28 March 2014

The Possum Dilemma

Several people have commented to me recently about how much damage possums are doing to their gardens.  I'm not sure if there are more possums around this year than previously, but it certainly feels like it! A detailed article in The Age a few weeks ago showed just how widespread the issue has become.

We are very lucky in the Country Garden, not having a possum problem there, and really only having to deal with rabbits (kept at bay by using raised beds) and the occasional kangaroo, who visit rarely and thankfully don't do too much damage.  But possums in the City Garden are definitely becoming a bit of a nuisance.  They generally haven't attacked the vegetables but with several fruit trees now planted these have become targets.  There weren't lots of nectarines this year anyway, which I think was due to possums eating lots of the blossoms as they flowered, but what did develop into fruit were all eaten and the few peaches on my new peach trees were also taken.

But the biggest damage seems to be from them snapping off branches as they jump through the trees and even more destructive is that they are gnawing off the shoots that will provide next season's branches.  The nectarine tree and the Crepe Myrtle have both suffered quite a bit in recent weeks.  And we only have the small ring-tail possums (although noticeably larger than they were a few months ago!) not the much larger and presumably more destructive bushy-tail ones.  

I find possums an intriguing dilemma.  In my permaculture studies we learnt about many varieties of pests and challenges, most of which have positive solutions that can be integrated into an overall system.  But possums seem to stand alone.  The solutions are generally barrier-based, which have an impact on functionality and aesthetics in gardens and they don't seem to be able to be harnessed for good not evil, at least not in mainland Australia.  In fact the very act of developing thriving permaculture and vegetable gardens is probably increasing the problem as the possums are drawn to these backyard pantries from their ever-decreasing habitats.

So short of netting the entire garden (which seems to be used increasingly in permaculture designs) and perhaps getting a big dog, which the chickens may not be happy about, I haven't found any other solutions.  But today I read in Sally Wise's new book A Year on the Farm about a solution suggested by Peter Cundall via Tino Carnivale (those names will make sense to Australian readers).  Apparently possums hate the smell of Vicks Vaporub, so they suggest putting it around tree trunks and possums will stay away.  So I've given it a go.  The good news is that the faint but unmistakeable whiff of possum wee has gone, overtaken by a menthol/eucalyptusy smell that I hope the neighbours don't mind but the possums hate.  I'll let you know whether it works.

ps. One variety of possum that isn't taking over the neighbourhood however, is the endangered Leadbeaters Possum, Victoria's faunal emblem.  This little possum lives in only very small pockets of forest in central Victoria, that continue to be logged for woodchips for paper production (including Reflex copy paper).  The group Friends of Leadbeaters Possums have been working tirelessly for years to try to help save the habitat from logging.  You can find out more about their work here.


  1. We have possums here, but they don't seem to be too destructive. It is squirrels that drive us crazy. They dig up new plants to hide pecans under--or look for pecans they thing they may've hidden, and they carry away a large share of foods just the morning of the day you plan to harvest. It's as if they know! I wonder if Vicks would work? I have used naphthalene before, but don't like to put it with veg. Hmm.

  2. Thankfully we don't have possums in the inner west of Melbourne (just rats) but I know its a different story on the eastern side of the City. I think its definitely a symptom of increasing urban density and the removal of native vegetation. My first Melbourne veggie patch was in a rental in Mt Waverley. There were loads of possums (but loads of native veg too) weirdly despite the possum that used to sit in the tree outside my window I don't think I ever lost a tomato once!

  3. We're lucky in that we don't have possum around here... I've only ever seen one in person once.... when I lived in Los Angeles years ago.

    I don't recall if you have a dog... but I suspect a small Hound or Terrier would go a long way toward protecting your garden from large rodents. ;-)