Big pests

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Brush turkey

I usually think of pests in the garden as being tiny (even microscopic), determined and destructive insects. However, in recent years our garden has been under siege from much larger pests, in the form of brush turkeys. The numbers of these native birds have burgeoned in many suburbs of Sydney, perhaps due to a decline in the prevalence of foxes, one of their main predators. Seeing these hefty turkeys strolling down suburban streets has become commonplace. Their main goal in life appears to be to rake up all the vegetation and mulch in the garden to form a tall mound in which to lay their eggs. When not doing this, they also enjoy scratching around in garden beds and compost heaps for insects to eat, creating a huge mess. Small and newly planted specimens can simply disappear under the workings of their enormous feet. At one stage, we had three generations of turkeys living in the vicinity of our garden. They seem to have no innate fear of humans, and simply fly (in an ungainly fashion) to the nearest tree branch if you run screaming in their direction.

This wire cage provides protection for a new plant from brush turkeys in the garden of Barbara Walker in Sydney

I have heard of many solutions to the brush turkey problem. In our own garden, we put netting over our compost heaps to deter them (they seemed to regard this heap as a ready-made mound for their use and showed every sign of laying their eggs in it), and I obtained a collection of metal obelisks, which I placed over newly planted specimens so they wouldn't be dug up before they had established. We also chased the turkeys away every time we saw them, and at the moment, we are turkey-free! When I recently visited the garden of Barbara Walker in Sydney, I saw a variety of turkey deterrents, including the laying of large old palm fronds on the ground between plants, affixed to the earth with wire hoops; the turkeys apparently don't like walking on this surface and avoid these areas. Pieces of wire netting pegged over the ground can also work in the same way. Barbara also uses decorative wire cages (illustrated above) popped over the tops of new plantings to protect them.

Brushtail possum

Other big pests in many Sydney gardens include possums, and I have friends, especially those who grow roses and magnolias, who have been driven to utter despair by these cute-looking creatures. I have heard of many methods over the years of trying to deter them, including sprays made of quassia chips, chilli, garlic or Lapsang Souchong tea; mothballs or real camphor balls enclosed in little organza bags and tied in trees; or devices emitting ultrasonic sounds that the possums dislike and/or flashing strobe lights. Some people scatter blood and bone around plants as the possums are said to hate the smell. The strategies need to be persevered with and possibly varied from time to time as none seems to deter them permanently and they seem to get used to a lot of the substances after a while! We had success on a pistachio tree for a while by affixing a large piece of flexible metal right around the middle of the trunk, to stop them from being able to climb up. They eventually found another way to get to the tree! One friend decided to feed the little fiends in order to distract them from her magnolias, and ended up setting out plates of cut-up apples and sweet potatoes (peeled, as they didn't like the skin!) every night. Apparently, this did work to some extent, and the possums would wait at the door demanding their treats, but it has to be kept up, which may mean you'll be buying sackloads of apples in perpetuity!

Enclosed potager, photo by Alain Colfs

Other foes include bandicoots, rats, rabbits, kangaroos and goannas. These can be especially trying for those gardeners trying to grow vegetables, and I recently received some photos from a reader, Alain Colfs, who has built what he described as 'Fort Knox' to keep out an assortment of pests from his vegetable and fruit gardens. They are basically cages to keep animals out rather than in! One impressive structure, for the potager (illustrated above), looking rather like an elegant tent, is made from steel posts with netting tied over the top (upturned stainless steel salad bowls on each corner post prevent the netting from tearing). Vegetables are grown in raised beds inside the structure.

Enclosed fruit trees, photo by Alain Colfs

The second structure (illustrated at left), for fruit trees, is made from eight star pickets with 40mm diameter poly pipe threaded over the ends of the pickets to make a support for mesh placed over the top. The structures have been a complete success in keeping an assortment of animals at bay and allowing Alain to grow his crops without them being attacked.

I'd be interested in hearing your experiences with 'big pests'!

Reader Comments

  • By deryn 6050 Monday, 22 June 2015

    Possums stay away if you stuff dog hair into old stockings and hang these "sausages" in the rose bushes. Thanks for this interesting tip. Deirdre

  • By Jan 2582 Monday, 22 June 2015

    When we moved to the country we lost a lot of new plants to rabbits. We fought valiantly with wire surrounds. We bought rolls of 30 and 60cm wide netting that I"d cut to length and loop into itself to make a sturdy surround which I pegged into the ground with weed mat pins. This was very effective and the surrounds last forever. Then we got two cats - they are even more effective rabbit control and now we have a pyramid of wire surrounds :-) We still use them to protect each young planting. Your netting tip changed my life at the farm garden - I now surround whole beds with netting and newly planted things have stopped disappearing! I have ideas of perhaps replacing them with a decorative wire edge at some stage. Deirdre

  • By Bren 2540 Monday, 22 June 2015

    At my previous place I had a big problem with possums and wallabies, and no deterent was completely effective. I put wire cages around everything and one day I looked at my garden and realised how ridiculous it looked! From then on I only planted things that the animals didnt like, such as Viburnum, Phormium, Allyogene (sp?). THis really restricted the plants I could have, which was disappointing but at least I was ble to create a garden. It sounds a good move, and thanks for telling us some of the plants that don"t appeal to animals! Deirdre

