The Q&A Archives: groundhogs

Question: I love my flowers but unfortunately so does a family of groundhogs that has taken residency in my yard. Any suggestions?

Answer: 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 #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) 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 groundhog tunneling attempts, 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.

For many gardeners, live-trapping groundhogs as they exit their burrows is the preferred method of pest control. A live trap is also referred to as a "box trap" or "wire trap." Indeed, it is essentially a wire box with door(s) and tripping mechanism. The tripping mechanism is baited, and the door(s) rigged so as to close behind the unwitting prey, caught red-pawed over the tripping mechanism. The live traps with which I am most familiar are the Havahart animal traps. In some cases you may be able to borrow a similar trap from your local humane society.

Late winter and early spring are excellent times for trapping groundhogs. The groundhogs alive in early spring are the adults that will produce the next generation of groundhogs later in the spring. In other words, catching one groundhog in March could mean eliminating 5 groundhogs in June (groundhogs typically bear 4 offspring).

But early trapping has tactical advantages as well. Consider the landscape in March: it is relatively barren. This means you'll be able to locate groundhog burrows more easily, since obfuscating vegetation will be absent. It also means that the groundhogs will be more desperate for food, due to the same absence of vegetation. Your bait will be much more irresistable on the barren March landscape than on a June landscape brimming with both wild and garden greenery. This is the ultimate tactical advantage in trapping. Bait your trap with salad greens, whole kernel corn, carrot tops, carrots, apples, potato, beans, pea pods or cucumber.

How to Trap Groundhogs
Locating the groundhog's burrow is important because the best place to set up your trap is just outside the burrow hole (at most 5'-10' away from it). You might as well try to get him at the source, rather than hoping to determine the path he'll take to arrive at your garden. Installing guide logs at either side of the path between the burrow hole and the trap will help funnel the groundhog into the trap. Another tactic to make the trap more approachable is to conceal the trap with canvas or vegetation. At the very least, Havahart recommends that you sully a newly-purchased trap, in order to divest it of its gleam.

If trapping in summer, when groundhogs can afford to be choosier about bait, purchase a product called "woodchuck lure" from your local farmer's supply store or trapping supply store. Sprinkle drops of woodchuck lure in a path from the burrow's hole to the trap, enticing the pest in. Apply additional drops of the lure to the bait itself.

If your trap catches an animal, the victim may or may not be the one that you intended to catch. That's part of the beauty of this pest control method: you can encounter some interesting wildlife in the process! When you release an animal from your trap, exercise caution, no matter how small the animal. Remember, the animal at this time is in an extremely agitated state. Its actions will not be entirely predictable. Bear in mind also that a rodent who can chew through wood could deliver a serious bite to your hand!

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