Angus StewartBloody possums!

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.

Ringtail possums might look small but they're voracious tree-destroyers

Ringtail possums might look small but they’re voracious tree-destroyers

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…..

Brushtail possums. Photo by PDH

Brushtail possums. Photo by PDH

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.

Netted blueberries

Netted blueberries. Photo Helen Young

Let's Grow Crop Cage

Let’s Grow Crop Cage. Photo Helen Young

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.

Possum cage around vulnerable plants

Possum cage around vulnerable plants

 

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.

Poss Off

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.

Recommended tree collar from DEPI Victoria

Recommended tree collar from DEPI Victoria

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).

Ringtail possum drey

Ringtail possum drey looks like stick nest inside a large shrub or tree canopy

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…..

possum-repeller-diagram-01-500x500

Ultrasonic possum repeller

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.

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Angus Stewart

About Angus Stewart

Gardening Australia TV presenter, author of 'Creating an Australian Garden', 'Australian Plants for Year-round Colour' and 'Let's Propagate', garden travel guide, native plant specialist and breeder. Central Coast, NSW. Find out lots more about native plants at Gardening with Angus.

17 thoughts on “Bloody possums!

  1. helen mckerral on said:

    Oh yes indeed, Angus! But I confess I do love the wildlife nonetheless. That’s why my pruned camellia looks nicely rounded, except where a stove-pipe-like hat juts out strangely. I’d nearly finished pruning when I came across a drey, with an outraged furry face peering out at me. I didn’t have the heart to prune remove that bit, though I’m hoping the possum takes the hint and relocates so my camellia can be pruned properly!

  2. Bernard Chapman on said:

    Great read, Angus! Like many gardeners I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with native Australian animals! As I am not keen to cage my plants, I try to find ones the animals do not want to eat. I have found they dislike Buxus and Azaleas (OK like many humans, but for different reasons), so I plant them heavily on my deck.

    Also, Lynne Morehen put me on to a great device called a Scarecrow. Brush turkeys were decimating my rain forest garden before I bought one. If the birds come near to it, it showers them with water. I feel I need to give my plants a fighting chance at survival!

  3. TPbMe on said:

    BLOODY Possums! Crikey!! Don’t start me! New Zealanders have the best idea – farm them & turn them into woolly hats & jumpers.
    I’ve had a gutfull of the critters. My beautiful garden constantly under attack despite initially building possum boxes as they’re supposed to be territorial.( I could’ve lived with one out the front & one out the back!). Now de-ter, poss-off, camphor balls, vicks, tobasco, silver ball strings, spinning cds, tree-collars, radios & a genuine hooting owl! The trouble is they travel via electricity wires & blended tree canopies. & who wants to spoil the vista of their garden with bloody wire cages everywhere? I could never hurt them – in fact during those weeks of 40+ deg my husband was rescueing them!
    Maybe if everyone in the neighbourhood ceased with the chainsaws then they wouldn’t congregate at mine.
    Anybody want the joy of experiencing wildlife in your garden? then come & take home as many as you want!
    BLOODY POSSUMS!!

  4. Libby cameron on said:

    I enjoyed your article Angus, and have great pleasure in sending my kelpie out to send the rabbits that love to graze in our garden, but unfortunately it only works during the day. I was told recently, at my garden club, that at this time of year, intelligent placement of Christmas flashing fairy lights can keep little devils, including possums, at bay for at least the month of December!

  5. Freancesca on said:

    To me it seems so cool to have possum in the garden! I live in the UK and there is not much happening to my garden, except of snails and slugs. Thanks for the post! It is really interesting to read about these wonderful creatures! Good luck!

  6. Ros Eldershaw on said:

    Perhaps all the whingers could try planting a native food source for these little darlings and they will cease to destroy your exotics! These cute little animals are being progressively deprived of their habitat. What would you do if the local supermarket and corner store closed?
    Ros

    • Hi Ros – my garden is about 25% Australian plants from over 30 different species including trees, shrubs of all sizes, grasses and perennials. The possums don’t touch a single one of those plants, only the exotics. I don’t think the local store has closed down, but rather the fancy lolly shop has opened.

  7. Eugene on said:

    Quite fond of Permaculture principles. Co-founder David Holmgren is an extraordinarily good speaker and a novel thinker. When we were at his property during a tour, we met some people who had a thoroughly convincing management tool for pest management. They eat the buggers. Come up quite well on the fang apparently.

    Herbs and bacon, poached or stewed….A nice chianti…..

  8. I know possums are native critters, furry and cute but they have adapted so well to urban environments that in large cities they are now in plague proportions. House blocks that might have been part of the range of one family now support up to eight families! Gardens that used to adapt to occasional browsing are now being decimated by the sheer volume of possums. And possums seem to have a unique habitual behaviour – once they start to eat a plant they will keep coming back every night, eating off even the tiniest struggling new shoot to the point where they kill large magnolias, maples, even grape and wisteria vines, despite there being plenty of other food sources nearby. They do not seem to have the sense to spread their browsing around to avoid killing off their favourite food sources. Maybe our exotics are just too much to their liking – I like Catherine’s analogy of the lolly shop. I believe we will eventually have to change our thinking and protection policies as the numbers of possums keep increasing. Their success in urban environments has some similarities with that of foxes in England, Indian mynas here and perhaps pigeons all over the world – dare I even say rats – in that they have found a ready source of food in cities that then supports abnormal population densities. Yes I know they are native animals but some native plants are weeds outside their home environment! Hand-in-hand with their protection is the decrease in past enemies, cats, now locked in at night, making life even safer for them. Most possums show no fear at all.
    I don’t think any of the deterrents works for more than short period, because possums are smart little guys that soon work out what is a real threat or not, and they are determined too. Only physical exclusion methods really work, such as banding tree trunks and netting plants. I have had success with using the strips of spikes along fence tops. Possums love to travel along fences and these will stop access if you have at least a metre of spike-strip at the points where they get onto the fences. It can save your camellia hedges and it saved one of my trees.
    As a last note, I can sincerely recommend possum fur socks, purchased in New Zealand. They are the warmest I’ve ever worn.

    • Eugene on said:

      In many parts of Europe, if a rule is considered absurd, it is ignored.

      Just saying.

  9. Jon on said:

    I tried a sonic repeller — it worked for on the possums about a week. But it was very effective against the neighbour’s dog until the rain got in and destroyed the battery compartment.

    • Gah! That’s pretty pathetic. You’d think that something sold to be used outside would be DESIGNED and BUILT to be used outside

  10. Thanks for sharing the tips. I agree with you that possums haunt gardeners as they destroy fruit trees and leaves with their razor sharp claws and teeth. Putting up a physical barrier as a guard against possums is the easiest way to control them. Other ideas suggested by you are also very good and will be effective.

  11. Jane on said:

    What about flashing around wires is that dangerous or common ?

  12. Carole, on said:

    I recently planted some geraniums on my patio, and within days the possums were eating them at night. Someone suggested I leave the patio light on overnight and ‘Bingo’ it seems to be working. As possums are nocturnal they don’t like the light. Hopefully this will be a long term deterrent.

  13. Great article Angus. here in my city so much possums and its hard to grow plants. we really tried new technique to caught them and take them away from garden but its quite hard job

  14. Angus Stewart on said:

    Thanks Bryan. I have always worked on the principle of physical exclusion myself. A lot of work but at least you know it is going to be effective.
    Cheers
    Angus

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