Groundhog Day aside, groundhogs are actually interesting creatures (I hear that they make a great stew, but I have yet to put that to the test). That being said, they can be nuisances in the garden, but there are non-lethal ways to control them.
A little information on groundhogs: they hibernate from October through February, and their breeding season begins soon after they wake up. Groundhogs like to burrow, and they have a penchant for eating the nice greens in your yard and garden (they are vegetarians, but they are highly protective of their burrows: a groundhog in my yard killed a young rabbit that attempted to enter the groundhog’s burrow).
You can always resort to trapping and relocating groundhogs, but this can lead to starving young that are left behind. It is much more effective to simply exclude groundhogs from areas where they’re not wanted. There are a few steps that you can take to keep the groundhogs out of certain areas:
- Groundhogs are cautious creatures that do not like humans (although this can be reversed; my father used to take fresh vegetables out to a groundhog burrow, and the residents of the burrow would practically line up to enjoy the treats). To discourage frequent visits to your garden, try adding objects that will blow around in the wind, such as wind chimes, inflatable balls, and so forth.
- Place chicken wire or mesh around your garden. If you place the fence a few inches under the ground, this will also discourage digging. Add a noise-maker to the fence, and you will double your protection.
- Adding a simple electric fence around your garden can also help to keep the critters away. Place one strand 1 to 4 inches above the ground, and the other 8 to 9 inches high. This is also effective in deterring groundhogs as well as other unwanted garden visitors, such as raccoons.
- Take used kitty litter and deposit it in existing groundhog entrances. Groundhogs hate the odor, and it could cause them to pack up and move away.
If you must evict a groundhog from a burrow, do so shortly after they’ve emerged from hibernation(late February to early March) or wait until late summer, after the young have been weaned and are living on their own.
We have had luck with using a live trap, baited with fresh lettuce, and placed in the front of a burrow entrace. Just be sure to check the trap often. If you catch a live one, be sure to release it in a distant, wooded area. The groundhog will take up residence far from your home.
With a little patience and determination, you can coexist peacefully with the groundhog, as well as have hours of enjoyment watching the interesting creatures.