I fluctuate between thinking groundhogs are cute little bundles of blubber and the worst garden pest in nature. I’ve long since stopped trying to get rid of them. When one is trapped and relocated, another moves in and we start the game all over again. I’ve made some peace with them by fortifying the fence around my vegetable garden and over-seeding the lawn with a lot of apparently tasty clover. Still, they want more.
A couple of years ago I pulled into my driveway and saw one of them on a branch of my peach tree, snacking away. I don’t have a photo because I was too busy flailing my arms and shouting incivilities.
This weekend I noticed a lot of “snow” coming from one of the mulberry trees on the side of my house. It wasn’t windy, so I looked up to see if a squirrel was there. Close. It was the squirrels fat cousin, the groundhog. I believe it was Mama, because I saw 3 plump babies scurrying about the day before. She stared me down, but didn’t leave the tree until I went inside.
Some Things You Might Not Know About Groundhogs
- Their burrows can be mansion size, rambling over 60 ft. long, often with multiple levels.
- For easy access, burrows have multiple entrances and exits.
- To aid in foraging the entire neighborhood, they will build more than one burrow.
- They have “bathrooms” in the burrows, special rooms just for relieving themselves.
- Although it seems like they never stop eating, they generally feed in the cooler parts of the day, in the early morning and in the evening.
- They have to eat a lot (I mean a whole lot) because they hibernate all winter and only wake in the spring to mate and multiply. They need all that padding to last 4 months or longer with no food.
- They don’t often drink water, getting it from the foods they eat instead.
- They prefer anything green, but will also eat roots, bark, fruits and nuts. These rougher foods do double duty by keeping their incisors short and sharp. (As with squirrels and other rodents, groundhogs incisors continue growing and would become prohibitively long if they weren’t filed down by gnawing.)
- Although they are generally herbivores, if necessary they will also eat insects.
My Groundhogs Favorite Vegetables
Cole crops (particularly kale)
*They love the leaves of these plants and can eat them to nubs in a single meal.
How I Keep them Out of My Vegetable Garden
- When you are plotting out your critter control, keep in mind that groundhogs don’t just burrow under things. Like squirrels, are herbivores that can climb. With that in mind, here are my groundhog survival tips.
- Bury the fencing around your vegetable garden at least 6 in. deep and angle it outward, so that when they try to tunnel under it, they get discouraged. If your fence is already in place and you can’t easily dig down enough to bury more fencing, use chimney flashing all around the perimeter, securing it in place with landscape staples, bricks or large rocks.
- Don’t make your fencing taut and sturdy. Groundhogs are not as agile as squirrels. They don’t like to climb fencing that has some give and bends as they climb up it. I use ½ in. chicken wire or hardware cloth for the lower 3 ft. of my vegetable garden fence as well as the portion that is buried, but I use aluminum window screening to a height of 4 ft. outside of it, which so far has discouraged climbing.
- Over-seed your lawn with white clover each spring. Not only will it divert their attention, before they make it to the garden, they’ll be out in plain site, where you can keep an eye on them.
- Sprinkling bloodmeal on or near plants keeps them from sampling, however it needs to be reapplied after rain.
- I’ve also had some luck with repellents labeled specifically for groundhogs, but they’re hard to find.
- Most references say to avoid keeping woodpiles and to clear and weedy areas of brush, but that’s neither practical or preferable for most gardeners.
The Good News
Groundhogs tend to be anti-social, solitary creatures. They don’t live in packs and they don’t even keep their offspring around for very long. So at least you shouldn’t be over run with the animals.
But don’t be lulled into thinking they’ve moved on, if you don’t see them for a few weeks. They use their extraordinary burrows to visit greener pastures and give your garden time to regrow. Once they level your neighbors garden, they’ll be back to visit yours.