Possums eat tomatoes if they can get their hands on them, but things aren’t always so simple. If your tomatoes are disappearing in the night, there is a chance that a possum is to blame, but that might not be why they’re there. This post looks at why a possum eating tomatoes in your garden can be a problem and how to prevent it.
Do possums like tomatoes?
Possums are omnivores, enjoying a varied diet that includes fruit, insects, grains, and even small rodents and birds. Tomatoes also find a place on their menu. They are also nocturnal animals, which means that, when they come across them, possums eat tomatoes at night.
But do possums like eating tomatoes? If presented with a wide selection of tasty edibles in your garden, are they likely to go straight for your tomato patch?
The answer is that it depends. In order to get a better picture of the eating habits of this (often misunderstood) animal, we must first take a look at what possums prefer eating in general.
What do possums eat in the wild?
The wild possums have a diet that is often different from that of a possum living in an urban area. In the wild, possums eat a lot of insects, beetles, crickets, earthworms, ticks, snails and slugs.
They also eat small animals, such as voles, frogs, mice and rats. The fact that they eat small mammals might make them seem dangerous, and you might even ask yourself: ‘Do possums eat cats?’. Rest assured, your cat won’t make it onto a possum’s list of midnight snacks. However, they are opportunistic, and will eat chicks and hens if they come across them. Possums are also particularly fond of carrion, or roadkill.
A possum’s diet also consists of plants, especially fruit and berries, wild fungi, flowers and leaves, as well as nuts and grains. They also eat vegetables, whether fresh from the vine, or fallen on the ground.
Urban possums have a much more diverse diet, and will often look for meals in places that are easy to reach, and where food is abundant. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find possums eating from bird feeders, garbage cans, compost heaps, or even pet food bowls left outside. And if you have a vegetable garden, you can be sure that possums will look for food in there as well.
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What vegetables do possums eat?
Possums are not picky eaters, and there’s very few foods they don’t eat. In terms of vegetables, they will eat anything they can get their paws on. Once they find their way in your garden, possums will eat potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peas, beans, herbs like coriander, basil or parsley, chards, broccoli, and many more.
Like most mammals, possums can have a negative reaction to certain foods that are otherwise safe for human consumption. If you’re looking to grow vegetables that possums don’t eat, then garlic, onions and chili peppers are your safest choice.
The list of possum foods is long and varied. If you’re wondering what is eating your tomatoes at night, possums are definitely on the list of culprits. Even though tomatoes are not their go-to food in the wild, possums will eat them if they find them in your garden.
In fact, they will probably prefer tomatoes due to their sweet taste, and will eat them instead of other vegetables such as carrots or potatoes. However, they prefer eating fruit and vegetables that are overripe or decayed, rather than fresh.
How do you keep possums from eating tomato plants?
The best way to stop possums eating your tomatoes is to possum proof your vegetable garden. Here are some of our tips.
Use netting to protect young plants
Possums are attracted to young plants as well as fruits, so it’s important to prepare your garden as early as spring. For young tomato plants, you can use netting supported by a wooden or metal frame. Raised vegetable beds make the job easier because you can use a staple gun to affix the netting, so that possums can’t crawl underneath it.
Otherwise, you can use weights to keep it in place, but bear in mind that possums are clever and very determined, and will find a way around it.
Install a wire mesh fence
For taller, mature tomato plants, you’re going to need something sturdier than netting. Chicken wire can be used if you don’t have anything else available, but it’s generally not strong enough for the task, and possums can chew through it. Ideally, you should use hardware cloth with a small gauge. The smaller the gauge, the thicker the wire, and the better it is at keeping possums out. You can use it to build a fence around your tomato patch.
One thing you’ll need to make sure of is that possums don’t climb over the edge. If you can, try to provide a top wire mesh cover for your plants as well as a fence. It’s not the prettiest solution, but it’s highly effective.
If you don’t want to put up a cover, you can install a floppy top around your fence, pointing downwards and away from your tomato patch. Possums may be great climbers, but they hate climbing on unstable surfaces, and the floppy top will discourage their attempts.
