Living with possums isn’t always easy, but there are a few things we can all do to live in harmony in our shared urban spaces. Let’s face it, we are never going to get rid of them altogether and why should we? They were here long before we were and it’s our destruction of their habitat that has forced them into our houses, gardens and lives. So what steps can we take to make sure we can all get along together?
By Helen Tuton
Possums in the roof
There’s one reason possums will shift into a roof spaces: lack of hollows in their habitat. You see, common brushtail possums use tree hollows for resting and nesting during the day and are pretty happy to do so. But the removal of remnant trees in urban areas has severely diminished the number of hollows available, so we end up sharing our houses with them. If you currently have possums in the roof, here are a couple of tips to encourage them back into the wild:
1. Make or buy a suitable nest box for the Common Brushtail possum and install it in your garden to act as an alternate den site for your furry friends.
2. Locate the nest the possum has built in your roof, remove it (when the possum is out and foraging) and place it inside the nest box. This will encourage the possum to move to its new location.
3. Place a piece of fruit inside the nest box. Apple or bananas seem to work best. This will entice the possum to investigate the nest box and, hopefully, decide to stay. It should be stressed that feeding possums is not recommended (except as a one-off during relocation).
4. Block access to your roof. Lop any overhanging branches and place collars around the trunks of trees that possums use to access the roof. Collars can be made from a number of products, but 60cm-wide sheet iron seems to work pretty well.
5. Place camphor blocks or mothballs in the roof space, particularly around the area where the nest site was. DON’T use both! Possums really dislike these smells and will be reluctant to return.
6. If possible, put a light in the roof space and leave it there for a few days (switched on, of course). The combination of alternate nesting site, bad smells and light should be sufficient to discourage them.
7. Once you are satisfied that the possum has left the building, block any known entrance points. Wipe around the entrance points with household bleach to remove possum scent and will make re-entry pretty unappealing.
Possums eating plants
Even the most patient and wildlife-friendly gardeners tear their hair out over this problem but, after substantial research, there are ways to stop your precious plants being gobbled by hungry possums! Possum repellents work by two methods: taste and smell. Research has shown that smell deterrents are somewhat more effective than taste types but also suggests that a starving possum will eat just about anything. So here’s a list of tried and true deterrents.
1. Net affected plants with shadecloth or white bird netting at night — quick, cheap and darned effective. This is absolutely the best way to protect young plants and seedlings from possum attack. You can also hang cat scare face or two. Available from nurseries, they look like cats and have reflective eyes — pretty scary if you’re a possum!
2. Sprinkle blood and bone fertiliser around the base of ornamental plants and fruit trees to act as a significant possum deterrent. They hate the smell and will be less inclined to munch on treated plants.
3. A homemade garlic spray of 2 tablespoons of crushed garlic in one litre of hot water, left to stand overnight, strained and sprayed onto foliage, fruits and tasty growing tips, is an old favourite of mine and it seems to work. Alternatively, try chillies or Indonesian fish sauce. Just remember to wash your produce before eating!
4. A spray made from quassia chips (chips of bark from a South American tree). Add 100g of chips to 2 litres water and heat for 1 hour before straining. Add 1 tablespoon of detergent. Dilute at a rate of 1 part of solution to 4 parts water and apply as a spray. Quassia chips are available at many nurseries and are pretty effective, forming the base ingredient of many commercially available possum repellents (eg: Poss-Off).
5. My grandmothers’ personal favourite, and one she swears by, is the tea-based deterrent. Boil two litres of water, add 4 heaped teaspoons of lapsang souchong tea and leave to cool. Strain and apply from a plastic spray bottle directly onto affected plants. Reapply every two weeks and always after rain. Make a fresh brew every time.
6. Whack a bit of undiluted Tabasco sauce on affected plants — a sure solution unless your possum likes it hot!
7. Apply a watered-down solution of a little detergent and some English mustard sprayed directly onto the foliage and the fruits of tasty plants.
8. Commercially available possum deterrents such as Poss-Off or Scat work by emitting an unpleasant odour. When used according to the instructions on the products, they claim to deter the little blighters.
It should be remembered that no one solution is guaranteed and reapplication of sprays should be a regular and ongoing activity. It is recommended that most sprays be reapplied every two to three weeks and after rain. Try using the repellent sprays along “possum highways” as well (eg tops of fences and well-used tree branches). As possums are creatures of habit, any disruption to their regular routine can be really upsetting and will often result in the possum moving elsewhere.