Groundhogs in my Garden!

23

groundhogs in Greenbelt, MarylandI suppose most suburban gardeners have some mammals to deal with in their garden – squirrels, rabbits and deer being the top nuisances in my area, so far. That is, until this fat-and-happy groundhog took up residence under my neighbor’s shed, and we think it has a mate, too. (We’re not sure – they all look the same to us.)

The first plants to fall victim to groundhogs were Echinacea purpurea, which were sheared to the ground (sorry, goldfinches!) and the spent flowers of comfrey – which I don’t miss at all. That’s all so far in my back yard.

Sweet potato vine and Persian Shield.
Sweet Potato Vine and Persian Shield.

My front garden is just starting to show groundhog damage, most obviously the sweet potato vine here in before/after photos taken just a day apart. So fleeting! And I’d taken that “before” photo so I could brag about how great this pairing looks, proclaiming “Look Ma – no Flowers!” or some such. Ha!

Our resident groundhogs have also defoliated several Morning Glory vines I’m training as privacy screening, among several other vines (Crossvine, Sweet Autumn Clematis and Purple Hyacinth Vine) but Morning Glory is the most vigorous of them all. Or was until the ‘hogs got ’em (a fitting nickname, given their appetite).

Screen shot from Cosmos and Cleome.com

These select few plants (thankfully) among the many I have on offer for resident mammals are right in line with what my research reveals about their preferred diet. For example, I found this list of plants eaten by groundhogs in the Pennsylvania garden of the blogger Cosmos and Cleome.  Echinacea, sweet potato vine and morning glory are all there! The good news is that they’re the only plants on this list that I’m growing this year, so that gave me hope.

Until I did more research and learned that “In the wild, groundhogs can live up to six years with two or three being average.” Probably more like six because we’re short on groundhog predators around here (just the occasional red fox).

Interestingly, “When alarmed, they use a high-pitched whistle to warn the rest of the colony, hence the name ‘whistle-pig’. Groundhogs may squeal when fighting, seriously injured, or caught by a predator. Other sounds groundhogs may make are low barks and a sound produced by grinding their teeth.” Have a listen.

What’s hard to find are research-based lists of what they eat, beyond “primarily wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries and agricultural crops, when available…sheep sorrel, timothy-grass, buttercup, tearthumb, agrimony, red and black raspberries, mulberries, buckwheat, plantain, wild lettuce, all varieties of clover, and alfalfa.” Never heard of some of those! We DO have clover all around us (though not in MY lawn-less garden.)

From another source: “They especially like certain garden crops like carrots, beans and peas. They will even climb trees to eat apples and pears. Groundhogs have been known to decimate an entire garden by taking a single bite out of a dozen different zucchini or peppers. They do the same to pumpkins ruining farmers’ seasonal chance of selling them at Halloween.” Glad I’m not trying to feed any humans from my garden.

On the subject of groundhog damage, it’s disheartening to read that “An adult groundhog will eat more than a pound of vegetation daily. In early June, woodchucks’ metabolism slows, food intake increases, their weight increases by as much as 100% as they produce fat deposits to sustain them during hibernation and late winter.”

But enough reading – time for action! I bought some of this repellent and am spraying the remains of my most vulnerable plants.

And my neighbors and I have decided to pool our resources and hire a wildlife-trapping company to take our ‘hogs away. And not just for the sake of our gardens. We’re learning about possible damage to the homes and sheds they live underneath.

So to our chubby, voracious underground neighbors I say – “Safe travels!”

23 COMMENTS

  1. I fought one for 2 years. What it didn’t eat in my flower bed it trampled. tried a Have-A-Heart trap. Wouldn’t go near it. Didn’t dare use a leg hold trap as lots of cats in area. This year I dug a trench along the fence between me and empty house where chuck lived under a shed. Put in 18″ tall metal flashing, then 24″ hardware cloth with one foot folded at 90 degree angle. Finally a line of glass bottles, then back filled. Haven’t seen the evil beast since. If it reappears I’ll run a hot wire 3″ above ground. with labor, spent $400. A 22 would be easier but I don’t shoot. Also hoping new dog, all 15 pounds of beagle, will chase Chuck.

  2. I had to put hardware cloth cages around all my veg plants and some of my favorite perennials – they even ate my scotch broom!

  3. My garden blog isn’t called Woodchuck Acres without reason! In the fall, the critters wait until after a hard frost sweetens the Brussels sprouts, then they have a feeding frenzy. I haven’t seen any since I rescued the current canine residents – they chase everything. Maybe the privacy fence skirted with hardware cloth helps, too.

