Here’s how to garden around possums in your yard. Hint: you have to outwit them

There is nothing more disheartening for a gardener when they find a plant that has been chewed down to the stem and the crime scene points to an obvious suspect.

Living with possums is a fact across Australia as the suburbs slowly and steadily encroach into the bushland.

Gardeners have shared all sorts of home remedies to try and repel possums using garlic spray, mothballs, blood and bones, and even dog hair.

Tasmanian Land Conservancy wildlife expert Sally Bryant said humans and animals can coexist happily.

“You can have a really beautiful native garden that is home to native wildlife,” she said.

dr Bryant said if possums are a problem, they could be outwitted.

“We have all kinds of techniques for netting, barriers, floppy top fences, electric fences.

“Fencing may be required until crops are established, and then a certain portion of that may go to wildlife.”

It’s obvious when a hungry possum is visiting.(ABC Radio Hobart: Georgie Burgess)

Lonely browsers

Tasmania has five species of possum including the brushtail possum, sugar glider, ringtail possum and two species of pygmy possum.

The brushtail possum is found in all major cities in Australia.

dr Bryant said the bushtail is the largest species and has done the most damage in gardens.

She said possums are “seekers” when it comes to food, making them a successful species.

A bush possum in a Launceston backyard
Possums are browers, and if they like what’s on offer, they’ll come back.(Supplied: Environmental Institute)

“Opossums will eat whatever is available,” she said.

She said possums are mostly solitary but can establish territories.

“You can have small groups of possums that overlap,” she said.

“Often it’s just one or two opossums that can cause problems.

“We’re not talking about plagues in urban areas, but farmland and farmland can have high densities that cause problems.”

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Living with possums

Gardening around possums

Hobart nursery manager Lauren Chandler said possum problems were common among her customers.

“Unfortunately, it’s very common for people to have a problem with possums,” Ms. Chandler said.

“It’s a problem that started on larger lots, but now it’s at the bottom in residential areas.”

She said some people swore by their home remedies to repel possums, while others said only fences worked.

“People are trying a spray that is a repellent. They basically spray it until they give up because it doesn’t taste very good,” she said.

“Sometimes it can be a short-term fix if you grow vegetables, but you can’t use it as a permanent solution.”

A garden surrounded by a fence all around, with native bushland outside the fence
A possum-safe garden in northern Tasmania.(Supplied: Ray Countryman)

Ms Chandler said floppy-top fences are an effective measure to keep possums out.

“They don’t like unstable surfaces.”

Ms Chandler said some plants are less attractive to possums, such as B. prickly plants, but nothing can be guaranteed.

“Once the plants are established, they can generally nibble a bit.

“It only protects them until the stalks and trunks are strong enough for them to support a possum.”

Two possums on a clothesline eating an apple.  It's night.
dr Bryant says feeding possums can cause more problems.(Included: Geocatch)

Different strategies

Gardeners in a major social media group shared possum remedies, including collecting dog hair from groomers to place around fruit trees and vegetables, and hanging blood and bones in stockings from trees.

Others said garlic spray and mothballs worked for them.

For Quamby Brook gardener Ray Landsmann, a fence structure he dubbed “the Berlin Wall” was the only way to save his vegetables.

“There are two possum-proof electric wires on top of the fence,” he said.

“It works wonderfully, I wouldn’t have a vegetable garden without it.

Other gardeners reported that having a dominant male possum in their garden kept others away, or feeding possums meant the marsupials had less appetite for their plants.

A diamond sign reading Land for Wildlife on a fence.
Landowners involved in the Land for Wildlife project will receive a sign to place on their fence.(ABC: Kim Honan)

dr Bryant said feeding wildlife could cause other problems.

“Our philosophy is to give them a resource to choose from because if you artificially feed them, the behavior of the animals changes and they hang around the feeder regularly,” she said.

“There’s all these negatives, but it’s not hard and fast.”

dr Bryant said property owners found creative ways to live with possums, including in the architecture of the home.

“If you have possums in your roof, you can install boxes under your eaves for them to sleep in and not be in your attic voids,” she said.

She also pointed to the successful Land for Wildlife program, which has been running for 20 years and supports private landowners to volunteer for conservation on their properties.

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