POSSUMS for & against
It can be a bonus having wildlife in the garden, but it’s not all fun and games for the humans when possums move in, writes JACKIE FRENCH
There are times when I love our possums. Actually, I always love our possums. But would I bring possums with me if my garden and I were being transferred to a desert island? Here’s the good and the bad. For: Possums nibble. If you have lots of roses, this can be a gentle and useful pruning. Our prolific ‘Climbing Iceberg’ and ‘Climbing Albertine’ roses do very nicely when possum pruned. The possums could even do a bit more and I’d be happy.
Against: Possums nibble. If you don’t have a lot of roses, the nibbling will become a major and even a fatal feast. The answer is to grow more roses.
For: When you have too many fruit trees, as we do, possums are really useful for helping to consume unwanted fruit and so help prevent fruit fly. They especially love loquats. We can never quite make enough loquat jam to cope with our crop.
Against: Possums are gourmets. We grow 132 kinds of apples but our possums only eat the old-fashioned Jonathans, which are my favourite too. So far, the tally has been possums 6821, Jackie nil.
For: Possums are hilarious, sliding down the roof, peering in the window. I’ll never forget the well-grown baby possum leaping onto its mum’s back in fright when we shone the torch on it. Mum collapsed under the weight, stood up and punched the baby so soundly that it rolled down the hill. No, it wasn’t hurt – it just marched back and began to eat the orange leaves. Against: Possums are not so hilarious when they are sliding down the roof at 2am.
For: Territory defence. The grumpy old male who lives in our ceiling stops rats invading, and deters other male possums from setting up residence. Against: You cannot toilet train a possum. Mostly, unless they’re scared, they use the outdoors as their dunny but nonetheless there is a growing stain on my study ceiling. Also, although a possum’s growls at 8pm are hilarious, the growls and shrieks at 2am are not. For: Possums love to eat the juvenile leaves of the blue gum family, which are soft blue and slightly floury looking, and beautiful either fresh or dried in flower arrangements. Grow these and your possum will gorge on them and have less room for eating your fruit and roses. Keep them low-growing and you’ll have them for your vases, too.
Against: If you or the possums forget about your coppiced blue gum it will become an enormous forest giant and be hard to get rid of. Plant one of these only if you are sure you and the possums will be able to keep it under control.
For: Your garden may not be a national park, but you’ll have wildlife. Really ‘wild life’, especially at 2am. Against: There’s no ‘against’ to this one. Learn to live with possums. After all, they were here before we were. Plant extra food for them. Use possum repellent on new foliage, or fruit bags to protect your favourites. And just enjoy the wildlife – even at 2am.
“We grow 132 kinds of apples but our possums only eat the old-fashioned Jonathans”