As spring slowly comes our way, we thought it a good time of year to bring you a series of pest and disease management tips.

This week we’re focusing on identifying the damage that big pests like kangaroos, wallabies, deer, rabbits and hares cause, because they often inflict their worst damage at this time of year, especially on newly planted trees.

Hares and rabbits in particular seem to absolutely love the fresh green bark of very young trees, whereas they’re more likely to leave the trees alone once they’re older and the bark is tough.

The key to effective pest and disease management is to figure out how to protect your trees or fruit from the pest.

This may sound completely obvious, but in fact is quite the opposite of the more conventional approach of trying to get rid of the pest altogether (often with chemicals). This approach doesn’t work; it’s expensive, time consuming and frustrating, and in fact every animal and insect has its place in the ecosystem—even if we don’t necessarily want them near our fruit trees!

The first step in our strategy is to figure out what’s doing the damage. It’s one of the basic principles we rely on in the Protect Fruit Trees from Pesky Pests short course (which includes identification and prevention methods for pests that damage both fruit and trees).

This photo above shows what hare damage looks like, and the one below shows a close-up view (pretty gruesome, isn’t it?)

A close-up view of fresh hare damage
A close-up view of fresh hare damage

Kangaroos will also nibble the top of young trees (they seem to find apical [tip] buds especially delicious), though much of the damage caused by kangaroos or wallabies often seems more incidental than purposeful, done by accident as they clumsily jump past the trees, resulting in this type of damage:

Incidental kangaroo damage on a 3 year old tree
Incidental kangaroo damage on a 3 year old tree

Another clue to identify the culprit animal that’s doing the damage is to look carefully on the ground for scats (or poo, as most of us call it).

Kangaroo poo
Kangaroo poo

To help you figure out which animal might be responsible for eating your fruit trees, here’s some photos of other types of animal scats (thanks to ABC Science and The Wildlife Trusts for these photos):

Brush-tailed possum
Fox
Rabbits and hares
Droppings are left in clusters of little, round, hard balls. They are usually yellowy-brown or green in colour, and full of grass. Hare droppings (on the right) tend to be slightly bigger and flatter than rabbit droppings (left hand side).
©Darren Tansley

Identifying the animal that’s doing the damage will give you a place to start in deciding what type of structure you’re going to need to put in place to protect the trees.

Ideally you will have already done this before you plant the trees—but you probably won’t! Most of us are better at responding to things once they’ve happened, rather than taking action to prevent things that might not even happen. That’s fine, as long as you do respond quickly once you see the damage, because once they’ve discovered where your tasty trees are, be warned—they’ll be back!