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How to get rid of groundhogs

how to get rid of groundhogs - groundhog gives a high five

Halt! Instead of trying to kill groundhogs, there are better ways to discourage them and protect your garden.

How to get rid of groundhogs

By Mary Van Doren on July 11, 2018

Anyone with a garden has wondered how to get rid of groundhogs at least once in their lives

Whether you call him a groundhog, woodchuck, whistle-pig or land beaver, this critter, a cousin of the squirrel, is infamous.

And while your kids might be fascinated by him, entertained by his fat, furry body and waddling gait, gardeners everywhere recoil at the sight … and even homeowners who’ve never so much as lifted a spade have had reason to wonder how to get rid of groundhogs! 

The universal focus on these animals is readily seen at JustAnswer, where questions on how to get rid of groundhogs are numerous because of the damage they can cause to house and garden.

There are people who actually keep pet groundhogs. Wrote one veterinarian customer, “They ARE wonderful, sweet, extremely smart, mischevious, funny little creatures, and they greatly enhance our lives. I'd like to take them places so people could learn they aren't evil, vicious, dangerous, etc. Just don't mess with their burrows!”

Another veterinary Expert on JustAnswer admitted to an owner, “Sophie is a very unusual pet that we do not get too many questions about, since they are usually considered a pest rather than a pet.” 

And the appeal of the groundhog, even to those who don’t actually have one as a pet, is evident in JustAnswer’s data. The most popular question on JustAnswer related to the critters has nothing to do with how to get rid of groundhogs.

In fact, this question stands out because it’s nestled in among the most popular veterinary questions: In solitary splendor, it’s essentially the only question in the top 100 that’s not about something a dog ate.

This popular question, which was originally asked in May 2015, demonstrates the customer’s fascination with groundhogs – and, presumably, the interest of more than 8,000 other customers who dropped by since it was first asked.

The question gets enough visits that it lives fairly permanently in the range of 20th to 35th in the veterinary category, depending on the time frame chosen for data analysis.

How to get rid of groundhogs? No thanks, we’re happy together

What the original customer wanted to know was:

Are groundhogs aggressive toward humans?  

The customer wasn’t asking how to get rid of groundhogs. “We enjoy a great deal of wildlife in our backyard. Turkey, deer, fox, and groundhogs are daily visitors. I honestly don't mind them living” under a storage shed, he said.

“We live on a two-acre lot, and other than the deer occasionally eating the hostas, lilies, etc. we generally co-exist just fine with the wildlife. I actually consider it part of the charm of our city. So I'm not really wanting to drive the groundhogs away.”

However, he was beginning to wonder to whom his shed really belonged …

Unfortunately, a family of groundhogs has made their home underneath a large storage shed I use. Their entry tunnel is right at the doors of the shed.

Do I run the risk of frightening the groundhogs when I'm accessing the shed? If I filled in their access tunnel repeatedly, would they be smart enough to move their access tunnel?

I want to head off any risk of confrontation. Right now, I'm reluctant to access my own shed.

Veterinarian Dr. Bob assured the customer, “Groundhogs are actually large members of the squirrel family, being generally peaceful and gentle creatures, only becoming aggressive if cornered or threatened, especially by a barking attacking dog.

“I've never known a healthy groundhog to attack anything without some serious provocation.”

When another customer asked, “Are groundhogs dangerous?” because of a family of them that had moved in under yet another toolshed, the landscaping Expert replied, “They are harmless except to your flowers and veggies. They are much more afraid of you and will run away if confronted.”

how to get rid of groundhogs - groundhog emerging from snow-covered den

Groundhogs must decide the precise time to emerge from their dens after a winter
 in order to begin mating and ensure the survival of offspring.

However, groundhogs can be aggressive if accidentally cornered or attacked by a dog, so anyone sharing a piece of land with one should try to avoid these things.

Still, everyone loves Punxatawney Phil, the famous groundhog whose shadow helps him predict whether spring is on its way soon after February 2 every year. Groundhogs have earned this distinction because their sense of weather is exquisite.

After hibernating from late fall, male groundhogs have to know exactly when to emerge from hibernation to mate in order to give their offspring the best chance of survival. Too early, and the female doesn’t have enough food to feed the pups; too late, and they won’t put on enough weight for the following winter.

In fact, there’s generally a very narrow, 10-day window in which mating occurs in early spring, when the weather’s just right. No wonder they gained that time-honored reputation for correctly anticipating spring. If you only had 10 days to mate, you’d become pretty good at predicting the weather, too! 

Cute or not so cute: the truth about groundhogs

In a domestic situation or in the wild, says one JustAnswer Expert, “Groundhogs are quite slothful as adults, foraging prodigiously in the morning (until about 11 AM on the East Coast), then sleeping in a shaded burrow until about 3-4 PM, depending on temperatures. They seem quite intolerant of direct sunlight and ambient heat.”

Their burrows can include up to 60 feet or so of tunnels, up to five feet deep, and usually with two to five entrances and multiple chambers. They have been found to move more than 700 pounds of dirt in their burrowing!

