I Do NOT Hate Possums

Kumquat Tree with Possum Chew Marks

I don’t mind sharing my garden with possums. That is no lie. Maybe it’s not exactly the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but honestly, Your Honour, if possums want to pick some citrus fruit or nibble the tender new shoots of my rose bushes, that’s okay by me. Heck, they even live in my roof (and make quite a bit of noise during the day doing whatever it is possums do while “sleeping”) and that doesn’t bother me (though it does Frank so he’s building a possum box and is hatching other schemes to move the squatters to less up-close-and-personal digs). What is not okay is for a possum to strip bark off my fruit trees leaving them fighting for their very survival.

Possum Bite Marks in Mandarin Trunk

I first noticed this bad habit (and its disastrous consequences – not a single avocado last year) last September. Putting a plastic pot around the trunk half way up my avocado tree worked a treat (the pot is still there). Is that why the possum is eating my citrus trees this year? Payback for blocking last spring’s tender meal? Whatever his motivation, this is clearly the time of year possums (at least mine) start in on their major fruit-destruction-initiative. The bananas were tasted and spared – not ripe enough perhaps? We’re talking about cutting down the spear and bringing it in the house just to be on the safe side.

Possum-nibbled Banana

We’ve also put in a bit of an effort to protect the kumquat tree from more attacks. I don’t like our chances of keeping the possum out of the tree – between the fence and all the shrubbery and branches, there are just too many paths into itย – but we have to try to make it just that little bit too bothersome for him to climb up and chow down.

Kumquat with Possum Defense

You’d think all those oranges and lemons he’s eating would be enough but no, my possumย has to set about actually killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Silly bugger.

Okay, maybe I do hate possums just a tiny bit.ย 

About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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16 Responses to I Do NOT Hate Possums

  1. beechcreekproject says:

    I never knew a possum would do that kind of damage to a tree. We have quite a few around these parts as well but the only thing they’ve bothered so far is the cat food we put outside for a few wild cats. Of course I don’t have fruit trees so maybe that is more their liking. Good luck on your possum problem.

    • I think you have opossums – possums only live in Australia – I don’t think they’re very closely related (both marsupials, but then so are kangaroos ๐Ÿ™‚ ) I suspect yours might like nice tender bark from avocado and citrus trees since they are also omnivores. Basically they are not bigots about their food, they’ll eat anything ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      • beechcreekproject says:

        Learn something new every day. You are right. Ours are opossums but we’ve always called them possums. Didn’t realize Australia had a possum that was completely different from our opossum. Well best of luck to you on your possum problem. I’ll just keep feeding our opossums cat food. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Laura I just found this site and they recommend seaweed hung in the trees – worth a try:

    • Fascinating – I’m going to have to try this. It’s certainly easy enough (like most gardeners, I have liquid seaweed fertiliser on my shelf) so that’s no deterrent. Plus it makes sense that many (if not all) possums would find seaweed stinky and therfore look for better hunting grounds rather than put up with a bad smell at meal time.

      My hubby is building a possum box to try to encourage the possum to move out of our roof cavity, I will keep the seaweed trick in mind during this “encouragement” phase ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Robyn says:

        Could it be a possum that eats the oranges on my tree? Or is it a RAT!? “It” leaves hollowed-out half oranges on the tree. I’ve heard that there are more rats in Sydney than people (probably the same in any other capital city too!), but, must admit I,d rather it was a possum, – than a disgusting rat! :/

        • Robyn, my money is on a possum. If yours is like my orange tree, some of the hollowed out shells have pretty small openings. Too small for something like a rat to have left them. It would take long hands/fingers to reach in and remove the segments. And I have a hard time visualising a rat hanging off the end of the branch (dangling by its tail?) to get at some of that fruit. Or that’s my story because I do not want rats :-0

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  5. Alan says:

    I hate them they strip my fruit trees before I can get an orange off them, found solution but can’t publish will annoy greenies, 1am just seen three in tree.

    • Oh dear. I don’t think I’d like your solution.

      Interestingly, I was at the local veg shop yesterday and there were two women looking at the discount apples. They were shopping for their possums. The bought sweet corn and apples. They set it out every few days and they say the possums leave their trees alone. I don’t think a few paltry offerings would stop my possums from decimating my trees (they get 90% of my avocadoes which makes me crazy) but I don’t begrudge them. The possums were here before I was, their forefathers were here before mine were. I try to think of it as them sharing their space with me, not the other way around. I hope you learn to appreciate your little garden-mates and lay down your arms. There are no winners in a civil war.

