I finally saw my first groundhog of the season, wandering about checking the yard for what was ready to munch. I call them groundhogs rather than woodchucks, because they really are hogs. They will level a garden in a few hours.
They love vegetables, especially squash vines, pea and bean plants and anything in the cruciferous family – particularly kale. With the exception of the squash vines, we have similar tastes.
The only way to protect your vegetable garden is with a fence. I seriously don’t know how anyone can have a vegetable garden without a fence. Groundhogs are close cousins to squirrels and they not only burrow – they climb – high. So a simple wire fence is not going to cut it.
The best thing to do is to erect a fence with some give to it. If the fence sways while the groundhog is trying to climb it, he or she won’t feel safe and might hop off – depending on how hungry they are. To thwart them further, add a 1 – 2 ft. section of fence on the top that folds or flops backward. Once they hit that swaying piece, they almost always give up.
Now, since they also burrow under fences, you will need to buy some fence along the perimeter of your garden. Get some 2 ft. wide hardware cloth with 1 inch openings and fold it into an “L” shape. Bury it so that the top portion of the “L” is at least 10 inches deep and the bottom of the “L” is angled outward, away from the garden.
Now that the vegetable garden is as secure as a fence can make it, it’s time to turn to the rest of the yard. Besides leafy greens, groundhogs love astilbe, salvia, lilies, Impatiens… yes, just about what ever is on the menu that day.
You will never be totally safe from a groundhogs appetite, but take some comfort in knowing that they tend to stakeout the entire neighborhood, rather than hanging out in one yard. Once they’ve leveled your lilies, they will move down the road for a few weeks and let your garden regrow.
There are several deterrents on the market that say they deter groundhogs, but I’ve never tried one that reliably works. Two things that have helped are blood meal and used kitty litter.
The blood meal has been pretty darn successful in keeping not just groundhogs, but also rabbits, off certain plants. These vegetarians are put off by the smell of dried blood. In my yard, they are content to eat the clover in the lawn and forgo the bloody flowers. I always overseed the lawn with a little clover each spring, to make sure there’s plenty to go around.
Ideally, I’d like to make my yard less attractive as a home base for groundhogs. They love shrubby cover and with my hedgerow, they feel quite at home. But groundhogs are surprisingly hygienic animals for creatures who live underground. They actually build bathrooms in their tunnels, so they don’t have to step on their own waste. So when I find a tunnel opening, I dump some used kitty litter down it before I fill it in. This usually keeps them away from that opening for at least a month, often longer.
I know that having the scent of kitty litter around probably appeals to you even less than it would a groundhog, but once it’s buried, you won’t notice it. If you don’t have cats of your own, trust me, a friend with a cat will be more than happy to let you scoop up some litter.
Battling groundhogs is no different than other wildlife in the garden, you have to adapt as they do. But these tools should help you get started. If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Seriously.