Ignoring the signs communicated by woodchucks, AKA the "groundhogs" (also spelled "ground hogs") introduced on Page 1, regarding their presence and intentions can spell disaster for your garden. As surely as Phil Connors had no future in "Groundhog Day," doomed by his unawareness to relive the same day over and over, so your garden will have no future if you pay no heed to this garden pest's sign language. Your garden will be trapped in a perpetual Groundhog Day of destruction, raided at will by the marauding rodents. No, you must learn to read the signs -- and practice effective groundhog control.
The burrows of groundhogs will be the focus of our groundhog control measures, so we had best gain some idea first of how woodchuck burrows are used. Groundhogs hibernate in winter, during which time they do not stir from their burrows. The same burrow is also used for mating (which occurs just after hibernation ends) and raising young. A woodchuck burrow will often have one main entrance and one emergency escape entrance or spy-hole.
Sometimes groundhogs have a summer burrow that is distinct from the burrow used for hibernation, mating and rearing of young. Such a summer burrow would most likely be located in the middle of a grassy area. Meanwhile, the burrow used during winter and spring would be located in a wooded or brushy area nearby. Regardless of whether one burrow exists for all seasons or two distinct burrows exist, in summer and fall the burrow is where groundhogs sleep at night and hide from predators. Groundhogs are solitary animals, and the young are kicked out of the nest by around July 4.
Once you've determined that you have a pest problem with groundhogs in your garden, you'll need to consider possible groundhog control solutions, which include the following:
- Frightening groundhogs away from the garden with motion devices.
- Discouraging groundhogs with repellent smells or tastes.
- Fencing groundhogs out of the garden.
- Bringing out the heavy artillery: tossing gas cartridges into the groundhogs' burrows, etc.
- Live-trapping groundhogs as they exit their burrows and relocating them to an area far-removed from your garden (illegal in some states).
Option #4 above may be unacceptable in all but rural districts. Option #1 simply entails installing pinwheels or other devices around garden areas to frighten groundhogs away (groundhogs are timid, and the motion will bother them). In relation to this strategy, I should make note of a preventive measure you can take. In order to reduce the chances of having to deal with groundhogs, deprive them of areas that have tall grass, tall weeds (such as Japanese knotweed, which is pictured above) or brush piles; these will only serve as hideouts for groundhogs, from which they can launch attacks upon your garden. Timid animals such as groundhogs may never take up residence near your garden in the first place, if sufficient cover is lacking.
Groundhog Control With Repellent Smells or Tastes
Epsom salts can be sprinkled on the vegetation and fruits of your garden plants to render them foul-tasting to groundhogs. The good news about this strategy is that Epsom salts will also help some of your garden plants to grow better. But the bad news is that rain will wash off the Epsom salts, meaning that you will need to make repeated applications. Another strategy that suffers from the same drawback is discouraging groundhogs with foul-smelling agents such as ammonia. Ammonia-soaked rags can be strewn along the perimeter of your garden, forming a stinky barrier to repel groundhogs. But even ammonia's smell fades eventually and a re-application will be necessary.
Groundhog Control With Fencing
Fences such as chicken-wire fences can provide a more permanent solution to your groundhog pest problem. Be aware of two factors, however: groundhogs can climb over your fences, and groundhogs can tunnel under your fences. To discourage the former, make your fences 3'-4' high. To foil tunneling attempts, the University of Missouri Extension advises:
"The buried portion of the fence should be bent at a 90-degree angle, 1 foot below the surface, with the bottom of the fence pointing away from the garden. This design discourages burrowing if it is started at the fence line."
Such a fence can be supplemented with an electric hot-shot wire. Install the wire 4"-5" away from the fence, all along the outside. The electric wire should stand 4"-5" high.
For many gardeners, live-trapping groundhogs as they exit their burrows is the preferred method of pest control. Page 3 deals in detail with live-trapping....