I’M ALWAYS LOOKING FOR good topics to write about, so I frequently ask followers on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ what they might like me to cover. The other day when @bethanngiordano suggested that I look at how to keep wild rabbits out of the garden, it got me thinking.
I haven’t had rabbit problems in more than 10 years, but I just recently had a run in with a family of groundhogs (a.k.a. woodchucks) at my father’s house. Ms. Groundhog has a borough right up against my father’s house with three youngsters in residence.
One thing that I’ve noticed from this groundhog family is that mother groundhogs will make a loud, short whistle when danger approaches the young ones. It almost sounds like a bird call that’s been amped up a few decibels. This is why groundhogs are also called whistle pigs in certain parts of the U.S. Every time someone opens a window on the back side of the house, we hear this very loud chirp.
Fortunately, my father no longer has a garden because groundhogs are voracious garden feeders. Groundhog control is a challenge. Neighbors in back and to the side have been trying to prevent the varmints from scoffing down their vegetable plants.
Several years ago, I had a groundhog decimate my green beans. So I know the damage they can cause. One day the plants were supplying a motherload of beans and the next day there wasn’t even a single leaf on any of the plants.
Groundhog control strategies
The neighbor to the side (Neighbor One) tried to deal with the situation by putting a trap* along the fence where the groundhogs like to run. She baited the trap with carrots but caught only a couple of squirrels and no groundhogs.
The neighbor in back (Neighbor Two) used a different, much more successful six step strategy. Here’s what he did:
Step 1: Neighbor Two put a hardware cloth* fence around his garden to discourage them from dining there.
Step 2: He blocked the back door of the borough with large rocks so that the groundhog had no choice to enter the borough through the main entrance. There’s almost always two or three entrances to a borough. You need to take this into account in your groundhog control strategy.
Step 3: Then he waited until the groundhogs were feeding on the other side of the house. Next he placed the trap in the entrance to the borough, which backs up onto the side of my father’s house and is covered by some lilac bushes. The bushes camouflaged the trap so that it looked normal from the outside.
Step 4: Next, he scared the ground hog so that she would run back into the borough. In her frantic haste, the mother groundhog ran right into the trap.
Step 5: He repeated the process for each of the other members of the family.
Step 6: He then drove the groundhog family to a new location far away from his garden.
Neighbor Two’s strategy relies on the fact that the area around the entrance to the borough has bushes or other vegetation that hides the trap. This may seem like an unusual situation, but experts agree that rarely will a groundhog place a entrance in an unhidden location. The hole usually is surrounded by dense bushes to conceal it, which also can prevent the groundhog from seeing the trap until it is too late.
It may seem like trapping is a more humane groundhog control strategy, but most experts agree that groundhogs that have been transported away from their homes are unlikely to survive. This is probably especially true for a mother with young ones.
Most experts agree that groundhogs that have been transported away from their homes are unlikely to survive.
A more humane, although probably less reliable, ground hog control method would be to fence the garden and use repellents* to drive the groundhogs away from your yard. Repellent manufacturers say this should be done when the groundhog first comes out of the borough after winter hibernation. But I’ve yet to see anyone say they successfully used a repellent to get rid of a groundhog. Still, it may be worth a try.
Fencing may be the more effective part of the strategy than trying to drive a groundhog out of the neighborhood. Groundhogs are less likely to go after your plants if they have to work for it.
If you put up a fence, be sure to bury hardware cloth around the outside of the fence. It must be buried just under the ground radiating two feet out from the fence to make sure that the groundhogs don’t tunnel under.
The other important point to consider is that groundhogs can climb, so the fence must be at least three feet tall.
Have you been able to protect your garden from groundhogs? How did you do it? Let us know by commenting below.
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