Feature

Big animal control

Green Lifestyle

While tips and tricks abound for keeping insects away from your garden naturally, keeping the larger pests away from your vegie patch poses more difficult problems. We have the solutions.

Big Pest Control

Possums are particularly difficult pests to control, but there are still plenty of ways you can protect your vegie patch from them.

Big Pest Control

An example of wallaby- or rabbit-proof fencing; however, a tree over the fence lets the possums in. Note the top line of barbed wire designed to prevent possums.

Big Pest Control

Bird humming tape is tautly strung between strategic points in the garden, and hums disconcertingly for birds, even in a gentle breeze.

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One possum can do much more damage in a night than slugs and insects. And wallabies – so sweet and gentle – can eat your olive trees down to nubs, while rabbits have the ability to swiftly remove every emerging hint of new growth.

Just when you think you’ve got your fences strong enough to keep the mammals out, birds descend from the sky and raid your raspberries. There are many methods employed to deal with these ‘mega-pests’ – but despite your best efforts, expletives won’t have an impact.

There are two types of defence: deterrence and exclusion. Using both methods at the same time tends to increase the likelihood of big pest control success in your garden.

Possums
They’re a bit like the reverse Houdini of the Australian animal world – possums are able to get in, over, through, up, and around almost any barrier.

Relocating possums is ineffective, as they can find their way back again, or new possums are likely to move in soon after anyway. Killing possums, which are Australian native animals, is illegal in Australia. Some people find feeding possums just enough to keep them going ensures their lack of interest in the garden – but this can make them more likely to breed. And how could even the happiest family of possums resist a fresh plum – or for that matter, an entire tree of juicy, ripe plums?

It’s worth knowing that possums don’t like crossing open ground. A clear area around the edge of your garden is essential to stop possums from getting into the garden in the first place (clear areas are helpful during fire season and to prevent snakes, too). Just make sure no trees meet over your fence line, as possums will simply jump from one to the other.

Some people have had luck with the use of ultrasonic sound devices. Others have not. Animals such as pets that live on the property do get used to the high-frequency sound of the device and ‘tune-out’ to the sound over time. Strayban is a good brand that most people will find effective; it costs around $300 and has a 90-day money back guarantee if it doesn’t work in your garden.

Automatic lighting systems that detect movement can be useful to keep possums at bay. But it depends on the area and the tenacity of the animal in question.

Floppy-top fences are the first line of ‘de-fence’ (pun intended). While they may look a little ugly, they can be very effective. Just attach chicken wire to the top of the fence and let it flop outwards. Possums will attempt to climb over it, but as they dislike the instability of the wire, they will back off and give up trying to get over the fence.

Corrugated iron fencing (without any holes that can become toe-holds) can be successful, but ensure all potential access points at gates are also possum-proof.

Netting entire enclosures is the most effective way of keeping out possums. Be sure to use high-quality, strong netting, as they can rip through the lighter material. It may be an expense worth the reward.

Quassia, a Jamaican bitter bark, is a natural insecticide, available through Mudbrick Cottage Herb Farm for $14.40 for 200 g. The chips can be spread around areas where possums are entering the roof, and even most pesky insects such as aphids and flies too. Blood and bone sprinkled around the tree line can also deter possums, but if they’re hungry, they’ll still come to eat just about anything. Or, if you prefer frugal homemade solutions, make a chilli and garlic spray to use around the garden or on plants you don’t plan to eat as a deterrent.

Wallabies and Rabbits
Wallaby fencing also tends to keep out rabbits – both of which aren’t just a problem in rural areas; they can be pesky on the outskirts of cities and even near parks. They prefer to eat all the same things we do, and just like the infamous rabbit Hazel from Watership Down, they’ll make a beeline for the carrots if they can get into the vegie patch.

The likes of little Skippy and Hazel will prefer to go under rather than over or through fences, but they will do all three. Look out for a well-beaten track that they’ll create at their favourite entry points to make it easier to locate and deal with the weak spots in your fences.

If you have an existing fence, you may choose to renovate rather than replace. Heavy-duty chicken wire is perfect for the job. Attach the chicken wire to the exiting fence by wiring it at regular intervals, leaving an apron or skirt of wire at least 200 mm on the ground.

Clear away clumps of grass that sprout shoots that are irresistible to these fluffy pests, and whipper-snip or mow away the grass as close to the fence as possible.

Snakes and Rodents
You can do your utmost with store-bought mouse and snake fencing, which is a rigid one-centimetre diameter mesh, but it’s really only feasible around small areas. The best strategy is to reduce their preferred habitat – that’s low-growing plants (not easy in a garden), rubbish piles and long grass. Water features are popular places for snakes to hang out in summer. Be aware and wary. To control snakes, keep mice and rat populations low by keeping animal food in airtight containers, and regularly trapping (or baiting, if you’re so inclined) rodents.

Snakes are repelled by vibrations through the ground – such as people stomping around. But there’s a more permanent solution –; an electronic snake repeller. The Sentinel brand (available from www.snakerepellent.com.au) emits a pulsing vibration through the ground, has an inbuilt solar-powered battery charger.

Cats and Dogs
There are many myths about how to keep other people’s pets, or your own, out of the garden or off your vegie verge. Forget the plastic bottle full of water – this common method doesn’t work. You could apply bitter apple spray to the garden, which is used to stop animals biting themselves – apparently it’s so unpleasant they don’t want to be anywhere near it.

Birds
Fences aren’t going to do a lot for you when your pest has wings. Starlings take delight in pulling up young corn stalks and tearing strips off your silverbeet leaves. As for anything round and red, at that glorious moment of ‘almost ripe’ – that’s just when a flock of parrots arrive to eat it, also stripping the beans and peas. Apart from bird netting your entire block, there are a few other ways to reduce the onslaught.

Old Discs: Those Barry Manilow and Englebert Humperdinck CDs will take on a new lease of life tied to strings and suspended from your fruit tree branches. They twist in the wind and flash in the sunlight. This is only effective for short periods before birds become habituated to them (the silver flashes, not the music).

Bird humming tape: Ultrasonic tape is available online. It’s tautly strung between strategic points in the garden, and hums disconcertingly for birds, even in a gentle breeze.

Scarecrows: These are really fun to make with kids. The secret to the best scarecrows is to use only what you can find around the home. Move him around, and change his hat often.

Water pistols: We don’t condone animal cruelty of any kind, but giving the non-native pests a little spray from a water pistol as you sit on the verandah can be a bit of harmless fun that keeps them away – and it waters the garden too.

Mock cats, hawks and other animals of prey: Hosting a mock cat or hawk in the garden will scare off most birds. Check out Hawk Bird Scarer.com for a range of types. A fake snake can also be effective, though it’s a good idea to warn any visitors prior to showing them around the garden. Remember to move them regularly for maximum effectiveness.

Get to know your birds: Many introduced species predate on or out-compete natives. You can do the native birds and yourself a favour by reducing introduced numbers in spring. Watch for nesting non-natives and remove their nesting material and eggs before they hatch. You might like to call in a specialist for this.