Besides bringing news of a longer winter or an earlier spring, groundhogs can sometimes destroy your lawn and garden.
So, how can you get rid of groundhogs? You can use natural repellents, traps, scare tactics, gas cartridges, or your gun to get these furry, hole-digging lovers of vegetables and flowers off your land. Then, take steps (in-ground fencing, for example) to keep them away.
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But first, let’s take a closer look at groundhogs and the damage they can cause.
What are Groundhogs?
Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks or “whistle-pigs,” are mammals that belong to the squirrel family but grow to be much larger — about 2 feet in length and 10 pounds in weight.
Brown with round bodies, ever-growing teeth, and long, strong claws used for digging their burrows, groundhogs can live up to six years in the wild. They make their homes in the United States, parts of Alaska, and Canada.
When not hibernating from October through early February, groundhogs burrow, mate, and forage for food. Signs of groundhog damage include teeth marks, damaged plants, and dirt mounds, but these are also the hallmarks of moles and voles.
Once you’re sure groundhogs are your culprit, and especially if they have burrowed beneath your garage, shed, foundation, or other structure (which can cause a host of issues), it’s time to send them packing.
How to Get Rid of Groundhogs
Whether groundhogs are rifling through your garden or burrowing underneath your foundation, deck or shed, try these methods of ridding the nuisance from your land.
There are no commercial chemical repellents specifically to control groundhogs, but pesticides targeting other rodents placed at the entrance to a groundhog’s hole reportedly will work.
Natural repellents that some people swear by include:
Coyote, fox or dog urine: Spray, drizzle or pour this near a groundhog’s hole to deter his or her return. Groundhogs fear predators, including coyotes, foxes, and dogs, and smelling their urine is a warning to stay away. If you don’t have a dog, some people claim putting used kitty litter just inside a groundhog’s hole will ward off this pest.
Dog fur and human hair: Groundhogs dislike people and man’s best friend is a foe, so sprinkle some of Fido’s fur or hair collected from a salon or barber shop around your flower bed to deter groundhogs.
Ammonia: A rag soaked with ammonia placed near the entrance of a groundhog’s hole acts as a giant “Keep Away” sign. Other strong scents groundhogs don’t like include talcum powder and garlic.
Red pepper: Groundhogs, like many people, don’t like spicy foods, so sprinkle red pepper flakes or spray a mix of water and chopped peppers near groundhog tunnels and holes. You’ll have to reapply your pepper flakes or pepper spray after a rain.
Blood meal: This groundhog repellent also does your plants good, as blood meal is a fertilizer.
Consider this a win-win — the groundhog will be gone and your vegetables will be healthier.
Antifreeze: Don’t try this, as antifreeze as a poison for groundhogs is a myth. While one farmer says it works, experts say it doesn’t. Don’t waste your time.
2. Trap and release
Here’s how to trap a groundhog (humanely): Set your trap close to but not blocking the entrance to the burrow entrance. As bait, use a slice of cantaloupe or other fruit. Replace the bait daily, as fresh bait works best.
Note: Check state rules on groundhog traps. Cage-type traps are recommended, body-gripping may not be allowed. Foothold traps require special skill and experience.
Once trapped, it’s recommended that you release your groundhog away from your yard (obviously) and away from cities, towns and other populated areas. If you are releasing the groundhog on private property, get that owner’s permission. Check your state’s laws covering releasing a trapped groundhog.
Note: Trapping is not favored as a method of groundhog removal. According to the University of New Hampshire Extension, “Several factors make this a less attractive approach than you may think: Translocating a woodchuck from its home is subjecting the humanely trapped animal to a prolonged, very stressful ordeal that often ends in its death.”
It’s also possible you may inadvertently trap other wildlife, or that captured groundhog might be carrying rabies.
3. Target their home
The Humane Society recommends making the groundhogs’ home inhabitable (flooding and fumigation are two examples) to get them to leave.
Groundhogs don’t like a wet den (who does?), so flooding works to get groundhogs out of their home and looking for drier land on which to dig.
Gas your groundhogs. The Missouri Department of Conservation suggests fumigating burrows with cartridges available at your neighborhood farm or home supply center. Gas cartridges release carbon monoxide in lethal amounts in a groundhog’s burrows.
