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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Pest of the Month: Groundhogs

Pest of the Month: Groundhogs

Wild animals are part of what makes nature so magical, and watching them can be highly enjoyable. While it’s important to coexist with animals in relative peace, they can cause countless problems when they take up residence in our homes or gardens. In this series, our Wildlife Management Specialist, Shawn Weeks, will educate us about some common household pests, and share some strategies for keeping them under control without dangerous chemicals or poisons.

This month, groundhogs.

Habitat and History:
Groundhogs – also known as woodchucks, whistle pigs, or marmots – are stocky mammals with strong, short legs and short bushy tails. Their fur ranges from dark to light brown with very light guard hairs, making them sometimes look frosted. Their front feet have long, curved claws used for digging burrows. Groundhogs generally weigh between five and ten pounds, and males are usually slightly larger than females.

Groundhogs range from eastern Alaska through most of Canada and the eastern United States, as far south as Georgia. They are, for the most part, absent west of the Great Plains, though their close relative, the prairie dog, ranges farther to the west. Groundhogs are classified as rodents and are related to animals such as mice, porcupines, squirrels, and beavers.

Groundhogs are also excellent diggers with dens ranging from simple and shallow dwellings, to extensive tunnel systems twenty-five to thirty feet long, and two to five feet deep, with two entrances. Their nesting chamber is usually at the end of the main tunnel, and they also make a toilet chamber somewhere within the tunnel system, helping to keep their living space clean.

Groundhogs seldom venture more than a few hundred yards from their burrows. They have a keen sense of smell and hearing, helping to keep them safe from predators. They are also fierce fighters and can hold their own against their enemies, which include humans, dogs, coyotes, foxes, bears, bobcats, mink, hawks, weasels, and owls. Groundhogs will also emit a loud whistle or shrill when startled or frightened (thus their nickname, “whistle pig”), then continue on with a “chuck chuck” type of chatter until they settle.

During pre-colonial times, groundhogs lived in forested areas. Once the land was cleared for farms and towns, they moved to fields and “edge” – the border between a forest and town. They are found throughout many suburban areas where edge is common. They are very adaptable mammals.

This fascinating mammal is also a true hibernator. They fatten up for the winter, gorging themselves as best as they can each fall. Once winter temperatures begin, they enter their sleeping chamber, shut down their metabolism and begin their long sleep.

Diet:
Grasses and forbs are the primary diet of groundhogs, making them true herbivores. Forbs are any plants other than grass with growth that dies back after flowering and seeds set. They will also eat things such as fruit, tree leaves, garden vegetables, clover, and alfalfa.

Reproduction:
As a general rule, groundhogs breed in their second season, although some have been known to breed as yearlings. They breed in March or April, and a litter of two to six young that are born about a month later. Groundhogs grow, and are weaned, at a very fast pace and will seek out their own den and range by mid-summer. They are born blind, naked, and helpless.

Problems, Solutions and Health Concerns:
Groundhogs can cause major damage to farmers and home gardeners. They love to eat vegetables and leave the soil weak in areas where they burrow, resulting in damage to farm equipment and injuries to horses and livestock. In extreme cases, groundhog burrows have even been known to damage the foundations of barns, garages, or homes.

Rabies can also be a concern for people who have groundhogs on their property. They are mammals, making them susceptible to the disease.

There are a few solutions available to folks who are having a problem with groundhogs. Installing a wire mesh fence can deter groundhogs from browsing your gardens and crops. You must, however, make the fence extend down into the ground at least two feet. Because groundhogs are excellent diggers, installing a simple fence from the ground up may not do the trick. You should also extend a one-foot, angled section from the top of the fence. Some groundhogs have been observed climbing short, vertical fences.

Ammonia soaked rags are another good groundhog deterrent. Groundhogs will mistake the ammonia for a predator’s urine, and will steer clear of your property. Place the rags close enough to your garden that the groundhog can smell them, but not so close that the ammonia will leach into the soil around your crops. A few feet from the perimeter of your garden is a good rule of thumb. If you’re worried about the ammonia burning your lawn, you can place them on pieces of wood. If you have a cat, used kitty litter will serve the same purpose.

If all else fails, you can also live trap and remove groundhogs from your property. Always check with your state wildlife agency before relocating any animals from your property. There may be laws in your area prohibiting you from doing so. Relocating groundhogs is illegal in some states, due in part to fears of spreading rabies.

If you are experiencing problems with groundhogs, leave a comment below, or email info@weeksoutdoors.com.

20 comments

1 sarah { 10.07.13 at 10:44 pm }

i have a groundhog living under my shed hes been there since this spring eating the apples from our apple tree that falls to the ground..we are not allowed to capture and relocate here in ohio because of diseases they carry… i dont want my husband killing it…things we have tried…blocking entrances and it dug under the blocks moth balls…fox urine and even bobcat urine…he still is under my shed any advice?if we cant find a solution soon he said hes going to but im against him harming it…

2 Pat { 09.14.13 at 11:39 pm }

My sister has a woodchuck or woodchucks digging holes many by her house. Are they able to get into her basement? Where would she put ammonia rags to successfully get rid of them? .

