How To Get Rid of Groundhogs
17–19 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
The groundhog is more than a winter weather forecaster. Classified as a rodent, it’s the largest member of the squirrel family.
For farmers and homeowners, groundhogs can easily become a pest that requires exclusion. Yet despite their craving for plants and crops, these furry visitors do play a role in the ecosystem as both consumers and part of the food chain.
If groundhogs have built homes on your property, it’s best to understand their tendencies so your efforts to control them will be successful.
- Typical adult weight: 5-14 lbs.
- Usually measures 16”-27” from nose to end of tail
- Brownish-gray fur
- Stocky build with short, powerful legs
- Classified a rodent and part of the squirrel family
- Able to climb trees and swim
- Also known as a woodchuck, its interchangeable name
- Sometimes called a whistle-pig for the sound it makes when threatened
- Found from Canada to the southern U.S.
Groundhogs Versus Squirrels
Though they are in the same general family and may be confused for one another, there are plenty of ways to tell the species apart. These differences are helpful for homeowners and farmers to know if their property is being marred:
- Groundhogs are typically larger and heavier than squirrels and may even appear rotund.
- The fur of a groundhog is brownish-gray, while squirrels have reddish-brown or almost completely gray fur.
- Groundhogs are outdoor rodents that build their homes underground. If given an opening or sizable crevice, squirrels will enter a home and live in wall spaces or in the attic.
- Groundhogs do not spread disease. Squirrels may transmit disease by hosting infected ticks, fleas, and mites.
- Groundhogs hibernate each winter. Squirrels do not hibernate and remain active throughout the year.
What Is the Life Cycle of a Groundhog?
Spring (and even late winter) signals the mating season, when males awaken from hibernation and venture within two to three acres to find and enter the burrows of females. The females later give birth to two to six young after a gestation period of approximately 32 days. The newborn groundhog arrives blind and hairless, yet can mature enough in only three months to leave home in search of a site for its own burrow.
When mating season is over in March or April, groundhogs return to being solitary creatures. In fact, they are never known to travel in groups or as families. They also stay near their established burrows throughout their three- to six-year lifespans.
Because they live by seasonal behaviors, the best time to evict or exclude groundhogs is in mid-to-late summer.
Can Groundhogs Transmit Diseases to People?
The short answer is no – with a bit of a qualifying statement. Though very uncommon, it’s possible for groundhogs to carry rabies and then bite a human. In that rare case, you should contact your doctor about treating the bite.
Why Are There Groundhogs on My Property?
An adult groundhog is an herbivore with an immense appetite, eating 1-1 ½ pounds of vegetation a day. Favorite foods include the following plants and crops:
As a groundhog prepares for hibernation by consuming even more food, there may be considerable damage to backyard gardens and farm areas.
Found near food sources, a groundhog burrow is a marvel of animal engineering. These underground homes run two to four feet beneath the surface and range from eight feet to more than 60 feet long, with multiple exits and rooms. A burrow is usually equipped with two or three entrances, each of which is 10”-12” wide and marked by excavated soil. Groundhogs even build separate chambers in their burrows to serve as bathrooms. All of this means that a single burrow may have an extensive footprint.
Groundhogs aerate soil through their burrowing activities, though their homes conceal a different concern for farmers: Tractors can break an axle driving over their underground dwellings.
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Signs of Damage
For gardeners and farmers, groundhogs can pose a threat as they chew on and devour green-leaved plants and a variety of crops. There are four signs that may point to damage near your home.
- Bite marks and hollowed-out crops are indicators, especially as groundhogs bulk up during summer (usually August) in anticipation of fall and hibernation. This means the opposite holds true for winter, as groundhogs stay in their burrows and avoid moving about.
- Gnawed fruit trees and jagged or worn-away siding may indicate scent marking or spots where groundhogs chew at a surface to wear down the constant growth of their incisors.
- Groundhogs have been known to eat into underground power cables, leading to electrical outages. Even hoses in motor vehicles are susceptible as a groundhog works to chisel its teeth.
- The underground activity of groundhogs can also harm pastures and fields, by churning the ground and potentially damaging farm equipment. Fortunately, this is not a widespread problem.
What Are the Sounds and Signs of Groundhogs?
This animal’s tracks will be a challenge to identify as they probably won’t leave a heavy impression in the soil. A groundhog’s front paw will typically measure about two inches, and you may be able to note the outline of four toes. The rear paw has roughly the same size as the front – but with five toes.
Their sounds are more distinctive than their tracks. Groundhogs are often called woodchucks due their shrill whistle and “tchuck, tchuck” sound heard when they’re threatened.