  6. Jeff Griffiths says:

    Hey there I’m from Australia and have up to 12 possums living in or around my back yard! In the first few years they terrorized my fruit trees, especially cumquats, oranges, herbs, in fact most plants! I’m sure friends or relatives have excess food for them. My decision was easy just embrace them like your own pets. Feed them regular fruit and veg scraps, occasionally (except toxic foods do some research) bread, they are incredibly adaptive little buggers. Just remember because they forage, rustle, climb and generally get around mischievously they will help pollinate, encourage new growth on most fruiting trees, prune in hard to get to places and poop out seeds that will eventually become other trees or shrubs, (durrr…. natural part of ecology? perhaps their bums wont seed an avocado though ha ha) similar to what other animals do (birds) Be patient u will have success, collar the tree sure but If in your roof just put a lamp or light in there an turn on, this make them leave on there own (their nocturnal they hate light during sleepy times) when they go out for food close off access points.( if you leave your front door unlocked do u think u won’t be robbed! ) urbanization is our problem not theirs! I’m not a greenie just intelligent, and so we should be! At the moment I have never seen so much fruit on my cumquat trees and they trim the top so I don’t have to prune, just look up symbiosis. Get your feeding tray up in lower limbs of a tree so they don’t come to the ground as well! Cats an dogs do more damage to environment than they ever will! Good luck!
    I have a baby on back now, watching them at night is far more entertaining than eating the fruit that I can get from a local supermarket sorry!
    Adelaide South Australia

    • What a great comment. You are certainly an over-achiever in the possum department. I thought they were territorial and chased away outsiders but maybe yours have learned to cooperate in order to get you down the shops to buy them more treats ๐Ÿ™‚

      I couldn’t agree more, think of them as pets and enjoy. Fruit and veg is so cheap for us to buy where for them our gardens may be the difference between survival or not. If only they were better at picking and eating an entire fruit. That wastage makes me crazy. The rats seem to love the fallen fruits though so who am I to break the symbiotic relationship they’ve devised.

  7. DW says:

    What an amazing kumquat tree! And I ponder the difference in manners (and foresight!) with your possums and our US opossums. The punchline to the hour-long story from my small yard with my large hunting dog is, “The Opossum was PLAYING dead!” Brilliant. I suspected their visits when I moved in, but now there are babies (in the yard with my dog, who I would be willing to bet was down there affectionately licking the baby who, indeed, was playing dead, 10 days after daddy…..). Only just learned that that’s an involuntary reaction, like fainting. But this explains who’s eaten the oranges all along. No evidence of any scraps, either, just missing oranges. All the oranges. So at least ours are consuming the whole fruit! Leaves and bark are all intact here, too….The squirrels get the apples closer to the house before any humans, and the birds eat the remainder. (This is a very tiny yard in the middle of Los Angeles, and I’d just like to repeat again that these opossums feel safe having babies in the yard with my dog! It’s rather clever of them, not only because they are correct that he won’t hurt them, but because they probably also enlisted an advocate from the surrounding dogs who surely would.) I suspect the adult encounter was a mutual startle.

    I’m quite honored to have them nest here (under the shed at the bottom of the yard, not in our roof….did you succeed in your relocation program? Updates on the tree bark?). I wouldn’t underestimate some intentional communication of your wishes/boundaries (I swear the nesting wasps left my dog alone after I asked. Civil war averted). As for me, I appreciate the hint to play a part/play dead for self-preservation around an issue that is up in my life right now….

    I love these comments, and folks out shopping for their possums!
    I have quite a different dog/raccoon/roof nest story. This one is much better.
    Lovely blog. Thanks for the possum tale.

    • Dayna,

      Thanks for your comments and your stories of your animal loving dog ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yep, it’s a corker of a kumquat tree. I’ve never seen another even close to that big or that productive. I love it.

      Our possums (no relation at all to your opossums other than many of the same letters in their name ๐Ÿ™‚ ) don’t play dead. They might scamper away but generally just stare at you when confronted. Perhaps they know they are a protected species in these parts!

      That said, our new dog loves to chase possums (they sit in trees and chuckle behind their fluffy tails at him putting his paws on their tree). I don’t think they’d be too happy if he caught them on the ground though – he’s not so much a licker as a pouncer and catch-and-carrier. They would come out of the adventure minus a bit of fur and quite possibly their lives. I’m glad they spend all their time in trees.

      We have no squirrels here which is a bit of a shame because they are so darned cute but really rather lucky because they’re so darned destructive. We now live on a farm (our suburban back yard and it’s possums are being cared for by tenants) and we have rats (no way to avoid it with a pecan orchard on the property) which complement the possums to eat pretty much everything we’d be silly enough to try growing. Like you I feel honoured to have all the wildlife living in my garden but just sometimes I’d like to eat some produce from my trees (we had one delicious avocado from our tree this year – just one).

      You asked for an update on the tree bark and possum relocation – well both have a happy ending. The bark grew back, the tree survived, the plastic pots remain in place and we’ve not had such a drastic attack on the bark since (I’m sure it has to do with weather patterns affecting food options for the poor possums). The possums moved out of the roof of their own accord – well, sometimes we heard them back visiting, but generally they were gone. I think that means the roof dwellers were ringtail possums as they tend to have multiple homes and move between them. I’m not sure if one of our nest boxes was one of the homes but probably. Anyway, their visits were infrequent enough to make us content to leave them in peace.

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