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Humane Society's Tips on Protecting Gardens from Groundhogs

It's Punxsutawney Phil's day—learn how to protect your garden this spring without harming his kinfolk.

So while Phil is back in action, so are his kinfolk everywhere and The Humane Society of the United States is encouraging people to celebrate the day by learning more about our wild neighbors and ways we can co-exist with them.

Groundhogs—also known as woodchucks—hibernate from October through February and start breeding season shortly thereafter, according to The HSUS. For residents of Plum, Oakmont and Verona, that means an abundance of groundhogs setting their sights on eating gardens, digging burrows and coming into conflict with their human neighbors. 

“People are excited to see Phil on Feb. 2, but within weeks, some homeowners will be bothered by groundhogs because of the impact they can have in gardens and yards,” said Laura Simon, field director of urban wildlife programs. “But with the right tools and a little tolerance, people can easily discourage unwanted groundhog activity in their yards and peacefully co-exist with them.”

About groundhogs:

  • They live in underground burrows where they hibernate throughout most of the winter.
  • They breed in March, producing litters of four to six young, born one month after mating. 
  • They weigh 5-10 pounds and measure 16-20 inches in length.
  • They often make burrows on grassy strips along highways and can be seen grazing to the road’s edge.
  • They are strict vegetarians who only eat grass, dandelion and other plants; unfortunately they also love vegetables and fruits grown in home gardens.

Three simple ways to keep them out of your garden:

  • Scare Them: To discourage frequent visits to your garden, place objects in the area that will reflect sunlight and continually move in the breeze, such as tethered Mylar party balloons, “animal scaring” balloons with faces (in particular, big eyes work well) or bunched pieces of Mylar tape.
  • Exclude Them: Since groundhogs do not like to climb unstable fences, installing a simple 3 to 4 foot-high mesh barrier around a garden keeps them away permanently. We recommend using regular green garden mesh fencing, which comes in 16 gauge, 4-foot-tall rolls—make sure it contains no bigger than 2-inch by 3-inch squares. This mesh is available at most garden, hardware and home building stores. When installing, make an “L” shape that extends the mesh outward parallel to the ground 12 inches, and pin this portion securely to the ground with landscaping staples. This will discourage them from digging under the fence. Make sure the top portion of the mesh is not taut when securing it to fence posts so that it wobbles when challenged, preventing the woodchucks from climbing over it.
  • Displace Them: If you want to move groundhogs permanently away from your yard or garden, you’ll have to disrupt the burrows in which they live. This must be done outside the time when dependent young are in the burrow. Steps outlining how to do this humanely can be found here.

The HSUS Wild Neighbors program promotes non-lethal means for resolving conflicts between people and wildlife and cultivates understanding and appreciation for wild animals commonly found in cities and towns.

The program's book, "Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife," is a useful reference for individuals and communities faced with resolving encounters with wild animals who find their way into yards, gardens, houses, parks and playgrounds.

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