By Barbara Fahs, Garden Guides Contributor
Punxsutawney Phil, the legendary animal of groundhog day, is actually a woodchuck. Whether you call them groundhogs or woodchucks, these animals can weak havoc in your garden. A large rodent related to squirrels, the woodchuck lives in burrows and is active during the warmer months.
Prevention and Control
Your first clue that woodchucks are living on your property is holes in the ground that are 10 to 12 inches wide. Controlling woodchucks is a good idea when you first see holes. Motion devices, such as pinwheels, can frighten them away, as can repellent smells like Epsom salts or ammonia. Deny them a habitat by keeping tall weeds and grasses cut back; they are timid and need cover. Three- to four-foot chicken wire fences prevent this rodent from passing; bury your fence 1 foot deep.
Your vegetable garden can provide dinner for the vegetarian woodchuck as well as for your family. Cucumbers and melons are their favorite dishes. They also like to munch on fruit tree trunks: the gnawing action keeps their teeth from growing too long.
Woodchucks are responsible for damaging flowers and vegetables, agricultural crops, orchards, nurseries and areas around buildings. Their mounds of dirt and holes at burrow entrances can be hazardous to farm equipment and livestock. Because woodchucks are excellent climbers, they can damage fruit trees and ornamental shrubs as they gnaw or claw woody vegetation.
Foxes, wolves, hawks, eagles, coyotes, raccoons and dogs prey on woodchucks. Humans fall into this category too, as it is legal to hunt them in many states.
Set live traps baited with the same vegetables the woodchucks are enjoying from your garden. Check with local authorities to make sure that dropping them off at another location is legal.
Other Methods of Control
Rat poison will not work. If the problem is severe, gas cartridges inserted into their burrows can be effective in rural areas.