonee Ponds garden. Having a possum in your backyard, of course, is a two-edged sword that is all about the joys of seeing wildlife up close and personal in your backyard but, on the flipside, experiencing the pain that the little devils inflict on your prize plants. I must confess to being very happy to sit on the fence with the little marsupials when it comes to the possum problem.
It is not just possums that haunt gardeners when it comes to hungry herbivores. Kangaroos, bandicoots, scrub turkeys and lyre birds are a few of the native animals that can wreak havoc, whilst introduced pests such as rats, rabbits and even feral deer can also be problematic in different areas of Australia.
A whole host of creative ideas come out on gardening talkback shows (and I hope on GardenDrum underneath this blog) whenever this topic is raised and many of these are often of limited value. Scare tactics such as lines of used silver bladders from wine casks or replicas of fearsome predatory birds tend to be as effective a long term solution as broadcasting Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits through the garden. Another problem is that these solutions are more likely to drive you away from your garden than the pests…..
In my previous garden I had the ironic problem that the biggest pest of the copious amounts of kangaroo paws I had planted was a rabid bunch of swamp wallabies. However, I did not strike a time when the damage was serious enough to make me even want to contemplate jeopardising the experience of these marvellous marsupials sharing my garden.
Of course once the little buggers found their way into my newly planted veggie patch it was a totally different story. Through trial and error I rapidly decided that physical rather than any kind of chemical protection was, for my situation, not only more effective in preventing damage for less time invested, but was also more in tune with my desire to achieve a more sustainable and low maintenance garden. Small rolls of chicken wire arranged over the top of seedlings has proven very effective in preventing casual grazing animals, plus the rolls can be easily moved from one part of the garden to another.
The only long term solution I have seen to attack by animals is exclusion through cages and nets. Even then smaller animals such as rats and mice are incredibly hard to totally exclude but it is certainly worth the effort in my experience as the framework can also be used to support very fine netting that will exclude even more pests such as fruit flies.
Bird netting has proven to be a very effective option to protect fruit trees and this method could easily be adapted to help prevent the annihilation of prize rose bushes or magnificent magnolias. If you are really serious about your vegetable garden then erecting a mesh cage of suitable size will exclude just about all the worst offenders from your prized patch.
An alternative method of trying to repel damaging creatures lies in the numerous chemical repellents available to combat hungry herbivores. Products such as D-ter and Poss Off are based on chemical ingredients that are unpleasant for the animal concerned and the hope is that one can not only provide temporary protection for vulnerable plants but also to change the habits of the offending critters such that they find greener pastures elsewhere.
As with all chemical controls it is important to research the active ingredients and ensure that they are safe for the use you are intending, especially if food plants are involved. Perhaps the greatest drawback with chemical controls is their temporary nature which means regular re-applications particularly after heavy rain. A natural alternative deterrent that has been used for many years is a solution made from soaking chips from the Quassia tree (Picrasma excelsa) in water, providing a bitter spray that deters without harming animals.
Another simple measure that can limit the entry of possums and other climbing creatures such as cats into your garden is to fit smooth metal collars around the trunks of trees in order to shut down routes for such animals to get over fences. (But make sure there’s no possum already in the tree – brushtails live in hollows and ringtails build stick nests called dreys).
Coupled with this idea could be a physical barrier such as barbed wire for situations where the garden is completely bordered by a rigid fence line. However, not everyone will want to spoil the aesthetics of their garden with a concentration camp look…..
Bird Gard is another chemical-free idea that works purely by sound. The Bird Gard Possum deterrent website provides a wealth of information on a variety of devices that can be used in different situations from large scale horticulture to the home garden. The limitations of such systems are that sound will not travel through physical barriers such as walls and is only effective at certain distances depending on the exact nature of the system. Clearly some careful research is called for before investing in a technology based approach such as this. Not only birds are targeted by this system, with pests such as kangaroos and possums also apparently able to be repelled using appropriate sounds.
In summary, there is a wide range of measures that can be adopted to suit the gardener’s individual circumstance and it may come down to deciding what your philosophy will be with regard to the relationship between your garden’s flora and fauna. My personal preference is to put up with a level of damage and to use a range of non-chemical measures that are designed to change the behaviour of the animals concerned without causing them harm, and in such a way that they will still continue to have a positive presence in my garden.