Mark SheahanHow to kangaroo-proof your garden

When I bought my block on top of the Lake George escarpment near Bungendore, NSW, in 2007, a friend said “you’ll never grow a garden here!” He had a point – too cold, too hot, too windy, too dry … and then there’s that ‘Bywong clay’. And, as it turned out, there was also more than a handful of kangaroos. 

Grey kangaroos

Grey kangaroos

Determined to prove the doubters wrong, I carefully constructed my garden beds … half river sand, and the rest made from a mix of bought ‘topsoil’, the local clay, and my ‘secret’ ingredient, coco-peat. I planted over a hundred ‘boutique’ native plants (sourced mainly from Park Lane Nursery back in Wangaratta) and over their first summer, they thrived.

Satisfied, I went away for a month in April – May, and came back to find …. they’d all been eaten down, or out. I had lost probably half of them. A third still had some green foliage surviving at their base, and the rest were (remarkably I thought) untouched.

I’ve never seen as many kangaroos in any rural area as exist in these parts …. they love the Canberra hobby-farm landscape, obviously, with its pastures un-pressured by commercial flocks, a dam on every 5 acre block … and landowners who not only don’t shoot them, but some who even buy hay for these, the most drought-resilient of animals.

And its these animals that pose the greatest challenge to the gardener here. The trials and errors of the past five years have taught me some strategies that have helped overcome the frustration of that first autumn, and grow a garden in this environment so heavily populated with kangaroos.

As you’re unlikely to keep kangaroos out of your garden (bigger kangaroos can jump a 2m fence), here are some strategies and insights for managing kangaroos in your garden:

My 'kangaroo-magnet' buffalo lawn

My ‘kangaroo-magnet’ buffalo lawn

#1: Don’t plant lawn. I like the small area of buffalo grass lawn I installed in that first summer to replace the sea of pavers I inherited. It’s not invasive, and will survive the droughts and frosts of these parts. But it’s a mecca for kangaroos. It brings them right into the garden, and once there, they can’t resist the other tasty treats on offer. I don’t regret the lawn, but it means more reliance on the other strategies below.

#2 Kangaroos will eat spiky plants. Plants with the spikiest, thorniest foliage may still be palatable to kangaroos.

#3 You need to rely mainly on ‘unpalatable’ plants. There are some genera of native plants that are, generally, unpalatable to kangaroos.

Australian native plants that are unpalatable to kangaroos
•  Plants with oily or fragrant foliage. Plants with high oil content (including some which have fragrant foliage) include species of Eremophila, Prostanthera, Westringia, Eriostemon, and Myoporum appear almost totally unpalatable to ‘roos. Little wonder some of these have become the ‘woody weeds’ of our rangelands. Other ‘woody weed’ genera will also likely be left untouched by ‘roos.

Eremophila nivea remains unpalatable to kangaroos

Eremophila nivea remains unpalatable to kangaroos

•  Plants with hairy or sticky leaves. There’s a million words in the botanical dictionary for ‘hairy’, and if a plant’s foliage is one of these (particularly if its ‘glaucous’) it may be unpalatable. Examples include Ptilotus, Chrysocephalum, Lysiosepalum and Xerochrysum. Genera which are, as a rule, palatable, may have species which aren’t, such as Acacia howittii or Acacia verniciflua. Also, some strappy-leafed plants, like Lomandra are generally left un-touched, but others (e.g. Dianella) seem to be more palatable.

•  Woody plants. Some plants (like Callistemon) seem to have too much cellulose (i.e, are too woody) to be palatable.

Genera with these features should make up the bulk of the plantings, particularly early on.

#4. Guard everything in Year 1: Young plants, and particularly those straight out of the nutrient rich potting mix of the nursery, are particularly palatable. Even plants of genera that are generally unpalatable, should be guarded in Year 1. ‘Guarding’ can include plastic or mesh tree guards, netting, or old chicken wire from the tip, either placed around or on top of the plants (depending on the plants form).

Kangaroo in my garden in winter - note dead lawn, it loves my plants!

