Mammals in Your Garden: The Opossum

By: Kathy Jentz, Editor at Washington Gardener Magazine ….. 

Many of us started gardening in part to help our local ecosystem and to attract nature back to our urban yards. Some of us have succeeded in this effort all too well.

I will never forget the morning I went out to deposit empty cat food cans into my recycling bin, only to find a pair of shiny black eyes staring back at me! A baby possum was trapped at the bottom of my deep recycling bin. The poor thing had apparently fallen in overnight from a nearby tree and was exhausted and dehydrated. He was also as startled at seeing me as I was of him. I slowly tipped over the bin near a patch of groundcover at the base of an oak tree then gave him space to take off and find his family.

Before I released him from his blue plastic prison, I had taken a quick photo of him and shared it on my neighborhood email list as I thought he was quite adorable. The reactions came in swift and were surprisingly negative. A number of people confused opossums with rats and raccoons. They are not related to either animal and are not a garden pest.

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For the record, opossums are beneficial! They eat the harmful, unwanted pests around your home such as snails, slugs, spiders, cockroaches, rats, mice, and snakes. Think of the opossum as your free garden helper.

Like many of our wildlife friends, the opossum is not aggressive and will famously “play dead” if surprised. Sure, if cornered, like many creatures, it can bite and defend itself, so the best advice is to leave it alone and the possum will go on its own way.

If you do not want possums visiting your yard, you need to keep good hygiene as they are known as “Nature’s Little Sanitation Engineer” for good reason. They, like any other hungry creature, are attracted to fallen fruit from trees, open garbage bins, and pet food. Keep your yard tidy and eliminate these attractive food sources.

I’ll be talking more about mammals – both welcome and unwelcome – in our gardens at the upcoming RootingDC 2015. I hope you can join me there.