How to Use Epsom Salts to Keep Woodchucks Away From a Vegetable Garden

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Everyone knows the jingle about woodchucks chucking wood, but fewer people can identify a woodchuck, and even fewer still know how to keep them out of a vegetable garden. Woodchucks are bigger than squirrels and twice as hungry. They love eating fresh vegetables and garden flowers, and one hefty woodchuck family can devastate a backyard garden.

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Fortunately, there are more than a few ways you can keep these marmots from rampaging through the broccoli patch without using poisons or weapons of mass destruction. These include everything from installing special fencing, recommended by experts, to using Epsom salts to deter them.

What Are Woodchucks?

Woodchucks are chubby rodents in the marmot family. These oversize ground squirrels, which can grow to 14 pounds, are also called groundhogs. Under that name, they are said to determine whether the winter will grind on for another six weeks by whether they see their shadow on Groundhog Day.

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In the backyard, woodchucks live in underground burrows. They forage for their meals in the mornings and evenings, happily downing many vegetables, especially alfalfa, broccoli, squash, peas, beans, carrot tops, and leafy greens. They also snack on flowering shrubs, like asters, snapdragons, daisies, and pansies.

Noticing a Woodchuck Problem

Woodchucks do not sneak around on tiptoe, covering up their presence. If you have woodchucks in the garden, you are likely to notice.

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Are your vegetables or flowers are getting eaten by some animal with a healthy appetite? Are there bites taken out of tomatoes? Are carrot greens chomped down to the ground? Look for the burrowing holes that mark the passage of woodchucks across a lawn. Keep an eye out for holes a foot across surrounded by mounds of loose dirt.

These are all signs that a woodchuck or two are sharing the property with you. Once you have identified the pest, it's time to consider your options for keeping the critters out of the garden. Though there are companies that remove wildlife that you can call, it's best to try a few self-help deterrents first.

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Try Fencing First

The internet is full of creative ideas about how to dissuade woodchucks from destroying your backyard. Most are interesting, but few are proven to work. Many wildlife experts believe that fencing is the only viable way a gardener can protect plants from woodchucks. If you know there are woodchucks in your neighborhood before you put in a garden, the ideal way to proceed is to install fencing before the woodchuck gets a taste of your strawberries or sweet peas.

Remember that woodchucks can easily climb over or burrow under a regular fence. Therefore, you can't put up a regular fence. In order to build fencing that works against woodchucks, you'll need to bury the bottom edge of chicken wire fencing at least 10 inches into the ground. This makes digging under it difficult. To prevent them from climbing over it, leave a foot or so of wire at the top unattached to posts. Bend it outward to prevent woodchucks from climbing.

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Some Swear by Epsom Salts

Some gardeners swear that unpleasant smells and tastes can keep a hungry groundhog at bay, although it's hard to find scientific evidence supporting these claims. Some gardeners claim that sprinkling regular household Epsom salts around the rodent's burrow entrances will cause it to evacuate the nest. Place bowls of the salts around your garden to protect the veggies and fruits. This is definitely a humane method of pest control, so see if it works for you.

On this same theory, ammonia-soaked sponges may work, and there are those who employ kitty litter that a cat has already used. The kitty litter is said to work because of the pungent smell of cat urine and the possibility that the woodchuck will know that cats are predators. Try pouring it into a burrow entrance to force the woodchuck family out the back door. You can also use any homemade woodchuck repellent, and castor oil alone is another possibility to try.

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Woodchucks detest the smell of a variety of herbs, like cayenne pepper, and those herbs can be used to keep away the pests. For example, you might pour cayenne pepper near the woodchuck holes or crush some garlic and spread it on the ground near plants you'd prefer that woodchucks avoid. Lavender may be a sweet fragrance to the gardener, but the groundhog is said to dislike it, so planting it or other herbs, like basil, lemon balm, rosemary, and thyme, will keep your garden groundhog free.

Share the Love

If you are on the war path against these hungry critters, you may not like the idea of doing them a favor, but those with a little extra land and a love of animals might be able to keep their own garden produce if they plant a second veggie patch for the woodchucks.

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The idea here is to keep the woodchucks from clearing out your crops by giving them an easily accessible garden full of things they love to eat some distance from your own. Though woodchucks eat almost any plants, they do prefer some to others, and some of their favorites are very inexpensive to seed. Plant clover ground cover, parsley, alfalfa, beets, chrysanthemums, zinnia, and parsley.

Combine this effort with a groundhogproof fencing around your own garden and you have a winning plan. If there are any crops left in the woodchuck garden when the animals are finished, you can harvest them yourself.

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Groundhog-Resistant Plants

When you are really desperate, you might be willing to forgo your own garden favorites to be able to harvest a crop not decimated by the groundhogs. In this case, consider planting groundhog-resistant plants. Remember that these plants do not actively resist the attack of an aggressive woodchuck but are just plants that are less appealing to them, including herbs, flowering shrubs, vegetables, plants for shady gardens, and other options.

There aren't many vegetables on this list, but there are a few: beets (​Beta vulgaris​), fennel (​Foeniculum vulgare​), onions (​Allium cepa​), and potatoes (​Solanum turberosum​). Herbs include lemon balm (​Melissa officinalis​), feverfew (​Chrysanthemum parthenium​), catmint (​Nepeta catarina​), and wormwood (​Artemisia​ spp.).

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