  4. We’ve had woodchucks living under the house, eating the entire vegetable garden. My small son was so scared of them; he asked did they look like the Easter Bunny at the mall with eyeballs in its mouth?? We have successfully trapped with broccoli wired to the back of the trap and relocated at least 5 so far. This year? Foxes!! So cute, the kits look like a cross between kittens and puppies. Flattened garden plants didn’t bother me. But the STENCH of dead animals mama fox was bringing under the house for her babies!! Oh my. Made me glad to know nobody was coming to visit…

  5. We frequently get one or two every summer – they love cruciferous veggies. We set the Hav-a-heart trap and eventually caught him, then drove him about 8 miles away. By the way it is illegal (here in Virginia at least) to relocate wildlife – as apparently they don’t do well. But, who cares, it is better than shooting them (also illegal in town). Also, where to release is tricky, they are hated by farmers, so had to find some distant woods.
    PS – we frequently find other critters, such as skunks and possums, in the trap – but my hubby has figured out a way to sneak up on the skunks behind a large piece of cardboard, and release them without spray retaliation (maybe a useful bit of garden info)

  6. Have lived for more than a decade with a succession of groundhogs, who faithfully have a litter of usually four that come out in the second half of spring to munch the clover in the lawn, but occasionally other things in the border: young tender Rosa palustris foliage and Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’ (leaving two other varieties alone). Once I caged the lungwort, it recovered from the heavy noshing. I appreciate the tip on coneflowers. If and when I try some, they’ll have to stay caged. It could be they’re eating some morning glory; there’s so much here that I wouldn’t notice.

  7. We lost nearly all our first garden years ago. Then we build a fenced garden with chicken wire under it. They ravage flowers. Now I know whaht happened to the many coneflowers I planted!

    Ugg!

  8. I hate killing them or even swatting a fly but this is the hell I live in today, I hate it. But I feel so blessed to have my garden to guard when so many others are stuck in an apartment with no way out.

    • Drowning is a painful, scary way to go. I read a tip about putting dog poop where they are staying and also where they come in-and-out under a fence or a shed. Since I have a German shepherd and a husky, I have plenty of that. I have to tell you it worked. Within 3 days, my annual springtime groundhog of 5 years left for good.

  9. Don’t know if it would work, but you could try bordering garden areas with garden phlox, or roses. We had both when I was a kid, in a border that ran along the driveway (small town in NJ) and we had groundhogs several years running. Watched the mom raise babies etc. Never saw any damage to the garden phlox or roses.

  10. We live in MO in a lake community with a dam. Dam gets inspected every 3 yrs. There are always groundhog holes. Ghogs & dams are not compatible. Last yr we spent $800 to trap 2 ghogs, that’s $400 per ghog. Trap has to be checked daily & trapper charges for this. Ugh. Pamphlet from MO Dept Cons says ghog burrows can be 5′ deep & 25′ long with side entrances. A game camera is fun to see what lives in the hole.
    When dam safety engineers came in May they found a new hole. They said “Dig it out & back-fill”, so that’s what we’re doing.
    In terms of have-a-heart traps, I saw one at Lee Valley that has a timer to set to open trap. That way you don’t have face the vengeance of a released skunk or ??.

  11. I hate those furry bastards. I never knew they could climb trees until I actually saw one in my backyard. I had two pots of dill on my patio, and the little bugger ate one of them! You can’t shoot them with a BB gun, because they’re so damn fat the pellets bounce off of them! I was sitting on my patio eating lunch last weekend when I happened to glance to my left – less than a foot away from me was a grounhog, looking up at me like “oh, hi”. I hates them, I does.

  12. I moved to upstate NY 10 years ago and have been coexisting with woodchucks ever since. I put fencing around my vegetable garden and they do not get in there. In the spring they try out my flowers and then leave them alone. The flowers just bloom a little later. There are some flowers that I can only grow in a fenced in area but that isn’t such a hardship. Relocating Groundhogs is illegal in NYS. We are living in their world not the other way around

  13. Over the years, I have trapped and relocated a number of groundhogs. Others always come back. One year, I grew gorgeous dahlias. No problems. The next year, the groundhogs ate them all. I never know what flowers or plants will be part of their buffet. This year, they ate the pulmaria, campanula and salvia. I bought the spray and it seems to work. But, they have tunneled under my front steps. if I try to get rid of them, others will undoubtedly show up. Paying someone to trap them is probably a short term fix.

  14. One thing to know about wild life removal services is that they are required to kill not relocate animals in most localities. There doesn’t seem to be any requirement for humane killing. I’d try the dog poop remedy above, although my sister swears by requesting that male visitors/residents urinate into her (privately located) ground hog hole.

    ceci

  15. Groundhogs, deer, etc. know we humans are apex predators. You can buy fox or coyote urine, but human urine works just as well … and it’s free. My motto is “pee is me”!

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