Where to Find Them
Homeowners take note: groundhog burrows may be found under patios, decks, stored lumber, or even garages. Away from homes and developed areas, they’re often seen in pastures, fields, roadsides, fencerows, and along borders between wooded areas and open lands where the soil tends to stay dry.
You won’t find these rodents in large numbers, though, or even in small packs. As stated, they’re industrious when it comes to building an underground home. They have a definite sense of location and will seek a spot that offers shade and mild or cool temperatures.
As with other mammals, both warmer months and cooler months influence the groundhog’s activity, life cycle, and mating. For example:
- Fall and Winter: From mid-October through February, groundhogs remain in their burrows as they hibernate. This makes sense in light of their eating habits, as they pack on weight and live off their fat reserves when temperatures drop.
- Spring: As the days warm up, groundhogs are at their most active for two main reasons. First, hibernation ends and groundhogs emerge from their burrows in the mornings and afternoons. Second, spring marks the mating season during March and April as males seek out the burrows of nearby females. Groundhogs will be most active and noticeable during this time.
- Summer: Hotter temperatures force this rodent into its burrow for the vast majority of the day. Groundhogs will only venture out at dawn and dusk to locate food.
The best time of year to exclude groundhogs from your property is mid-to-late summer as you close burrows, denying easy entry and exit.
Prevention methods are arguably more important than the treatment methods to get rid of groundhogs. Without taking the proper steps toward prevention, groundhogs can return to your property and continue to create problems on your property.
A fence is one of the best ways to prevent groundhogs from burrowing into your yard. It can be made out of wood or metal like a standard privacy fence, but you’ll need additional specifications to prevent groundhogs from scaling the fence or digging underneath:
- Make sure that any openings in the fence (between slats of wood or holes between metal wiring are no larger than three inches.
- Dig the fence into the ground at least two feet deep.
- The fence should not be a straight line from the ground up. Instead, try to give it a slight curve at the top to make it harder to climb, and have it extend parallel to the ground at the very bottom that is dug into the earth. With this feature, groundhogs will stop digging once they hit the parallel portion rather than realizing they can back up and dig underneath it.
2. Introducing New Food Sources
It may seem counterintuitive to give groundhogs even more places to feed, but if you introduce new food sources farther away from your property, there’s a chance they’ll head there instead of sticking with the plants in your garden. Some plants that groundhogs have shown an affinity for include:
- Beet greens
- Green beans
3. Sanitize Your Yard
Groundhogs will be more likely to come into your yard if they can detect smells of vegetation. Pick fruits and vegetables as soon as they ripen and rake up any pieces that have dropped or have begun to rot. Clear your yard of food.
Additionally, you should make sure your trash cans are properly sealed and aren’t releasing any odors. Since groundhogs are herbivores, they may be deterred from certain food smells, but if you cook a lot and throw out food scraps, try double bagging these before tossing them directly into the trash can.
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Despite their own day on the calendar, many homeowners can attest to what a huge nuisance groundhogs can be. Also known as woodchucks, they burrow underground to avoid predators and come onto the surface of the ground to feed on vegetation.
Their habits are similar to other ground-dwelling mammals like voles and moles, but they pose unique property issues of their own.
Like moles, groundhogs are about the size of a cat or small dog. They live and spend a good amount of time underground. Like voles, they feed aboveground and affect both soil and plants, but these much larger critters can cause extensive damage in the form of torn-up roots and cracked foundations in buildings.
More specifically, groundhog damage is in the form of bite marks, gnawing, and bare crops around your home over the summer. Compared to other signs of ground-dwelling wildlife, entrances to groundhog burrows will be an average of eight inches wide. Other than that entrance, there won’t be other signs of them on the ground since they don’t create raised tunnels or runways. However, groundhogs are active during the day and can often be spotted coming in and out of their burrows.
Once you’ve successfully inspected and identified the presence of groundhogs on your property, you can begin a set of treatment and prevention methods on your own or through a professional wildlife removal company.
1. Eliminate Nesting Opportunities
Groundhogs like to keep the openings to their burrows near places of cover, like thick brush and tall grasses.
- Maintain your yard regularly and clean up piles of leaves, sticks, and wood.
- Keep your grass cut short.
- Trim back bushes and shrubs so that their leaves aren’t too low to the ground or thick.
- Fill in any dips or small holes that are already in your yard. These could be attractive to groundhogs since they won’t have to do as much work starting a burrow.