Kangaroo in my garden in winter – note dead lawn, it loves my plants!

#5 Kangaroos hit plants hard in winter: In summer, there’s lots of growth everywhere and the garden isn’t hassled by kangaroos. Guards can be removed after the last frost (i.e., mid-October) but should be re-installed around the first frost (i.e., late April). The unpalatable genera can probably remain un-guarded in their second year. In a drought year, it may be necessary for plants to be guarded all summer.

Hakea caged up for winter protection from kangaroos

Hakea ‘Burrendong Beauty’ caged up for winter protection from kangaroos

#6 Some plants remain palatable to kangaroos, others don’t. In later years, many plants may survive year-round un-guarded and only be ‘lightly pruned’ by the marsupial herbivores. In my garden these include Grevillea, Melaleuca, Baeckea and Scaevola. Just observe and guard if necessary. Others, however, will be munched no matter how old they are. These seem to include plants in the Papilionaceae (pea-flowers) and Rutaceae (Correa, Boronia) families, among others. Sadly, there’s not much point in planting these unless you’re prepared to keep them guarded, particularly in winter.

Hakea uncaged in late summer

Hakea uncaged in late summer

My garden is composed entirely of plants that don’t grow taller than a metre …. but taller plants will of course be right once they get above browsing height.

#7 Forget foliar sprays. I reckon there’s a lot of rubbish spoken about the effectiveness of foliar sprays. Whatever the peddlers of these products might take out of your wallet, in my experience they won’t work. neem oil, and other such potions recommended to me, seem to just make the foliage shinier and yummier for kangaroos. They might as well recommend a spray of dishwater!

Some have suggested the use of foliar sprays used in New Zealand to deter possums, but I was told these are not registered for use in Australia.

Epacris in its kangaroo-proof cage

Epacris in its kangaroo-proof cage

#8 Don’t believe the peri-urban myths: Myths include the application of blood and bone as a deterrent, but of course, you wouldn’t want to put that on your natives. Or, even (for the blokes) pissing around your garden to ‘mark your territory’, but first-hand experience suggests this is no deterrent at all!

#9 Roos will not only eat, but trample. Roos will be oblivious to whatever paths you’ve made through your garden. Large kangaroos can easily trample or dislodge plants from your garden. I’ve lost a couple of semi-advanced plants from this. Strong, high and sturdy stakes (with or without guards) around your plants may provide some protection.

#10 Try a dog?: Would a house-dog deter ‘roos at night? I don’t know … but it might.

The result: Despite the cold, the hot, the dry and the wind, and despite the native clay soil, I managed to establish a garden that is diverse and attractive, as for 6 or 7 months of the year, the unsightly guarding can be dispensed with. By employing these strategies, I’m now OK with kangaroos in the garden (they’re certainly a highlight for visitors!) but you certainly need to manage their impacts to have any kind of garden in kangaroo country.

[This article first appeared in the Australian Native Plant Society Canberra Region (Inc) journal]

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Mark Sheahan

About Mark Sheahan

Mark is a native plant enthusiast with an interest in smaller plants (others may say 'cottage garden natives') that can be shaped and pruned, and also banksias and grafted grevilleas. Most of his gardening has been in heavy clay soils in dry cold climates (challenge!) but he now finds himself on the north coast of New South Wales, gardening frost free on damp sands!

7 thoughts on “How to kangaroo-proof your garden

  1. Christine Byrne on said:

    Thank you for a timely article, as we warm up to planting a block in the Adelaide Hills. We see roos almost every day, and its going to be hard to juggle avoiding undesirable native and non-native ‘weeds’ with my desire to have an attractive, native-based garden that supports a diversity of bird life.

    Are there any correas, banksias, or warratahs that I might be successful with? Are there other acacias besides verniciflua and howittii (both of which I’ve already planted) that I should consider? Are the native tussock grasses as attractive as the names “kangaroo” and “wallaby” grass would suggest?


