By Sam Wasson
Updated Jan 17, 2023
Groundhogs go by many names, such as woodchucks, marmots, land beavers, and “whistle pigs.” And from a distance, with their small, stout bodies and birdsong-like whistles, it can be understandable why many people enjoy having them around. But unfortunately, these large rodents are a troublesome nuisance pest that can cause serious damage to lawns, gardens, and even the structure of your house. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about how to keep groundhogs away, including preventative measures and trapping.
A groundhog, or by its scientific name, Marmota monax, is a species of land-dwelling rodent belonging to the Sciuridae family. While there are about 14 species of marmot found in the United States and Canada, the groundhog is the most widespread. They’re found in the Eastern half of the United States, with a distribution ranging from Eastern Alaska all the way down to North Carolina. They possess many habitats, ranging from low shrublands to forest edges, roadsides, plains, bushy woodlands, river banks, and even in and around human dwellings.
Appearing similar, albeit much smaller, to a beaver, a groundhog is a large rodent with a wide, stocky body up to 2 feet in length with yellowish-brown to black fur. It can weigh up to 14 pounds with small, dark eyes, a long, well-furred tail, and sizable teeth. It gets its most common colloquial name, “whistle pig,” from the sharp, shrill whistle it produces when it detects danger. This whistle is commonly mistaken for birdsong. Its tracks are unique and easy to spot, spaced about 4 inches to a foot apart, with four toes on the front paw, and five on the rear.
Groundhogs are a pest species that, much like mice, have become remarkably adapted to human presences and urban environments. As a result, groundhogs are less hesitant to invade lawns, gardens, roadways, and small suburbs next to their natural habitats. Thankfully, groundhogs are quite skittish, preferring to whistle a warning to nearby marmots and dart inside their dens than face a confrontation with humans.
While groundhogs will bite if cornered, they’re not known to be aggressive and not typically confrontational. However, they can carry ticks, fleas, and rabies. While rabies cases in groundhogs are rare, it can happen, and animals, when infected with this disease, can act erratically and with increased hostility. Furthermore, when transmitted to humans, this disease is fatal if not treated immediately. So if you spot a groundhog acting strangely, don’t approach it and immediately contact wildlife control or a professional pest management company.
While the physical and medical threat posed by groundhogs is relatively small, they’ll cause serious problems for your lawn, garden, and home. Groundhogs are primarily herbivores that seek out any available plant life to chow down on once they have established a burrow. They like soft, tender plants like grasses, roots, leaves, bushes, fruit, and especially clover as food sources. They’re also known to rarely eat small grubs, insects, snails, and slugs.
Groundhogs will destroy landscaping plants like trees by chewing on their bark and roots. They’ll eat ornamental plants like ferns, bushes, and flowers. But the biggest problem with these pests is that they consume just about anything in a garden, including:
Identifying if you have a groundhog problem is not usually hard. Groundhogs are diurnal (meaning they’re active during the day) and can usually be found scurrying around their burrows. They’re most active during the early hours or close to dusk but typically scavenge throughout the day. Groundhogs hibernate from November through February, so you’ll only spot them from March through October.
Some common signs of groundhog activity include:
The best way to keep groundhogs out of your garden and lawn is through good prevention strategies. Below we go over some of the best ways to keep groundhogs away from your property in the first place.
A simple into-the-ground fence is the most effective, safest, and cheapest way to keep groundhogs out. Install a fence made from sturdy chicken wire or thick mesh-woven wire fencing that extends at least 3 feet off the ground and 10 inches to 1 foot deep. This way, burrowing pests like groundhogs, gophers, voles, and moles won’t be able to climb above or dig below the fence.
While groundhogs will eat a wide variety of veggies, there are some that these massive rodents find repulsive. You can help deter groundhogs by growing these plants along the edge of your property and within your garden. Here is a quick list of some of the most common and popular groundhog-resistant plants:
Groundhogs are sizable critters but still have several dangerous predators, like foxes, coyotes, hawks, and owls. Like most small mammals, groundhogs use tall grass, shrubs, and dens to help protect themselves from these hunting animals. You should make your yard as unappealing as possible by keeping it trimmed, neat, and tidy. We recommend:
While adopting a dog is a steep investment just for pest control, it’s an effective way to keep groundhogs out of your property. Groundhogs perceive dogs as potential predators and will avoid locations that have them. By adopting a dog, installing a fence, and allowing your pup to run around your property, you’ll have an anti-groundhog defense system.
One of the most common and frustrating places for groundhogs to inhabit is under your shed. Groundhogs like to create burrows next to tall objects, like trees or, in this case, sheds. Once they get to digging, they can create tunnel systems sizable enough to cause major damage to your lawn. Worse yet, if your shed has a built-in foundation, groundhog tunnels can cause shifting and displacement if left unattended.
What follows are some of the most effective methods for getting rid of a groundhog under a shed.
A live catch-and-release groundhog trap is a preferred way to handle these pesky varmints. Using these traps takes time, precaution, and know-how, but their reliability is worth it. You’ll want to start with a heavy set of rubber gloves – wear these when baiting and placing the trap, as doing so without them can get your scent on it. Next, place bait inside the trap, any combination of fruit and leafy greens works, but groundhogs particularly love cantaloupe and apples. Place the trap within reasonable proximity to the groundhog’s den, then check twice daily, once at dusk and dawn. Once the groundhog is trapped, carefully place it into your vehicle and drive it between five to 10 miles from your home. Ideally, release it in a wooded area or large, grassy field.
Keep in mind that certain states have strict laws and regulations regarding the baiting and trapping of wildlife. Always check your local ordinances before placing traps of any kind. You can always contact your local wildlife control office if you’re unsure of local hunting and trapping laws.
While unpleasant to deal with, animal repellant or predator (fox, large cat, or dog) urine is an effective deterrent for groundhogs. Once they get a whiff, they’ll typically head for the hills. You can purchase these products at most big-box stores or sporting goods retailers.
Another clever way to use scents to repel groundhogs is with garlic and cayenne. Groundhogs hate the smell of these pungent spices, and when applied directly to their burrows, it will incentivize them to find better, less spicy lodgings.
Here is a handy recipe for a groundhog-repelling garlic spray:
This liquid solution should then be applied to the groundhog burrow once every few days. Apply a light spritzing around the exterior of the groundhog burrow entrance; you don’t need a lot of this stuff to be effective. Furthermore, you can spray any plants you want to protect from the groundhog. Anything coated in this mixture will deter it from taking a bite, and as a nice bonus, this spray also works as an effective pesticide for numerous garden pests.
Other DIY solutions commonly found online include Epsom salt, talcum powder, mothballs, soiled kitty litter, or castor oil. While many of these products are effective in scaring groundhogs away, they’re poisonous if ingested by other animals or pets, so we don’t recommend them.
The last groundhog repellent is odd, but it has been proven effective. Like coyotes, dogs, cats, and large birds, humans are considered a predator of groundhogs. One of the most effective ways to spread a consistent amount of human scent around their burrows is by sprinkling a modest amount of human hair. Do this once every few days, and your groundhog should get the message and find a new home.
While a groundhog may be cute, it’s a pest that can destroy your yard, shift your shed’s foundation, and ravage your garden. Thankfully, there are plenty of tricks and techniques that you can use to keep this pesky marmot at bay.
Remember that when dealing with a groundhog, it’s a wild animal and will attack if backed into a corner. If you can’t manage groundhog removal on your own, you should always contact a professional pest control company or wildlife service. Furthermore, if you spot a groundhog or any wild animal acting erratically, you should immediately contact animal control or a wildlife service, as it could be infected with rabies.
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