When chasing the woodchuck out of your garden patch starts to feel like Groundhog Day, it’s about time to put some control measures in place. Learning how to get rid of groundhogs can help keep your harvest plentiful, young trees healthy, and (if you’re a farmer) pasture safe for lawn equipment, horses, and riders.
But remember –– controlling groundhogs requires patience. Many wild animals will occupy an abandoned groundhog burrow, which means you must ensure a groundhog inhabits the den before employing treatment. Otherwise, you might harm a non-target animal.
- What are groundhogs?
- How to control groundhogs
- Groundhog removal methods to avoid
- Signs you have a groundhog in your yard
- Why are groundhogs bad for the yard?
- What are the advantages of groundhogs?
- Turn to an exterminator for help
What are groundhogs?
Groundhogs (Marmota monax), also known as woodchucks and “whistle pigs,” are a member of the squirrel family. Wondering why they’re called whistle pigs? Once you hear their high-pitched alarm calls in response to a predator, there’s little mystery to the name.
What do groundhogs look like?
These furry creatures weigh between 5 and 15 pounds and measure 16 to 26 inches long. Their large, yellow-white incisor teeth grow continuously to compensate for the wear and tear caused by gnawing through roots and grazing vegetation.
Their fur coats range between yellow-brown and brown, and the fur around their noses is white. Their feet and tail are between dark brown and black.
Where do groundhogs live?
Groundhogs like to build their dens in farm fields, pastures, meadows, woodland edges, and occasionally suburban neighborhoods where food supply and cover (such as brush and overgrown areas) are plentiful. Groundhogs are common throughout the eastern United States, Midwest, and parts of the western states, including Alaska.
With the help of their long, curved claws and strong legs, groundhogs build complex tunnel systems that extend 4 to 5 feet beneath the ground and up to 30 feet long. The burrows typically contain several access points and separate chambers for hibernation and bathroom breaks.
It’s not unusual to see a groundhog out and about (unlike with pocket gophers and moles, which spend most of their time underground). Groundhogs venture out of their den to mate, nap in the sun and forage for food. You might even spot them climbing trees to survey their surroundings (you just better hope they don’t see your vegetable patch).
A woodchuck uses its burrow for mating, hibernating, raising young, and escaping predators.
What do groundhogs eat?
These herbivores love to get their paws on the treats in your garden, such as your cabbages, tomatoes, peas, carrots, beans, apples, pears, and cherries. They also like to snack on alfalfa, clover, grasses, and dandelions.
When are groundhogs most active?
You’re most likely to find a woodchuck foraging for food in the early morning and evening. There is little activity between October and March when the mammal is hibernating underground.
How to control groundhogs
Fencing can effectively reduce groundhog damage in specific areas of the yard, such as your vegetable garden. It also can help prevent groundhogs from building their burrows underneath a structure’s foundation.
When building a fence to exclude groundhogs, here are some helpful tips to follow:
- The fence should be at least 3 feet high and made of either heavy chicken wire or 2-inch woven mesh wire. Bend the top 12 inches outward at a 45-degree angle.
- Bury the fence at least 12 inches into the ground with another 12 inches bent horizontally away from the protected area to create an L shape (that means burying a total of 2 feet of the material underground). Installing underground fencing helps prevent the groundhog from tunneling underneath the barrier.
- For added protection, install an electric wire fence around the non-electric fence. Place an electric wire 4 inches off the ground and a second at 8 or 9 inches off the ground. The wires should be outside of and an equal distance from the non-electric fence.
- Electric fence wire and chargers are often available at garden and home improvement stores. You’ll have to either plug the charger into a power source or use an external battery.
- Remember to cut tall grass or vegetation to help prevent the wire from shorting out.
- As a helpful safety measure, install a warning sign near the electric fence.
Who knew you could buy a jug of animal urine at a home improvement store? Predator urine can prove a valuable groundhog deterrent. According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, spraying bobcat urine on the base of apple trees has been shown to reduce groundhog gnawing by 98 percent.
Applying predator urine around the groundhog’s tunnel can help encourage them to leave the burrow. You also can spread it around your gardens or other perimeters to discourage the groundhog. Remember to reapply the urine after a rainy day.
Pro Tip: It may be helpful to apply the odors in different areas and at different times to make the groundhog fear the predator remains nearby.
Scarecrows might not be the most reliable control solution. Still, they can offer temporary relief to a groundhog problem by moving the scarecrow regularly and incorporating frequent human activity in the area.
Gas cartridges are an effective groundhog control method, and you can find them at many garden supply stores.
These cardboard cylinders are filled with slow-burning chemicals that will kill all burrow inhabitants. That’s why it’s essential to ensure the burrow you are treating is the home of a groundhog and not another animal that’s moved into an abandoned den.
- Remember to read and follow all gas cartridge instructions and to use the gas cartridges with care.
- Do not use them in burrows that are under buildings, sheds, or other combustible materials.
- Do not breathe in the fumes.
The following steps are only a guideline for using gas cartridges in woodchuck burrows. You must refer to and follow the instructions listed on the specific gas cartridge product you are using.
- Ensure the burrow you are treating is an active burrow and wait until you see the groundhog go inside.
- Locate all entrances to the groundhog’s burrow.
- Seal all openings with a clump of sod, except for the main entrance. (You can identify the main entrance by the mound of excavated soil that’s near it). Prepare a clump of sod for the main entrance to use later.
- Prepare the gas cartridge for ignition and application by following the instructions on the product label.