How to plug a groundhog hole: For fumigation to be effective, seal the groundhog’s holes so the pest can’t escape. Once you’ve placed the gas cartridge in the groundhog’s entrance, seal the burrow. Watch for nearby holes. If you see smoke, seal those, too.
Notes: Gas cartridges contain combustible materials, so don’t use them near buildings. Also, don’t breathe the smoke from the cartridges.
4. Scare tactics
Most attempts at frightening groundhogs don’t work well. Scarecrows that are moved around regularly and rotating pinwheels can offer temporary relief, but they don’t work long-term to frighten groundhogs into digging up someone else’s yard.
Ultrasonic noise and vibrations can scare away groundhogs, moles, and other digging pests. Solar stakes that send ultrasonic pulses cause the ground to vibrate. The shaking leads groundhogs and other nuisance pests to seek safer quarters elsewhere.
5. Shoot them
Yes, you can remove groundhogs and other nuisance pests with a gun in Missouri and other states. The Missouri Department of Conservation recommends checking with local authorities regarding firearms use and adds this note: “A young, medium-sized, properly prepared groundhog makes excellent table fare.”
How to Prevent Groundhogs from Moving in
Once you’ve said goodbye to your groundhog problem, here’s how to keep them from returning:
An in-ground fence is your best option for keeping groundhogs away from vegetable gardens and flower beds. The PennState Extension suggests a fence at least 3 feet high and buried 12 inches underground.
“As an additional measure, place an electric wire 4 to 5 inches off the ground and the same distance outside the fence,” the extension office advises. “When connected to a fence charger, the electric wire will prevent climbing and burrowing.”
You can also use hardware cloth buried 1 foot into the ground to deter groundhogs from burrowing under decks, foundations, and the like.
Before installing any type of fencing or other barrier, make sure there aren’t any inhabited burrows nearby. You don’t want to accidentally trap groundhogs inside and cut them off from food and water.
2. Maintain your yard
Regularly trimming grasses, shrubs, and trees removes cover groundhogs use to evade predators. If sufficient cover no longer exists in an area, groundhogs may feel less safe and set out in search of a new home.
3. Plants as deterrents
Plants with strong fragrances, such as lavender, will keep groundhogs out of your garden. The Farmers’ Almanac says groundhogs also dislike the smell of these herbs: mint, sage, basil, lemon balm, rosemary, thyme, chives and oregano.
Groundhogs: The good, the bad, and the best time for removal
So, you think you know groundhogs? Maybe. Let’s see if you know the answers to these frequently asked questions. If you miss all of these, well, you’ll have to read the questions again and again until you can answer them correctly, sort of like the movie “Groundhog Day.”
Are there benefits to groundhogs?
Before deciding to get rid of groundhogs, understand that unless they’re causing a problem, they should be left alone.
Groundhogs play an important role in our ecological system. Their abandoned burrows can become homes for other wildlife, such as foxes, skunks, and rabbits. They provide food for predators, including hawks, owls, coyotes, and eagles. Their occasionally problematic digging can even help aerate soil and recycle nutrients.
Like their squirrel and chipmunk brethren, groundhogs also don’t reproduce rapidly. Only socializing with a partner when it’s time to mate, adult females carry their young for about one month before giving birth to two to six pups. So, “infestation” isn’t a word you’d associate with these animals.
Are groundhogs aggressive?
Groundhogs spend most of their time inside their burrows, emerging a few hours during the day to gather food. When they are out and about, they do their best to avoid humans.
If you happen upon a rabies-infected groundhog, however, it may attack unprovoked. Other than rabies, groundhogs are not considered harmful to people and do not usually transmit other diseases to them.
When is the best time to try to get rid of groundhogs?
The best time to plug a groundhog’s hole as a removal method is between July and late September. You don’t want to be ousting a groundhog right before hibernation nor during the time females are pregnant and raising their young.
When should you call a pest control pro?
If your groundhog problem needs more attention than you’re able to give, call in a wildlife pest control professional. A licensed expert will assess your property for signs of groundhogs and create a custom plan to help you get rid of them.
Why is a groundhog called a whistle-pig?
If you have ever heard a groundhog screech when alarmed, whistle-pig makes perfect sense. Scientific American notes that a groundhog emits a high-pitched whistle as a warning to other groundhogs in the area.
And what is the origin of the woodchuck name? It doesn’t have anything to do with wood. “Wuchak” is what the Algonquin called a groundhog.