According to National Geographic, they will have a burrow for hibernating, and another section of the burrow that’s more like a summer home where they can come out more easily to dine on your garden.

Their burrows even have separate rooms for defecation – bathrooms! Sometimes groundhogs have more than one residence and move from one burrow to another.

Needless to say, all this digging can create havoc in lawns, gardens and fields. People and even horses have been known to step in the entrance holes and break a leg, and tractors can break an axle passing over them.

And if that’s not bad enough, groundhogs are prodigious eaters of all things green or growing – including crops, plants and flowers. Groundhogs can eat as much as 30% of their whole body weight in just one day.

At the same time, they eat some insects, snails and grubs, which can be harmful to plants themselves, so at least they have that going for them.

And it’s not just people and plants that can be impacted by groundhogs. Groundhog damage turns up in a variety of ways in buildings. One JustAnswer customer with an old house and root cellar found that the groundhogs living under the house had tunneled up and around the cellar wall, causing it to leak during heavy rains. 

Groundhog tunnels have been known to cause structural damage to foundations and decks. Then there’s the family that reported to a landscaping company about the groundhog that gnawed so vigorously at their deck, he chewed right through the hose from a propane tank connected to their grill.

“Good thing we weren't smokers or the whole place could have gone up with a bang!” said the homeowner.

How to get rid of groundhogs

Groundhog admirers aside, many people are anxious to learn how to rid of groundhogs. For starters, you can fill their burrows – but it will have to be something like concrete, because groundhogs are such great diggers, they can re-burrow in no time.

how to get rid of groundhogs - groundhog in a trap

If you trap a groundhog, you must take him at least 10 miles away from your garden and
any other agricultural land.

You’ll most often run into families in mid-spring. After mating in early spring, the male and female hunker down in her den for about a month, when the male will depart and the babies, two to six per female, are born. Babies nurse for about six weeks before moving out to dig their own den.

Clearly, if you have a family living under your barn or deck, your situation could become worse fairly soon if the babies decide they like the neighborhood! So it’s a good idea to start working on removing or repelling before it’s too late. 

Some people choose to use live traps and re-home groundhogs. However, some states have laws against moving wildlife around, so check with your local extension service. If you do choose the live trap method, bait it with sweet corn, peaches, cantaloupe or half an apple smeared with peanut butter.

You’ll have to release the groundhog at least 10 miles away from your property or any other domestic gardens or agricultural land.

There are also lethal traps, but that endeavor is not for the faint-hearted. And most exterminators agree that there’s no such thing as groundhog poison, though many people have tried.

Many experts suggest repellents to drive groundhogs away, such mothballs and fox or coyote urine to get them to fear a local predator. All repellents are, of course, temporary measures. Here are a few homemade remedies:

  • Castor oil: The pungent odor is believed to irritate groundhogs. Pour a spoonful of oil in each burrow. Alternately, mix castor oil with water and spray around the area as a deterrent.
  • Chili sauce, chili pepper or cayenne pepper: Sprinkle into the burrows or spread it around by mixing with warm water and using a spray bottle.
  • Eggs: An old-time method is to break an egg into each borrow and cover it with dirt.
  • Ammonia: Mix with soapy water and pour it into a burrow as deep as you can.
  • Epsom salts: You can sprinkle this on vegetation they seem to prefer.

For other homemade or commercial repellents, check your hardware store or search the Web for groundhog repellents.

Once you’ve your groundhog friends packing, you can prevent their return in several ways. Fences work well, as long as they’re tall enough to prevent climbing, and extend deep enough to prevent tunneling. That means a fence about four or five feet above ground and one to two feet below- ground. The fence should be tilted outward from the base to make it hard to climb.

Chicken wire fences are also useful. The gaps in the chicken wire should be no bigger than 3” in diameter, and it should be galvanized because groundhogs have been known to chew rusted wire. You can also try an electric fence if you don’t mind spending the money. 

Other ways to discourage groundhogs:

  • Visit your garden often, as groundhogs are generally afraid of you.
  • Install noisy items, or things that move in the wind, such as beach balls, plastic grocery bags cut into strips, balloons, lawn ornaments such as pinwheels, streamers and the like.
  • Install automatic sprinklers.
  • Install motion-activated lights.
  • Plant flowers that have smells repellent to groundhogs, including marigolds, snapdragons, dianthus, ageratum, nicotiana, columbine, daylilies, blanket flower cardinal flower, sweet alyssum, and annual poppies.

You should also remove things that groundhogs love for shelter, such as woodpiles, fallen trees and rock piles.

Meanwhile, the customer who asked the original question, and didn’t really want to drive them away, was advised by Dr. Bob to simply make a lot of noise when approaching or working inside the shed. “I think you'll all learn to peacefully co-exist fairly quickly,” he wrote.

Dr. Bob had his own personal experience in this matter. “We lived for five years with a groundhog under our little barn. He was just a fixture in the neighborhood.” 

Have you ever had to deal with groundhogs? Share your methods with us in the comments below!