About Groundhogs and Woodchucks About Groundhogs and Woodchucks

Groundhog day may pass unnoticed for some, but for homeowners and gardeners, groundhog season is only just the beginning. Groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) are active in the spring and summer and may feast off your garden or lawn. Here are our do-it-yourself tips for keeping your yard safe from groundhogs.

Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, are a member of the squirrel family and reside throughout the east and mid-west sections of the United States and most of Canada. They are excellent diggers and live in complex underground systems of burrows. There is usually a main entrance distinguished by a mound of soil around it, and several secondary entryways that are often used as escape doors. Burrows are often near rocks, tree roots, or other supportive structures that help to prevent predators from gaining access to them. Many woodchucks share their burrows with other animals, and use the burrows for hibernation for about six months every winter. Groundhogs are vegetarians and can often be seen grazing near the edges of fields and roadways.

Possible Conflicts and Solutions

Woodchucks often cause trouble for gardeners, and leave a clean cut on plants they browse, unlike the jagged edges of plants browsed by deer. Using novel stimuli to harass and frighten away unwanted groundhogs will often do the trick. Tactics like putting a beach ball within the area they are disturbing and letting it blow in the wind and using scarecrows, balloons, and pinwheels can deter them. Visiting your garden often and mowing long grasses can also help. Specific plants can be protected by sprinkling them with Epsom salts (needs re-application after every rain) or covering them with fabric or gallon milk jugs with the bottoms removed. You can also try placing rags soaked in ammonia on posts placed at intervals around the perimeter of the garden. The odor is enough to deter most unwanted visitors. The rags must be re-soaked when the smell of ammonia fades.

The most effective means of ridding small gardens of hungry woodchucks is to use wire fencing around the perimeter at least three to four feet high and buried one foot underground. Woodchucks are proficient at digging, and have no trouble going under a fence that is not deep into the ground. Making sure the fence is somewhat loose and not pulled taught will make it more difficult for an interested groundhog to climb up it. If you have persistent visitors to your garden, a single strand of electric fencing in front of the fence four to five inches high will give your garden an extra step of protection.

Woodchuck burrows can sometimes cause problems for homeowners if they are under buildings or too close to gardens. In these cases it is best to try and harass the woodchucks out, and then permanently exclude them from getting back into the burrow. Removing ground cover around the burrows, partially digging out the entryways, and placing ammonia-soaked rags just inside the entrances can help to encourage them and other animals to leave. It is important to never use toxic substances like gasoline to try and get woodchucks or other burrow inhabitants to leave, as they are inhumane and toxic to both people and animals. A one-way door can be used to evict woodchucks from burrows, however, should never be used when young are present (usually May through August) or when other animals are using the burrow system. You can check to see if the burrow is being used by loosely placing hay or grass into the entrance. If it goes undisturbed for several days, then the burrow is most likely unoccupied, and then you can permanently close it. To close the burrow, excavate the area around the entrance, and bury heavy-gauge welded wire (three inch squares) at least one foot deep around the entrance. Because woodchucks are such great diggers, the wire should extend well past the burrow entrance on all sides (about three square foot sections of wire). After closing burrow entrances, it is a good idea to observe the area and make sure no new groundhogs are trying to gain access.

Public Health Concerns

Woodchucks are not a significant source of infectious diseases transmittable to humans. They can contract rabies, and may become very aggressive in the final stages of the disease.

For more tips on living with wildlife visit livingwithwildlife.org.

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