    • ironbark on said:

      Hi Chris
      Correas seem to be very palatable to ‘roos, so not recommended. So do many banksias, but guarding may work to protect until established. Ditto for Waratahs.
      If you have roo problems, guard everything year-round in Year 1, then in winter for years 2 and 3, then experiment with not guarding, and see if the plants are being browsed. Ask your native nursery about which wattles may have glaucous foliage and be unpalatable, and where possible use locally native species.
      Kangaroo Grass (Themeda) and Wallaby Grass (Danthonia) are attractive, particularly the Themeda, I’d say.
      Cheers, Mark

      • Christine Byrne on said:

        Thanks for the reply, Mark. I will probably try the correas but limit them to right up against the wrap-around decking, on the theory that might make them easier to protect.. There are also two older and well established correas near our front fence, remnants of the time our property was operated as a native plant nursery. Maybe I’ll see if I can strike those, as they may have survived because they were less palatable.

        I’ll substitute lomandras for the kangaroo grass.

        We planted a small screen of A verniciflua and howittii and Hakea laurina ‘Stockdale Rose’ over Christmas. We followed advice from Mt. Barker State Flora natives nursery as to local species, but I selected the two acacias based on the attractive combination of foliage textures, not roo resistance! We did put in stakes and tree guards –we’ve seen a roo barrel over a 4-5 year old stringybark. Thus far the roos have left the acacias alone, but have gone to great lengths to get at the Stockdale Rose hakeas. Fingers crossed that they’ll be less tasty as the plants toughen up to post-nursery living (they were in 2l nersery pots).

        Are westringias (eventually) woody enough to deter the roos? I like bottle brushes and grevilleas but do want to offer as wide a variety of nectar sources as possible.

  2. Maria Bell on said:

    It has been my experience (here on the Coffs Coast) that Kangaroos only eat grasses.

    We have a mix of native and exotic grasses around our house, and the ‘roos seem to enjoy most of these. They also relish our mondo grass (which we have edging our garden beds) during the dry season (ie, in winter).

    The ‘roos will take advantage of shade to rest during the heat of the day throughout the hotter months and will ‘prepare their possies’ in our garden flattening out an area, but not eating any of the plants they are laying on.

    We have had the same ‘roo family group visit our 2.5 acres garden for over ten years now and we delight in sharing our space with them, if at times we curse them for making our mondo look so untidily cropped!

  3. Alison Stewart on said:

    Substitute “deer” for “kangaroo” in your posting, Mark, and you could have been writing about gardening in many parts of Europe and North America. All the same strategies are needed here if it’s impossible to keep the animals out, including concentrating on species they (generally) don’t eat, guarding everything during the first year or two, and guarding the more susceptible plants every winter. It’s such a shame, though, to have to look at wire cages for a substantial chunk of the year, instead of the lovely natural shapes of shrubs and perennials that we dreamed of when we designed and planted the garden. I am still trying to keep the deer out even though they can also jump 2m fences, just like roos. My current strategy is to try to block their view of what’s in the garden by a combination of wall plus laurel hedge all along the front boundary: if they can’t see in, then in general they don’t seem to bother investigating. I have also, at least in some years, had some success with a (very expensive) deterrent spray called Liquid Fence, though last year one particularly voracious stag chomped determinedly through the “yuk” barrier, and only caging literally scores of plants (from Pittosporums down to tulips!) succeeded in protecting them from him. Thankfully I have seen no sign of him this year – perhaps he has turned into venison on someone’s dinner table!

  4. Tony Vitaliano on said:

    Hi Mark , not just in Canberra’s outskirts but we live a mere 40 minutes from Sydney CBD in the North West of Sydney and our gardens are constantly smashed by Wallabies who although cuter than roos are the monsters of your garden. So far, they haven’t touched lomandra, Dorianthes, Kangaroo Paw or any native grasses such as Pennisetum but everything else is prominent on the menu. It is a constant battle to maintain a garden in our area between the Wallabies and the Rabbits

  5. Mel on said:

    We have experimented with many trees and plants and have found anything with a strong smell in the leaf deters them. Penstonemons are one of the successful plants growing untouched by the kangaroos here.

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