3 BOBBY { 07.27.13 at 12:46 am }

YOU’D BE SURPRISED HOW WELL CAYENNE PEPPER WILL WORK IN A DRY ATMOSPHERE,SUCH AS UNDER A BARN OR GARAGE.
IT CAN BE USED OUT DOORS ,BUT IF IT RAINS YOU HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN ………….BUT IT WORKS. YOU HAVE TO BUY SEVERAL LARGE CONTAINERS , BUT IT IS WELL WORTH THE MONEY………LAST YEAR I HAD OVER 13 GROUNDHOGS DIGGING HOLES ALL THROUGH MY POLE BARN, TO THE POINT I COULDN’T EVEN WALK THROUGH THERE WITHOUT STEPPING INTO A HOLE ….MY FRIEND TOLD ME ABOUT CAYENNE PEPPER & I HAVE BEEN RODENT FREE EVER SINCE…………GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR RODENTS.

4 Sandi { 07.04.13 at 2:57 pm }

We are over run with groundhogs. They have dug tunnels under our deck and under our porch. We have tried coyote urine but it didn’t do a thing. We have also tried moth balls and moth flakes and nothing. We are now going to try ammonia as suggested. Any other suggestions?

5 Laurie { 06.07.13 at 2:18 pm }

Just wanted to put it out there that we have woodchucks, and last season found them actually eating unripe tomatoes! They were planted in containers…we surrounded the containers with fencing, and sure enough, they actually climbed over the fencing, sitting in the middle of the container, helping themselves at a leisurely pace. No amount of scaring them off made any real difference, as they were able to climb up to the containers on the deck, and did so time and again…we couldn’t put them high enough out of reach. So container gardeners beware…even close to the house, it makes no difference, the crop is just too attractive to them. Needless to say, we are not growing any more tomatoes unless they are too high for them to reach! We have noticed over the years they will not eat annual impatiens for some reason, and don’t seem to like any purple flowers, at least not yet. Also don’t seem to bother hydrangeas, azaleas, rhodies, or coreopsis. We planted 2 new peonies, and are crossing our fingers, as they don’t seem to bother the neighbor’s peonies. Wishing you all good luck if you have them!

6 nicole holcomb { 10.04.11 at 8:53 am }

I am havin a problem with little animals as well can someone give me advice.

7 Outdoorsman { 09.02.11 at 4:58 pm }

Sorry Anne. My website is weeksoutdoors.com

8 Outdoorsman { 09.02.11 at 4:58 pm }

Hi Anne. Send me a direct email at weeksoutdoors@att.net or my web site. I can run through a question list with you to try and help you figure out what the problem is. It can be moles, chipmunks, snakes, etc. Let’s try to narrow it down.

Shawn

9 Anne { 08.29.11 at 6:33 pm }

We are having animal diggings in our yard but we do not know what animal is doing the digging. We have found holes in close to our foundation which is a big concern. What advice can you give to assit us. We need to do something quickly to avoid damage to our house.

10 Jaime McLeod { 08.25.11 at 8:38 am }

Hi Dee,
We had a hint on this in a recent Almanac. A really effective way to combat fruit flies is to pour about a half a cup of apple cider vinegar into a glass and place a drop of dish soap into it. The vinegar will attract the fruit flies and, when they go in to investigate, the soap breaks up the surface tension so they get stuck and drown. I’ve personally caught dozens of fruit flies at a time with this method. Good luck!

11 Outdoorsman { 08.22.11 at 7:47 am }

Hey Rob. Also: check out my mole/vole article from May 2011. It offers suggestions and the comments at the bottom offer some good ones.

12 Outdoorsman { 08.22.11 at 7:44 am }

I almost always start my customers out with pulling a heavy roller around the yard while mowing. At least once a week.

13 rob { 08.18.11 at 3:11 pm }

i can relate to everyone having trouble with them pesky ground hogs.What i need help with is getting rid of the MOLES in my yard i think my yard is the mole capital of missouri.Ihave tried different things even mole chasers around in different areas if anyone has any excellent ideals i have’nt tried i will give it a shot please help me out thank you in advance

14 Dee { 08.18.11 at 1:18 pm }

How can I get rid of “fruit flies” Please no chemicals, too many grandbabies around.

15 grannys coop { 08.11.11 at 10:29 am }

Where can I get the Crown Imperial bulbs? I have a fat kritter (ground hog) that waddles past my chicken pens, eating what ever he/she wants along the way …….. I found a black snake in an empty pen the other day. *shudders* I know, they are the “best kind of snake”

16 Outdoorsman { 08.11.11 at 8:56 am }

That’s great Pam. Nothing like taking care of a pest with something attractive and natural.

17 Jaime McLeod { 08.11.11 at 8:42 am }

Hi Carole – Yes, I believe that method would keep away many different kinds of small creatures, and I have seen this method recommended specifically for ground squirrels.

18 Carole { 08.11.11 at 3:10 am }

Would the ammonia work for ground squirrels as well?

19 Pam { 08.10.11 at 2:46 pm }

Here in Idaho, we call them rock chucks! As for gophers. I read where planting a beautiful bulb plant called Crown Imperial makes the gophers disappear. Since our yard was “Gopher Central” we gave it a try. For us, it worked wonderfully and I have shared the bulbs with others. One or 2 bulbs is enough to buy, because they multiply like (dare I say it?) jackrabbits and you soon will have lots. Beautiful flowers, but the bulb underground gives off a scent the rodents don’t seem to care for. Been 5 years now and we have no more problems — might be worth a try.

20 Donna { 08.10.11 at 9:04 am }

Does the ammonia trick work with gophers too? Bunny urine didn’t have much effect (and was expensive). They have destroyed my garden this year!!!

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