Possums: Garden Guests or Garden Pests

There is absolutely no doubt that many visitors to our gardens can be considered guests or pests, depending on their numbers, the damage they do, and the joy or anguish they bring to your backyard.    In my own garden this season the rosellas have wreaked havoc by chewing fresh rose shoots, while their friends, the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, have devoured the walnuts, and are currently making their way through the quince orchard.  While I love birds, and actively encourage them into my garden, my patience certainly wears thin when they do so much damage.  

For many of you however, it is the increase in possum numbers this summer, which is having an impact on your gardens and testing your patience.  In Adelaide there are two possum species which visit gardens regularly.  The Brush Tail Possum, the larger of the two, has, as it's name suggests, a bushy, brush-like tail.  Brushtails are about the size of a cat, are nocturnal, and quite lively by nature.  They are territorial about protecting nesting lodgings, and can often be heard growling ... or thundering across your roof as they chase off other possums!  The Common Ringtail Possum is smaller than the Brushtail and has a distinctive slim, white tail.    As habitats have changed, both possums have become quite at home in urban gardens, munching their way through fresh young shoots, eating fruit and even defoliating well established trees.  

Possums are a native animal, and are protected by law.   Once residents were allowed to trap possums and relocated them.  This practice however, is no longer allowed, and home owners need to find ways to garden in harmony with the wildlife in their backyard, including the possums.   

It is likely that you will never fully rid your garden of possums, but you can reduce the damage they do by planting species they do not like to eat and discouraging their foot traffic and entry to trees by trying some or all of the following:

  • A very hungry possum will eat almost anything, but given the choice, they are unlikely to eat plants which are highly fibrous or which have a strong aroma.  Try planting Cordyline, Jasmine, Hellebore, Agave, Aloe, Dracena, Sanseveria, Brugmansia, Ficus, Mint, Bromeliads, Ajuga, Murraya and Rosemary to name a few.  .  
  • Exclusion works very well.  If you have the space, grow your greens and other favourite vegetables and flowers in a netted area.  Try protected raised bed like the VegePod or VegTrug which have shade cloth like covers.   If a raised bed is not an option, there are simple frames which are easy to assemble, and over which you can drape bird netting or attach chicken wire.  The frames, once constructed, can be easily moved or dismantled as needed. 
  • Attach clear plastic collars around trees like Gingko or Maple to prevent possums from climbing the tree and eating fresh spring shoots and flowers. The collars may look unsightly, but if it saves your favourite shade tree it's definitely worth the effort.
  • Some gardeners have moderate success with repellants such as PossOff, and by applying blood and bone or home made garlic sprays to susceptible plants.  It is important, however, to ensure you change your sprays and 'smells' regularly so that possums do not become accustomed to them.  
  • Attach 'spikes' to your fenceline to prevent possums using it as an access 'highway' around your garden, or place them in dedicated positions to prevent the possums jumping from the fence to their favourite trees, or to your roof.  There are several commercial options available, and you will find them in store adjacent the Timber Counter.  
  • For possums in your sheds, try using camphor balls to deter them from closed spaces. 

Whether you see possums as a guest or a pest, don't let let them destroy the happiness your garden gives you.  Find a way to garden with them, and be prepared to have a little damage in your garden.  


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