Not as innocent or
cute as they look.
This is not a story about Dame Edna and her Mooney Ponds garden. It is about the joys of discovering wildlife inhabiting your backyard and the pain that the little devils inflict on your prize plants. This is a two edged sword, so I must confess to being very happy to sit on the fence when it comes to the possum problem. It is not just possums that haunt gardeners when it comes to hungry herbivores. Kangaroos, bandicoots, scrub turkeys and lyre birds are a few of the native animals that can wreak havoc, whilst introduced pests such as rats, rabbits and even feral deer can also be problematic in different areas of Australia.
A whole host of creative ideas come out on gardening talkback whenever this topic is raised and many of these are often of limited value. Scare tactics such as lines of shiny CD’s or used silver bladders from wine casks, replicas of predatory birds such as eagles and scarecrows tend to work for a very finite period before the offenders return as they learn that the perceived threat has no real ‘teeth’.
In my own garden I have the ironic problem that the biggest pest of the copious amounts of kangaroo paws I have planted is a rabid bunch of swamp wallabies. However, I have not yet struck a time when the damage was serious enough to make me even want to contemplate jeopardising the experience of these marvellous marsupials sharing my garden.
Of course once the little buggers found their way into my newly planted veggie patch it was a totally different story. Through trial and error I rapidly decided that physical rather than any kind of chemical protection was, for my situation, not only more effective in preventing damage for less time invested, but was also more in tune with my desire to achieve a more sustainable and low maintenance garden. Small rolls of chicken wire arranged over the top of seedlings has proven very effective in preventing casual grazing animals, plus the rolls can be easily moved from one part of the garden to another.
Two masters of destruction
Bird netting has proven to be a very effective option to protect fruit trees and this method could easily be adapted to help prevent the annihilation of prize rose bushes or magnificent magnolias. If you are really serious about your vegetable garden then erecting a mesh cage of suitable size will exclude just about all the worst offenders from your prized patch.
An alternative method of trying to repel damaging creatures lies in the numerous chemical repellents available to combat hungry herbivores. Products such as D-ter and Poss Off are based on chemical ingredients that are unpleasant for the animal concerned and the hope is that one can not only provide temporary protection for vulnerable plants but also to change the habits of the offending critters such that they find greener pastures elsewhere. As with all chemical controls it is important to research the active ingredients and ensure that they are safe for the use you are intending, especially if food plants are involved. Perhaps the greatest drawback with chemical controls is their temporary nature which means regular re-applications particularly after heavy rain. A natural alternative deterrent that has been used for many years is a solution made from soaking chips from the Quassia tree (Picrasma excelsa) in water, providing a bitter spray that deters without harming animals.
Another simple measure that can limit the entry of possums and other climbing creatures such as cats into your garden is to fit smooth metal collars around the trunks of trees in order to shut down routes for such animals to get over fences. Coupled with this idea could be a physical barrier for situations where the garden is completely bordered by a rigid fence line. A product called ‘Thorny DevilTM Fence Spikes’ aims to stop animals such as possums and cats (not to mention wild humans….) from being able to enter the garden and to discourage birds from perching on your fence as a prelude to making a meal of your veggie beds. Such measures will certainly reduce problems but it is unlikely to deter every possible predator and it will require a fence with no gaps. It also presents a rather military look that may not be to every gardener’s liking. On the other hand it is a permanent measure that requires little or no maintenance once installed. Further information can be found at www.securi-cap.com .
I have regularly heard the fruit tree’s friend, Peter Cundall, recommend a device he uses at home called Bird Gard. This is another chemical-free idea that works purely by sound. The website www.birdgard.com.au provides a wealth of information on a variety of devices that can be used in different situations from large scale horticulture to the home garden. The limitations of such systems are that sound will not travel through physical barriers such as walls and is only effective at certain distances depending on the exact nature of the system. Clearly some careful research is called for before investing in a technology based approach such as this. Not only birds are targeted by this system, with pests such as kangaroos and possums also apparently able to be repelled using appropriate sounds.
In summary, there is a wide range of measures that can be adopted to suit the gardener’s individual circumstance and it may come down to deciding what your philosophy will be with regard to the relationship between your garden’s flora and fauna. My personal preference is to put up with a level of damage and to use a range of non-chemical measures that are designed to change the behaviour of the animals concerned without causing them harm, and in such a way that they will still continue to have a positive presence in my garden.
About the author
Angus Stewart is the author of several horticutural books including "Creating an Australian Garden". Angus also appears regularly on Australian television and radio shows. Angus's website is called "Gardening with Angus".