Groundhog Pests

Asked April 2, 2020, 5:50 PM EDT

Hi, my garden has been plagued with ground hog pests for the past three years. I've put up a regular 3 foot rabbit fence, with an additional 3-foot chicken wire ground hog extension that flares out to discourage ground hogs from climbing in, but they still get in somehow, although it seems to limit the number of garden attacks, so I think it helps somewhat. Can you recommend anything else I can do to successfully repel these ground hogs? When they do get in the damage is extensive, as they seem to eat everything in sight, including even tomato and hot pepper plant leaves, which I'd think would be poisonous to them. Thanks!

Oakland County Michigan

4 Responses

Hi;
Not to discredit you at all, but are you certain it is always groundhogs? I ask that because they are known to be garden pests from time to time, but deer can be much more destructive. Tomatoes and peppers are not poisonous to either of them despite being in the nightshade family (nightshade vine is a bit toxic).

However, if you know it is ground hogs for sure, you may need to assess the big picture situation a bit more to start with. Do the neighborhood groundhogs have limited food options in your area and is your garden a prime target? In more country settings, they have other choices, but in suburban locations, they may be much more limited. The less natural habitat animals have, the more likely they will interfere with our human gardens. I bring this up b/c it can help ignite ideas for the future to limit "turf dominant" landscapes and devote more yard space to natural settings in order to provide support for wildlife, thereby minimizing wildlife targeting on what we grow. Groundhogs like all kinds of vegetation, not just vegetables.

In the short term, however, blocking access may be necessary. Ground hogs dig under fences, so ground level blocking needs to extend into the dirt, not just lie on the surface. You can additionally add some repellents around the fence, like wildlife deterrent sprays (pepper, garlic, eggs, predator urine) or homemade versions of them. Rags dipped in a bit of ammonia and hung around the fence can help (make sure to wear gloves and prepare outside). These techniques, however, need to be repeated b/c of rain. You may also want to protect some plants even inside your fence at times by migrating over to raised beds that are out out of reach of animals and which can be covered with hoops and landscape fabrics.

I know some of the more permanent suggestions take time, but short term solutions really only work in the short term, especially in a world that we share with wildlife.

Good luck to you!

Sarah,

Thanks for this helpful info! I am 99% sure I am not dealing with deer, as I have never seen deer near this area, plus our houses are so close together here in Berkley with lots of fences, that I'm pretty sure there is no habitat here for deer.

Also, my fence does extend into the dirt and doesn't show any signs of entry that way. I've had to do that for years already due to rabbits.

I would definitely be interested in starting to plan for a long-term solution for this problem. I really think ground hogs here would have very little natural vegetation to eat. Could you recommend non-turf plants I could plan to plant over time in my yard that would satisfy ground hogs so they would be less attracted to my garden veggies? I already have a totally organic yard and I'm wildlife friendly as I studied animal behavior and ecology in college. Thanks!

Hi again;

You may still have deer-however, if there are many high fences, those may block them. If you are not seeing any deer or rabbit droppings in your yard or garden, that may validate that, too. Consider an outdoor trail cam if you really want to track down how and where those ground hogs access your garden?

As for supporting groundhogs, you certainly do not want to "grow" the population of groundhogs in Berkley (no predators in urban settings to control them besides humans), and you would still need to be careful about actually attracting more to your yard with their favorite foods, so enter into building that alternative habitat with a bit of caution. You could of course, be that neighborhood resident who promotes a bit of transition from lawn/minimal shrub landscapes to yards with devoted natural areas, which helps many kinds of wildlife, including our pollinators? I have had a co-worker describe it as the "mullet" approach to urban landscapes (neat in the front yard and messy in the back).

I pasted a section from Wikipedia below describing ground hog diet if you have that interest in experimenting with a bit of those kinds of plants. You may have to find seeds on-line. I particularly like the dandelion option as those are already in our lawns and support early pollinators, too, if we just let them do their thing in early summer. But transitioning suburbia to dandelion and violet filled lawns is not an easy task....

Share some progress back with me if you try something out? My email is rautio@msu.edu.

From Wiki: Groundhogs eat primarily wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries and agricultural crops, when available.[51] In early spring, dandelion and coltsfoot are important groundhog food items. Some additional foods include sheep sorrel, timothy-grass, buttercup, tearthumb, agrimony, red and black raspberries, mulberries, buckwheat, plantain, wild lettuce, all varieties of clover, and alfalfa.[55] Groundhogs also occasionally eat grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails and other small animals, but are not as omnivorous as many other Sciuridae.

Groundhogs will occasionally eat baby birds they come upon by accident.[56] An adult groundhog will eat more than a pound of vegetation daily.[57] In early June, woodchucks' metabolism slows, food intake decreases, their weight increases by as much as 100% as they produce fat deposits to sustain them during hibernation and late winter.[58] Instead of storing food, groundhogs stuff themselves to survive the winter without eating.[59] Thought not to drink water, groundhogs are reported to obtain needed liquids from the juices of food-plants, aided by their sprinkling with rain or dew.[60][61][62]

Thanks so much for this very useful additional info, Sarah. I will let you know whatever measures I decide to take and whether or not they work! Take care and stay safe.