How to possum-proof your garden

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
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Thinkstock

Spring means blossom and new leaves … and possums. Possums love spring. In fact possums are one of the few native animals to have done really well from all the changes in the past 200 years. Possums were probably on the headland as the first ships sailed into Port Jackson, yelling (in a possum sort of way), "Roses! Apple trees! Passionfruit!"

I love having possums in the garden. You get all the fun of living with animals (those cute furry faces peering at you from the trees, even the thuds on the roof as they slide down it at 2am) but don't have to bother taking them to a kennel or finding a possum-sitter when you go on holiday. And with a very little bit of work, you can even have your garden and your possums, by growing enough for them and you too.

Possums have simple needs (a roof over their head, central heating in winter, summer insulation) all of which your house will provide quite nicely.

Of course you may not want possums in your roof cavity. Urine stains on your ceiling and shrieks and bumps in the night are not endearing. In which case put a couple of radios turned up loud in your roof cavity or even hire a mobile disco (all noise and flashing lights) so the possums move out, almost certainly yelling at you as they clamber down the walls.

Now net your eaves so they can't get in again. It's also a good idea to cover your chimney with chicken wire so the possum can't get in for two reasons. First, to protect the possums (they may get stuck and die) and secondly, to protect you from the trauma of a dead possum in the chimney or sooty pawprints across the floor and up the curtains.

If you don't have a useful tall gum tree with a nice possum-sized hollow (few of us do, as hollow trees and branches tend to fall down) you'll need to make a few possum "houses" for them to choose from.

Don't buy hollow logs from a nursery — they've just been plundered from the bush, leaving other animals homeless. Buy bark instead. Roll it up, so it's about a metre long but a possum can crawl inside. Wire some into branches or your eaves or even put a pole in the middle of the garden with a cross piece and wire the bark onto that.

Feeding your possum
If you don't feed your possum it will feed itself — with your rose buds and other cherished pieces of garden. Rose buds however aren't preferred possum food — it's just that that's all they can get in most suburban gardens.

Instead, plant a few gum trees — miniature ones. Don't panic. If you buy miniature varieties and keep them trimmed low they're not going to take over your garden. Snip off the tops — and keep them snipped. It's called coppicing.

The trees will turn into small shrubs, the possums will have a wonderful supply of juvenile gum tips, one of their favourite foods, and you'll have juvenile gum leaves to take indoors which both look and smell beautiful and last wonderfully in vases — a damn sight better than roses.

Possums also adore bottlebrushes, tea trees banksias, grevilleas, lilly pillies, hakeas and wattles and especially apple tree leaves and loquat fruit and blossom. I find that a hedge of apple trees keeps our colony of possums happy — they eat the tops of the trees, I get the fruit at the bottom. They also eat most of the new loquat leaves and loquat fruit, which is a good thing, as two loquat trees give far too much fruit for our household.

Possums can be deterred from climbing up your trees and bushes with a "possum guard" — a wide ring of hard plastic (the base of an old garbage bin, perhaps) with a slit cut in it and a hole so it fits snugly around the tree. The possum can't climb over it — and neither can cats, if you want to encourage birds, too.

Actually what possums really like best is tabouli with lots of garlic and an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. If you have a convenient tree you might like to nail on a bit of wood to make a possum feeding place — not necessarily tabouli but bits of fruit and carrots and the odd peanut butter sandwich.

Possums can become very tame. You don't want them to become too tame — tame possums tend to climb up your body (which is cute when they, and their claws, are little but can really become painful as they put on weight) and sit on your head (which is also cute but less so when they suddenly pee).

But having them dart out to munch a bit of carrot as you stand watching is a wonderful experience — almost as good as having your resident possums shriek at you if you turn the music up too loud during the day or have been away for the weekend so they haven't been fed. (Yes, I'm serious. Anyone can watch happy animals being fed at a zoo — but you have to live with animals to have them yell at you.)

The real secret of living with possums though is to regard them as members of the family. Just like no child is trouble free, neither are possums. But they can fill your life — and your garden — with an enormous amount of joy.

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