  • By Chris 3340 Monday, 22 June 2015

    When we first moved in we lost a lot of plants to rabbits. It was so demoralising as we were trying to get established. I tried protecting each plant but we have an acre and there are just too many. Also we needed to protect the lawn. In the end we made a rabbit proof fence made of chicken wire and dug down into the ground. That has done the trick. Winning at the moment but ever vigilant. That sounds good. It certainly is demoralising when the plants just disappear to rabbits. Deirdre

  • By Helen 2159 Monday, 22 June 2015

    We"ve had the lot! Vegetables are now in a compound, new plants have a green plastic protective "skirt" around them until they are big enough not to attract the possums, rabbits, kangaroos or even cockatoos, and roses are all given away as they were continually eaten down to stumps. One thing I don"t do now is put soft netting around plants as twice I"ve had red-bellied black snakes caught in ithem as they have been foraging and I had ring Wires to come and free them. Fun of living in the bush! Thanks for the warning about the snake! Deirdre

  • By Kathryn 2069 Monday, 22 June 2015

    Lets not forget humans are the biggest pest species there is! Taking over the habitats of native animals and then begrudging them something to eat. It was their land long before we took it over. Yes, an excellent point. The situation is only getting worse, with something like 30,000 trees felled in my local government area over the past decades. Deirdre

  • By lorraine 4510 Monday, 22 June 2015

    The biggest pests are the ordinary folk who relocate their unwanted animals back to the "wild". I live on 40 acres at the end of the first country road out of town. And the "wild" is of course, my uncleared beautiful bush block.My front gate receives regular deliveries of brush turkeys,possums, snakes, cats, dogs, geese, ducks, roosters and once even a koala.( We are not koala habitat). I took down my Land for Wildlife sign as I am sure silly people thought that I welcomed their cast offs. That is awful, Lorraine. Deirdre

  • By Caroline 4105 Monday, 22 June 2015

    Don"t get me started Deidre! Brush Turkeys caused me major distress when creating my inherited neglected garden. Destroying my hard work, even plants in pots. However a good "surprise" hosing deterred the worst perpetrators who repeatedly visited. I now have a fully covered walk-in vegetable garden, possum proof too but not grasshopper proof.....can"t win them all. I still use rubber snakes around my roses which must be moved frequently. Happy to read and research everyone else"s pest solutions. Thanks for your tips. Your walk-in vegie garden sounds fab! Deirdre

  • By Betty 3104 Monday, 22 June 2015

    I lost fifteen Big Red geranium flowers recently in one night. At the time I was looking after a little dog who used "wee" sheets/pads.Sounds gross, but I put a used sheet next to the other geranium pots and no further trouble. Apparently this is one smell that possums do not like. Thanks for that novel solution to the possum problem! Must be a territorial thing. Deirdre

  • By Lynne 2479 Monday, 22 June 2015

    Bandicoots, brush turkeys, echidnas, wallabies - we have had the lot at different times but each species seems to move on eventually to pastures new. Brush turkeys possibly the exception - very determined birds. We have found we have to protect our tree saplings with cages and we have replaced the plants that get eaten with more of the species that don"t, for example, Westringea and Mint bush. I think the worst nuisance for us has been the neighbour"s chooks! I agree chooks can be destructive if they get into vegie gardens or ornamental borders, especially with newly planted things. Deirdre

  • By Richard 2112 Monday, 22 June 2015

    Brush Turkeys were eaten to extinction in Sydney during the Depression, but have recently made it back across the Hawkesbury. Possums do a great deal of damage to my garden, eating new growth on roses & camellias, magnolia leaves & buds/flowers, persimmon and guava leaves & fruit, bark from my mango (all but killing it), and just recently all the bark from a deciduous hibiscus they have not previously touched. Marsupials are immune to the capsaicin in chilli, it only works on placental mammals. Thanks for your feedback, Richard. Interesting about the chilli, as I often see that recommended for possums. Deirdre

  • By Malle 2570 Tuesday, 23 June 2015

    Feral Deer and feral pigs are a problem from time to time. The deer love the roses and like to ring bark trees. We also have the usual rabbit and wallaby problems. The wombats don"t seem to bother the plants and only do minor digging. We tolerate and accommodate the local wildlife but get very frustrated with the feral animals. Why we don"t have brush tail possums here is a mystery.I agree that feral animals cause a lot of problems. Good you don"t have possums! Deirdre

  • By Lyn 4510 Wednesday, 15 July 2015

    Re bush turkeys - we have found wire netting a bit difficult to deal with but plastic trellising mesh (by the metre from super dooper hardware) pegged down with mulch mat pegs (or as on latest packet, artificial lawn pegs) is more user friendly and does the job really well in our yard. It is easy to snip out hole for the plants and not as damaging to aging skin as wire. It may be coincidence but we did not have a bush turkey problem when we had an active dog. Lyn, 4510

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