The Groundhog (friend or foe)

The Groundhog (friend or foe)

Having experienced groundhogs in my garden personally, I would very much say that this furry fellow is a foe for gardeners. It’s nice to see them in their natural habitat because they are quite cute and funny to watch, but they are not so funny when you have them nesting under a shed or building in your garden. Let us take some time to talk about the Groundhog and his habits, and what makes him a nuisance neighbor rather than a pet.

About the Groundhog:

The groundhog is a rodent that belongs to the family of squirrels known as marmots. It is often referred to as a woodchuck, whistle pig, whistler, land beaver, and many more various names depending on where you live. The groundhog generally lives below ground where it burrows out tunnels with side dens, and these can be quite extensive.

Some tunnels can be as long as 20+ feet and groundhogs will often dig down as much as 4 feet, and this can cause some problems for those with Groundhogs in their garden. In the wild Groundhogs can live up to 6 years, though they generally only live to about 3 or 4, but in captivity, they can live up to 12 years or more. Groundhog burrows usually have between 2 and 5 entrances, allowing them to escape predators easily.

Groundhog burrows are used for many purposes, like rearing young, hibernating during cold weather, escaping bad weather conditions, and sleeping.  Groundhogs are a species that truly hibernate during the winter months, and they often build a separate chamber for this purpose. Groundhogs can lose up to half their body weight by the end of the hibernating period.

While hibernating, the Groundhog’s body temperature can drop as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit and their heartbeat drops to 4 – 10 beats per minute. During this time, the breathing rate of the Groundhog can be as low as one breath every 6 minutes. They emerge from hibernation around February, and they usually have enough body fat still stored to get them through until food is abundant again.

Groundhogs Diet:

The Groundhogs diet is especially interesting to gardeners because they love almost everything that gardeners love to plant. They will eat most kinds of berries, vegetables, fruit, and even flowers, which is another reason we would consider them a ‘foe’ for our garden. During May, they love to eat dandelion heads and can often be seen in fields eating them and popping up from time to time to check for danger.

Did we mention groundhogs love carrots too?

Breeding:

Groundhogs generally start to breed in their second year, though some will start in their first year. Breeding season starts from the start of March and goes to around Mid-April. They only have one litter per year, but can have as many as 9 young, though most litters consist of 3 – 5 young. Usually, by around August, the family will split up and some will go on their own to make their own burrows.

What are Groundhogs good for?

Groundhogs are very good for our ecosystem, they provide good soil and aeration that is needed for good tree and plant growth. They also provide shelter to other animals that use their burrows, like foxes, skunks, and rabbits. Though this is good in their natural habitat, not in our gardens because the last thing you need in your garden is a skunk that’s taken up residence in your Groundhogs burrow.

How do I get rid of a Groundhog that has made a home in my garden?

This is a great question, and usually, we would recommend that you call a professional to get rid of any pests in your garden. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do yourself before you outlay money on an expensive professional. One of the most effective ways to drive off Groundhogs is castor oil, sounds too good to be true, but many professionals, gardeners, and farmers swear by this stuff.

To make a castor oil mix, just mix 1/2 cup of castor oil to 2 cups of water, and spray it wherever you see evidence of Groundhogs. Continue to spray every two or three weeks and more often than not your Groundhogs would have moved on. Another deterrent for many animals is peppermint oil, and you can use the same type of mix to keep critters away.

If you have active Groundhog burrows, you can sprinkle Cayenne pepper around the entrances. You can even sprinkle a mix of Cayenne pepper and water on your plants to deter animals from eating them. If you’re an avid gardener, one of the best flowers to plant is Lavender, Groundhogs hate the smell, and they are beautiful to look at and smell for us.

Prevention is better than cure and the same goes for Groundhogs, so be mindful to remove any areas that might seem favorable to the Groundhog. Wood piles should be got rid of, the same with overgrown brush, and trim your trees and bushes back, so there are no potential hiding spots where they may decide to start burrowing.

Groundhog (friend or foe)?

We definitely say ‘foe’ for this unwelcome guest, they are great in their natural surroundings and in a zoo, but not in our garden. They eat everything we love to plant, they dig a lot, and deep too, and they have also been known to chew through cables and even pipes.  That’s not to mention if they burrow under your shed, or worse, your home, it can do a lot of potential damage to the foundations.

My personal experience with Groundhogs led to my shed leaning about 2ft due to the collapse of a Groundhog burrow under the shed. I was okay with the Groundhog in my garden up till that point, because I didn’t realize the amount of damage they could do. Now I have lots of Lavender around my garden which smells great, and I spray peppermint oil and castor oil mix regularly, and I can grow whatever I want with no Groundhogs to eat it as soon as it grows.

 

 

 

 

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