Negotiating with Possums

I’ve lost two of my favourite trees to possums: an apple and an apricot. I had thought it might be possible to live in harmony with the possums, and share the bounty of our fruit trees. We like to watch them scamper across the fence at night and point out their babies to our children. But the possums have been completely unreasonable.

They ate all the fruit, all the leaves, gnawed on the wood, and climbed out to the ends of the thinnest branches until they snapped.

Now, as a part of the larger ecosystem I don’t understand the behaviour of our possums. How could it be in their best interest to destroy their food source, and in such a maniacal and insistent way? They are creatures of small brain but you’d think they’d understand that such short-term thinking was detrimental to their survival.

There are a few ways to deal with possums in your garden. You can put up with them, acknowledge their right to exist in the urban landscape, and throw nets over the trees they favour before it’s too late. You can cut back all ‘access’ branches that touch the fence and house, wrap sheets of thick plastic around the trunk (loosely) to make the tree as hard to get into as possible. Not elegant solutions but you’ll sleep well at night…unless the sound of thundering paws on the roof keeps you awake.

The Department of Sustainabilty and Environment suggests building a ‘floppy fence’ made of chicken wire around the garden, the type that possums are unable to climb. They also say that none of the common repellents have much effect, but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest otherwise. I met a woman last week who swears by the ‘Off’ products (Poss-Off, Stay-Off, Keep Off), especially now that there is so little rain around to wash sprays away.

Other repellents I’ve had recommended to me include: sprinkling blood and bone or fish-based fertiliser around the base of the plant, wiping a paste of chilli on the branches, and spraying tea, bleach or dog urine on trees. This last one sounds not only impractical but, I think, highly unlikely to work. In the evenings here, large fat possums sit on the fencetop while our exuberant earth-bound dog spins in circles barking at them to absolutely no effect.

If you want to remove possums from your property it’s best to call in the pros. Possums are protected in Victoria so no matter how much they’re annoying you, take a measured approach. If you do trap them yourself (and you are only allowed to trap Brushtail not Ringtail possums, and only when they’re in your building) you can relocate them back onto the same property (which is pointless) or take them to the vet to be put down. Relocating them is illegal.

In any case, there are two problems with locating possums. Relocated possums usually die, often from predators. This might not trouble you while you’re looking at your decimated trees but maybe later it will. And because nature abhors a vacuum, when one possum is ousted another will soon appear.

It’s an entirely personal decision of course but this weekend I’m going shopping for to things: some ‘Off’ spray and a couple of very big nets.

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