The Q&A Archives: I think I have destructive ground hogs

Question: I was showing off my future bounty of summer squash, peppers and tomatoes to friends last night and this morning I find my two tomato plants were attacked last night! The squash and peppers (banana & new mexico) were untouched but the tomatoes look like someone took a machete to them. Some cherry tomatoes left on stems but most removed. One of the largest of my 3 full sized tomatoes ended up about 6 feet from the plant and one of the cherries was about 20' down beside the house. I did not find a single missing branch.
I live on the outskirts of a city and have numerous local cats but there is a wooded area about a hundred yards from our back door and I have indeed seen a ground hog a few doors down.
Any ideas of if the culprit was a ground hog and if so- what should I do? We have put small cages around them but the mesh is not too small- it was what we had on hand. The area is only about 10' from our house and the tomatoes are the closest to the house.

Answer: How sad for you! I hope your remaining plants recover! 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.

Fences such as hardware cloth or 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."

For many gardeners, live-trapping groundhogs as they exit their burrows is the preferred method of pest control. However, this means you'll need to find a safe place for relocation of the pesky critters.

Best wishes with your garden!

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