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Stop these fat, furry ditch-diggers NOW, before they can feast on yourflora—or break your leg!
Question. Dear Mike: Last year agroundhog ate all my pumpkins and summer squash. Do you have anytips on getting rid of this pest? Thanks!
Dear Mike: I've got a couple of huge ones under my porch, am gettingready to spend a lot of money on landscaping, and want to make surethey don't eat the new garden.
---Kathy; NewCastle, Delaware
I spent tons of money on a deer fence and then a groundhog movedin! I will not be able to have a garden this year unless I getrid of it. I am open to some type of murder. Thanks,
---Marion inMedia, PA
Do ultrasonic pest control devices work against them?
---Julia inNewtown, PA
Having groundhog trouble is like living in the Bill Murray movie of thesame name. You go to bed and wake up to the same exact thing everymorning—in this case, a giant furry butt on legs eating your landscapeto the ground. But this picture is NOT a comedy. Althoughweather-guessing Punxsutawney Phil has made this giant squirrel—yes,that's what they are—seem cute and cuddly, they are actually a seriousmenace that people often underestimate until it's too late.
They eat huge amounts of vegetation; their extensive burrowing canundermine the integrity of homes and other structures; those burrowsbreak untold numbers of legs each year—often badly (the design of thehole 'catches' the legs of unwary humans and livestock in such a waythat it tends to cause exceptionally nasty breaks); and the largecreatures have been known to tear into children and pets with asurprising viciousness.
If you have groundhogs, this is the time to act. These true hibernatorsare now waking up across their VERY wide range (almost all of the U.S.except the very deepest South and the West Coast), and you want to berid of them before they can breed and increase your problemsgeometrically.
Unfortunately, ultrasonic devices do NOT repel them. In fact, I'venever seen evidence that these devices repel ANY pests. In fact,several studies suggest that they actually attract burrowing mammals.So I don't recommend them.
Fencing does work to keep them out of designated garden areas, but ithas to be a very specific design: My famous 'Critter Proof Fence'—whichalso keeps out rabbits, skunks and lots of other mammalian pests.You'll need enough sturdy, six-foot high animal fencing to surround thearea you wish to protect, with stakes for every six feet oflength. (Use small-gauge 'rabbit' fencing or something similar;not flimsy chicken wire.)
The hard part (but you only have to do it once!): Because no burrowingcreature goes below a foot and a half, dig a two-foot deep trencharound the area. (Rent a trench digging machine!) Fill the dirt backin, then stake the fencing so that three feet of it ..is nice andstraight above ground. But I said SIX foot fencing—that's only fivefeet so far!
…Because you're going to bend that top foot outward at a 90 degreeangle. That's your groundhog baffle. These wicked waddlers aresurprisingly good climbers, and as soon as they realize they can't digunder your fence, they will attempt to clamber up it. The baffle willprevent this, dropping them back down on their furry butts, safelyoutside your Eden. I've heard they're pretty stubborn about this andwill try and try again—so feel free to drag out a lawn chair, pop openthe beverage of your choice and enjoy the show. Maybe createlittle Olympic scorecards to hold up for especially floppy falls.
For larger areas, consider trapping. Most sources recommend lethaltraps; that's your choice, but I'm too much of a wuss. I use large'live traps' (like the "Hav-A-Hart" brand) instead. To get the bestresults, wear gloves when you handle the trap to disguise your scent,and bait it with apple slices first. If that doesn't work, try rotatingdifferent veggies. No matter what, change the bait daily. Place thetrap close to the groundhog tunnel's front door ("distinguished by alarge mound of excavated earth, the main opening is approximately 10 to12 inches in diameter"), and create a kind of 'pathway' with small logsor branches something similar to try and 'funnel' the creature inside.
Once you have one trapped, you can take it far away and release it inthe woods, but animal experts say that such creatures have a very lowrate of survival. It's probably kinder to have it humanely euthanizedby a Vet. I know some of you will be adamantly opposed to this; maybeyou can find a wildlife rehab facility to accept it.
Or use 'repulsion' to chase the beast over to the neighbor's tomatoesand begonias. Researchers have noted that groundhogs are THE mostfastidious of underground creatures, constantly digging new latrinesand sealing off old ones to keep their runs 'Martha Stewartfresh'. So obtain some used kitty litter—preferably from a litterbox that went too long between changes—scoop out and properly disposeof the solid waste, and then pour the ammonia-rich remainder into thatmain entrance hole. The groundhog's reaction will be the same as ifsomeone had dumped a truckload of the stuff into your living room:"Honey—we'll never get this place clean! We have to move."
The groundhog will almost certainly dig another tunnel nearby. You canfoul that one rightaway or be mean and wait a week or so. Listeners whohave tried this assure me that their giant squirrels have always movedon to less fragrant surroundings after the 3rd or 4thfouling.
You Bet Your Garden Question of the Week ©2006Mike McGrath