They are the scourge of gardeners everywhere: Woodchucks, aka groundhogs, whistle pigs, or Marmota monax wreak havoc in gardens, trampling plants, digging complex burrows, and devouring vegetables.
But before we judge the groundhog, we should recognize that they are valuable to our ecosystem. Woodchucks are native mammals, evolved to fit into the North American environment. Woodchucks are an important food source for endangered apex predators such as foxes, bobcats, fishers, eagles, and large hawks. They dig extensive burrows that are used as escape cover, shelter, or overwintering sites by many other animals, including cottontail rabbits, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, snakes, weasels, and chipmunks.
Let’s face it: The groundhogs were here before us, and they will be here after us. Rather than trying to exterminate the native ground hog, it is better for gardeners to plan for a peaceful and dignified coexistence.
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can prevent woodchucks from entering your garden bed by putting up a simple mesh fence (humanesociety.org/woodchucks). What’s needed is a roll of 4-foot-high green garden mesh or chicken wire and some stakes. Once the job is done, it won’t matter how many woodchucks are in the neighborhood because they won’t be getting into your garden!
VINES offers green plastic fencing to community garden members/Build-A-Garden members for their standard 4’x10’ garden bed. A few suggestions:
- The top portion of the fence only needs to be 3 feet high, but it should be staked so that it’s wobbly — i.e. the mesh should not be pulled tight between the stakes; rather, there should be some “give” so that when the woodchuck tries to climb the fence, it will wobble and discourage them.
- Do not leave any accidental openings between the bottom of your fence and the raised bed. A groundhog can just squeeze right through any opening greater than 2 inches.
- For extra protection, extend the bottom portion of the green fencing 12 inches outward, away from the garden, in a “L” shape which creates a false bottom. (Put this mesh “flap” on top of the ground but be sure to secure it firmly with landscaping staples/tent stakes or the woodchuck will go under it.) When the woodchuck digs down and hits this mesh flap, she’ll think she can’t dig any farther and give up.
No offense, but I don’t like Fences…
If you don’t want to put up a fence, try the following scare techniques, which do work in some cases:
- Line the garden with helium-filled Mylar or “Scare-Eye” balloons attached to weights so they’re about 3 feet off the ground. The bobbing balloons will scare the woodchucks.
- Put Critter Ridder or blood meal fertilizer around the perimeter of garden, sprinkle cayenne pepper around the plants or spray a taste repellent such as RopeI on the plants every two weeks.
- Identify the burrow and put epsom salts around the entrances every time it rains. Be aware that a burrow typically has 5 entrances in all.
- Planting lavender and garlic chives around the perimeter of the garden are believed to detract groundhogs since they may be distracted by these smells.
Don’t Fall For A Trap!
According to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, it is illegal live trap an animal and release it anywhere other than on the property where it was captured. If you need a wild animal removed from your property, contact a Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator (NWCO). Relocating an animal can create problems for neighbors, can move diseases like rabies or Lyme, and can cause unnecessary stress to the animal. This task must be handled by a licensed professional.