Unlike many other ground-dwelling pests, groundhogs like to burrow in drier dirt. To make your yard less appealing for them to dig through, keep your soil as moderately moist as possible while remaining in compliance with local watering regulations. This could be a challenge over the summer when groundhogs are most prevalent and the heat leads to drier grounds. If you don’t want to turn your sprinklers on all the time to cover your entire yard, try hosing down certain areas where groundhogs might burrow, such as near bushes and dense shrubbery.
Most likely, groundhogs are attracted to your yard because of the vegetation growing within it. Store-bought repellents usually come in liquid or granule form and contain a concentrated form of predator urine, such as fox or coyote urine. Groundhogs know to stay away from these scents if they want to stay alive, so they may seek shelter away from your property. This is a good method to use if you have children and pets or simply prefer not to use toxic substances. Be aware that repellents wear away easily and must be combined with other preventative measures to keep the groundhogs from returning.
How To Use a Repellent
- Read the instructions on the bottle you’ve purchased to determine how much to use and how often you need to replace it.
- Sprinkle or spray the substance around the groundhog burrow and the plants that have been eaten.
Continue to monitor your plants to determine the products’ efficacy.
Using groundhog cage traps is one of the most efficient and effective ways to get rid of groundhogs on your property. When combined with prevention methods, these traps will take care of your problem and the groundhogs won’t likely return.
How to Use a Groundhog Trap
- Check to see if there are any local or state regulations about trapping and releasing groundhogs in your area.
- Read the instructions for the live trap thoroughly and make sure you understand how to set it properly before attempting to do so.
- Wearing gloves to keep your scent off, set the trap carefully during the daytime (when groundhogs are active). Some traps operate with spring-loaded mechanisms and can be dangerous if you don’t know how to set them up properly.
- Place the trap near the entrance of the groundhog burrow and disguise it with dirt and leaves.
Bait the live trap with fruits or vegetables. You can even use pieces of the vegetation in your yard that the groundhogs enjoy so much.
- Check the trap every day to see if it you have caught a groundhog. Don’t let a groundhog sit in it for too long, or it can dehydrate or hurt itself trying to escape.
- Release the groundhog in a manner permitted by state and local laws. Most likely, wildlife should be released in a wooded area miles away from residential property.
- Place a brick or other heavy object on top of the groundhog cage after you’ve set it up so that the groundhogs can’t easily tip it over once they’re inside.
- When moving the trap to relocate the groundhog, place a sheet or cloth over it so that the groundhog isn’t as frightened about being moved.
- Unless you have experience handling wildlife, enlist help to release the groundhog and make sure you’re taking proper cautionary measures, such as wearing gloves, long sleeves, and long pants.
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DIY Treatment Methods
Several DIY repellent options that can be just as effective as store-bought products. Better yet, you may already have many of these items around your home.
Dry blood meal offers the best of both worlds when you use it around your plants. Its main purpose is a fertilizer, so it’ll help your vegetation grow to its full potential while also serving to repel groundhogs with its smell.
Groundhogs are repelled by the scent and presence of talcum powder, so you can also sprinkle this substance on your plants without disturbing them from growing.
Hair and Urine
It isn’t advised to purposefully put dogs or cats near a groundhog in the hopes that they’ll attack. Depending on your pet’s size and attitude, the groundhog could actually cause more harm towards your dog or cat. Spread your pet’s fur or urine around your lawn in specific areas where you want to keep groundhogs out. You can also use your own hair for this method, since groundhogs will recognize that it belongs to a predator and will likely leave the area for safety.
Like many animals, groundhogs can’t stand the taste or smell of spicy peppers. Creating your own DIY spicy spray could be a good nontoxic method to try, especially if you’d like to apply a repellent directly on your plants. Take a spray bottle full of water and add some crushed or chopped peppers until you can smell the solution yourself. Spray this around your vegetation as well as the groundhog burrow entrance.
In the same vein as groundhogs staying away from pepper spray, they’ll also stay away from the smell of garlic. Add minced garlic to water, or simply crush garlic cloves and drop them throughout your vegetation.
Especially when it comes to trapping, setting the device and handling the groundhog is most likely a job that is best suited for a trained professional.
A groundhog control expert will utilize many of the above methods with top-of-the-line products and procedures and possibly other methods too difficult for you carry out on your own. He or she will inspect your property and assess the damage before choosing the best possible treatment method for your situation. These experts are also conversant in state and local regulations for safe, humane groundhog removal.
Especially when it comes to trapping, setting the device and handling the groundhog may be a job better suited for a trained professional. Many wildlife removal companies also provide satisfaction guarantees in which they’ll continue attempting treatments until the problem is resolved or refund your money.
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