- Light the fuse and gently place the cartridge as far into the tunnel as possible. Do not breathe in the fumes.
- After positioning the cartridge in the burrow, immediately close the entrance with the precut sod, grass side down. Placing the sod grass side down helps prevent any soil from falling on the fuse.
- Observe all the entries for any smoke leaking from the burrow system. Cover or reseal any openings that leak smoke.
- Continue to observe the treated tunnel system for five minutes and reseal any openings that have smoke escaping.
- Repeat the steps above until you have treated all appropriate burrow systems.
Removing brush piles and overgrown areas reduces a groundhog’s food sources and cover. Modifying the habitat in susceptible areas can make your yard and garden less attractive to the groundhog. Keep in mind that this control method does affect other wildlife, as you will ultimately be removing their valuable habitat, too.
Shooting the groundhog should only be used as a last resort. It’s an effective groundhog control method that has a low risk of harming non-target animals.
Keep in mind that shooting the groundhog may be illegal where you live and unsafe under some circumstances. For instance, if you live in a suburban neighborhood, this is not the correct control method for you. It is your responsibility to check your local and state laws regarding groundhog hunting.
Many gardeners swear by some of the items in their kitchen as effective groundhog control. But not all gardeners have experienced quite the same success. If your exclusion efforts or habitat medication isn’t working, or you prefer not to use gas cartridges, you might find some benefit in the following natural remedies.
Keep in mind that these home remedies are not scientifically proven, and there is little to no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. The success behind these remedies is often anecdotal.
Ready to kick out that stubborn groundhog? Here’s what you can try:
- Pour castor oil in and around the burrow when the groundhog is away. They reportedly hate the oil’s smell.
- Did you just get your haircut? Place the hair cuttings in a mesh bag and stake the bag near the groundhog’s burrow. The groundhogs will smell the hair and may think people are nearby.
- Pour soiled kitty litter in and around the burrow. The woodchuck may fear that a predator is near its den.
- Other repulsive smells groundhogs may detest include garlic, lavender, and cayenne pepper. Place these smells near your garden plants to make your veggies less inviting.
- Sprinkle Epsom salts, blood meal, or talcum powder around the burrow.
- Place a rag soaked in ammonia near the groundhog’s burrow entrance.
Groundhog removal methods to avoid
Conibear ‘instant killing’ traps
Conibear traps are traps that instantly kill the animal when it tries to move through it.
The device is placed inside the burrow to trap the animal as it enters or leaves the burrow. The danger with this method is that any animal may come across the burrow’s entrance, including your pet. Or worse, the groundhog trap might harm a small child that tampers with it.
Conibear traps are an unsafe method to control groundhogs in the yard and should not be used.
Remember: If you use any trap in your yard, you must first check your local and state laws.
Live traps and translocation
Preserving the woodchuck’s life with a live cage trap and translocating it to a new home might sound like a kind way to treat the animal, but this method can be inhumane. Separating the animal from its home and releasing it in a new environment subjects the animal to a stressful transition that often ends in its death.
Live-trapping and handling a groundhog also puts you at risk of contracting rabies from the animal.
It’s best not to waste your money on products that promise to repel groundhogs. No products are currently registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as groundhog repellents.
Poisonous baits are not a good idea for controlling groundhogs. The likelihood of killing a non-target animal is high, whether or not it’s inhabiting the burrow. You also endanger pets and children that may discover the poison at the burrow’s entrance.
According to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, frightening devices have little effect on woodchucks. Frightening devices like banging pie plates, ultrasonic noise emitters, and shiny reflectors will not likely scare groundhogs away.
Signs you have a groundhog in your yard
Other than finding a groundhog munching on your tomatoes, the classic sign of a groundhog living in your lawn is the large mound of excavated earth at the burrow entrance.
The entry hole is typically 10 to 12 inches in diameter. The opening’s tunnel is steep before leveling off into a narrower tunnel inside the burrow.
A burrow system also has one to three secondary entrances. The groundhog digs these entrances from underground, which means there are no mounds of soil beside them.
Why are groundhogs bad for the yard?
Groundhogs can make rather unwelcome houseguests. Here are some reasons why homeowners and farmers prefer not to have these critters on their property:
- A groundhog’s burrow can dry out tree roots.
- Groundhogs can harm newly planted trees as they claw their way up the trunks.
- A groundhog’s burrow entrance may affect your lawn’s curb appeal.
- Groundhog damage can occur in home gardens, orchards, and around a building’s foundation.
- Damaged crops can prove costly for farmers and gardeners.
- Groundhog holes can be a hazard to lawn and farm equipment, horses, and riders.
What are the advantages of groundhogs?
Before you send your groundhog packing, let’s acknowledge the critical role it plays in the ecosystem. Abandoned woodchuck burrows often become a safe home for other animals, such as skunks, foxes, raccoons, weasels, and chipmunks. Woodchucks are also prey for various animals, such as foxes, bobcats, coyotes, and eagles.
Turn to an exterminator for help
If you haven’t got the time to build an exclusion fence or don’t feel comfortable with DIY pest control, call up a pest control professional to handle the job for you. Hiring a professional exterminator can save you energy, patience, and peace of mind.
If woodchuck control is too much for your plate, the chances are good that other yard chores are cumbersome also. Mowing, overseeding, fertilizing –– hire a local lawn care professional to take the honey-do list off your hands so you can enjoy your free time doing what matters most.
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