Groundhogs may be cute from afar, but in reality, they can cause a lot of damage to a garden or yard. Their network of tunnels is also problematic, particularly if the tunnels travel beneath concrete slabs and foundations. Getting rid of groundhogs is a multi-tiered process that involves making the landscape less inviting to these rodents, as well as removing them by relocation or extermination.
Is It a Groundhog?
Whether you call them groundhogs, whistle pigs or woodchucks, these hungry burrowers can be just as pesky as squirrels, only larger and even more troublesome. Members of the larger marmot family of ground-dwelling rodents, groundhogs look a lot like squirrels, yet are much larger, weighing in at 4 to 14 pounds. Groundhogs can climb and even swim to reach food they seek, but they spend much of their time underground, unlike most squirrels. Groundhogs also look a lot like gophers, another type of ground-dwelling rodent. Gophers are much smaller than groundhogs, however, typically weighing around 2 pounds.
Groundhogs leave telltale holes across the landscape, with each hard-to-miss tunnel entrance 6 to 12 inches wide. They usually dig several entrances to their tunnels.
Groundhogs Cause Damage
Groundhogs can easily decimate a garden by munching on anything they find tasty, such as melons, peas and beans. Plant shoots rarely have a chance in a garden when groundhogs visit. Even flower buds are tasty treats for groundhogs. These dirt-dwelling rodents also chew and claw at fruit trees and may eat clover and grass in a yard. And the potential for groundhog damage gets far worse that just plant damage. These chubby creatures sometimes chew on electrical wiring and even plastic tubing, and may cause building instability if they burrow beneath sheds and other outbuildings. If you suspect groundhogs are responsible for chewed garden plants or burrows beneath a shed, it's time to act quickly.
Groundhogs Hate Certain Odors
One way to repel or get rid of existing groundhogs is to offend their olfactory system. Groundhogs tend to stay away from things they find stinky, such as garlic, other animal scents and cayenne pepper.
- Epsom salts sprinkled near a burrow entrance and around tasty garden plants also keeps groundhogs at bay.
- Cayenne pepper sauce or soiled kitty litter, placed near a burrow entrance, also keep the groundhogs from using that entrance. Treat only one hole at a time, unless you're sure the groundhogs are out roaming around, otherwise they'll just stay in the burrow. Reapply any of these treatments at least once a week to ensure the odor is still strong.
- Crush garlic cloves and spread the garlic around plants you wish to protect, spreading the garlic as needed every few days or after it rains.
- Groundhogs also dislike some fragrant herbs, so if you have room in your garden or flower beds, plant lavender, lemon balm, basil or mint. Plant these around the perimeter of a garden and sporadically throughout to help keep the groundhogs away. Planting these around sheds, garages and other outbuildings is also a good way to keep groundhogs from burrowing beneath the structures.
Landscape Modification Helps
Altering the landscape a bit can help make it less friendly to groundhogs. Brush, wood piles and tall ground cover provide places for groundhogs to go unnoticed. Cut back overgrowth, remove wood piles and keep the yard neatly trimmed to remove potential hiding areas. Groundhogs often dig holes in areas protected by cover, then they cover the holes with leaves and loose debris. Removing these materials may make the groundhogs thing twice about where to burrow.
Place wire fencing or hardware cloth around gardens and even compost piles to keep groundhogs out. (Groundhogs sometimes dig through compost to find tasty bits of produce.) A groundhog-proof fence also keeps rabbits and deer out of the garden. Build a fence at least 3 feet high, with another foot or more of fencing extending below ground. Angle the lower half of the below-ground fencing outward at a 90-degree angle. The top foot of the fence should not be attached to any staking material. Bend this portion of the fencing outwards slightly to discourage any animals attempting to climb the fence.
Trapping a Groundhog
Repelling a large, hungry rodent isn't always enough to get rid of it permanently. Trapping to relocate or exterminate the pest is an option in some states during specific seasons. Check your state's laws to determine if groundhog relocation, trapping, hunting or otherwise killing is legal. In Missouri, for instance, it's considered a game animal during hunting season, but it's also legal to remove a groundhog that's causing property damage outside of the hunting season. Every state sets its own regulations on legal ways to deal with damage-causing groundhogs.
Many traps, such as live traps for catching and relocating an animal, require a bait that entices the groundhog inside. Bait the trap with cantaloupe, corn, strawberries, peaches or lettuce. Wear gloves while handling and baiting the trap. If using fruit, rub the fruit on other parts of the cage as well. For a two-door trap, place bait in the middle. In a one-door cage trap, place the bait in the back.
Set the trap a few feet from the groundhog hole, placing more of the same bait near the hole. Set the trap early in the day, as groundhogs usually only come out of their burrows during the day. You may want to remove the trap at night to avoid catching other types of animals.
Animal Relocation and Extermination
If relocating a groundhog, take the cage trap containing the groundhog at least 5 miles from your property and release the animal, ideally in a woods or other area where it won't cause harm to another person's property. Once you've removed the groundhog, fill in the entrances to its burrows to prevent other animals from moving in.
Note: In some states, it is illegal to release groundhogs or other trapped wildlife on state-owned land such as a state park.
If using a trap that kills animals, trigger the traps so they're ineffective at night. This prevents nocturnal animals from being accidentally killed in your quest to control groundhogs.
Poisoning groundhogs is not recommended, as any poison strong enough to kill this creature may also kill other wildlife or domestic pets roaming the area.