Groundhog Don’t: Guarding the garden against the woodchuck

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Vanquishing varmints from the landscape can often drive you insane. It’s like being in the movie Groundhog Day: doing the same things over and over but getting the same results – the groundhog stays or keeps coming back. Punxsutawney Phil can see his shadow in some far off woods; He doesn’t need to be in your backyard. Growing a successful garden means making sure it has time to grow. Critters chomping down on sprouts won’t work.

Also known as woodchucks, groundhogs are probably the most destructive of garden critters. They burrow tunnels under the land, sometimes disrupting the structure of patios, walkways, sheds and more. They can remove hundreds of pounds of soil and eat a few pounds of greenery in a single  day. If you suddenly notice mounds of soil piling up or wide holes in the grass, you may have a groundhog guest.

Preventing groundhogs from setting up shop in your garden is the best defense in keeping your garden rodent free. Old garden-protecting tricks like cracking eggs, sprinkling pepper, and dousing the ground with castor oil all have varying effectiveness. You can always try these old ways, and if they don’t work, look for more modern materials. Groundhog repellent is sold at local nurseries and home stores. When buying repellent, choose only the products meant specifically for groundhogs. The general garden critter and pest repellents aren’t as effective against woodchucks. As cats are their natural predators, used kitty litter left around the garden may be sufficient to scare away the groundhogs. Weird fact: Some groundhog repellents include used kitty litter.

Fencing around the property and garden may help prevent a new woodchuck from settling in. Unfortunately these critters can dig down to five feet. It would be a tall order to bury fencing that low. If possible, bury the fencing at least a foot deep. A foot deep may prevent a neighboring groundhog from surfacing his burrow in your garden.

If a groundhog or other pest is already living in your landscape, traps are the next option. Some municipality animal control offices have traps that you can borrow for free. The baiting and setting of a trap seems simple enough, but groundhogs are clever creatures with many burrows and dens. Each hole will have to be located and sealed, except for one where the woodchuck will be forced to exit. The trap should be set about 5 feet from that exit. Cantaloupe pieces that have been left out for a day or two make for attractive bait. Cut the cantaloupe into 2x2-inch squares and leave them in the trap for a while, as the rotting fruit is one of a groundhog’s guilty pleasures.

 Despite the deliciousness, groundhogs don’t always take the rotten bait. Often homeowners must turn to professionals for help. A pest control expert will be able to locate all access spots to the den and remove any extra family members that may have set up house. Once gone, prevention measures can be renewed and you can give your garden a new chance to grow in peace from Phil and his friends.