Install motion-sensor lighting
Possums are nocturnal animals, and their eyes are sensitive to light. You can use this to your advantage by installing motion-sensor lights that are triggered whenever there’s a possum wandering by. Although this technique can be useful, it could also prove to be irritating in the long run, as the motion-sensors will also be triggered by cats and other small nocturnal creatures, potentially keeping you awake at night.
Use chemical possum deterrents
There are several possum repellents that are commercially available, usually at hardware stores or garden centers. They use a combination of chemicals that replicate tastes and smells that possums don’t like, and also work on other animals such as skunks and raccoons. Make sure to read the instructions carefully before applying, so that neither you nor the possum gets injured.
Possums also hate smells such as bleach, ammonia, or vinegar. You can create a water-based solution using just ONE of these chemicals, and spray it around your tomato patch to discourage them. When working with bleach, ammonia and vinegar, always make sure to avoid mixing them, or you will put your health at risk! For example, bleach and vinegar mixed together will create chlorine gas, which is lethal.
Make a natural possum spray
If you’re environmentally minded, you can make your own natural possum deterrent. There are several smells that keep possums away, such as garlic, onion, or vinegar. Some gardeners use Lapsang Souchong tea as a spray against possums, which hate its smoky, bitter smell.
If you can find quassia chips, they can also be boiled and turned into an eco-friendly possum deterrent. Use them to make a spray that can be safely applied on the tomatoes directly. Also, make sure to reapply it after the rain, as it would have been washed away.
It’s useful to know that possum spray, whether natural or commercial, does not work 100% of the time. Even though it can deter younger, less experienced individuals, a mother possum emboldened by hunger won’t be put off so easily.
Discourage possums from visiting
The reason you have possums in your backyard is that something attracted them there in the first place — and it wasn’t your tomatoes. Possums have a very keen sense of smell, and they’re attracted to strong scents, particularly garbage, rotting fruit and vegetables, or plant matter decomposing in a compost heap. Possums also have a good memory, and remember not just what they ate, but also where, and whether there was plenty of it.
One way to discourage possums from coming back to your garden is by eliminating the source of attractive strong smells. Use thick garbage bags with a knot tied at the end, and make sure that your outdoor garbage bin has a heavy lid. If you have fruit trees, make sure to pick up any fruit that has fallen on the ground, as it will practically invite possums over for a midnight feast. Also, keep your pet’s food and water bowls inside during the night.
What is the best way to keep possums away?
Every gardener has their collection of tips and tricks to keep possums away from their tomato plants. But do they really work? We’ve tried every method, from using possum sprays, to using light, sounds and scarecrows to scare them off, and even predatory urine sprays. They all worked for a while, but possums eventually got used with them and just ignored our efforts.
Personally, we found that the best way to deter possums from our tomatoes and gardens was using a physical barrier. A hardware cloth fence with a floppy top worked wonders, keeping even the hungriest, most stubborn possums out.
Are possums good for your yard?
Surprisingly, yes. A possum in your backyard is beneficial for your garden because they eat snails, slugs, insects and beetles, effectively protecting it from pests. They also eat 95% of the ticks they find, and will even eat cockroaches, mice and rats, playing an essential role in keeping your neighborhood clean of vermin. So when possum-proofing your tomatoes, think twice about removing them from your garden altogether.
Some advice for Australian and New Zealand gardeners
If you live in Australia and New Zealand, it’s important to know what the local laws are regarding possums. Unlike the United States, these two countries are home to a different species, the brushtail possum. In Australia and Tasmania, this species is protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, which means that it’s illegal to kill or catch and release brushtail possums without a license. However, the brushtail possum was officially declared a pest and invasive species in New Zealand, and measures have been set in place to eradicate them before 2050.
So if you’re a gardener trying to look after your tomatoes in these countries, always make sure to check what the local authorities consider a legal way to remove possums from your yard.
Generally, possums eat tomatoes when they come across them, but they will seldom seek them out. They will normally be attracted by something else in your yard, such as rotten fruit, garbage, or pet food.
Prevention is always the best defense; once a possum knows it can find food in your garden, it’ll take time and effort to keep them away. So, remove these attractions and possums will generally search for food elsewhere, even if you do have juicy tomatoes in your garden!