Keeping Woodchucks Out

Groundhog, Woodchuck

Question: Something has been eating my tomatoes, and over the weekend I saw the culprit. A woodchuck waddled over, reached up, bent a branch down and grabbed a tomato! How can I keep woodchucks out of my vegetable garden?

Answer: Woodchucks (also known as groundhogs) and rabbits are the top raiders of vegetable gardens, well ahead of raccoons, opossums and skunks. (Skunks actually aid the gardener by eating grubs, Japanese beetles and other nuisance bugs.) You may think first of trapping and moving the woodchuck, but this is not advised. Many states have laws against relocating animals, because it can lead to the spread of diseases like rabies, and often the animal doesn’t survive in its new location. There may not be enough food for it there, or the right type of food, or it may face competition with or predation from the animals already in residence. Even if you did trap and move the woodchuck, another would take its place in your garden anyway. Instead, try a combination of repellents and fencing.

For repellents, try lining the edges of the garden with blood-meal fertilizer or with a rodent-specific repellent like Hinder. (Follow the label directions of any product carefully, especially when using near edibles.) Many gardeners swear by used kitty litter; they pour it down woodchucks’ holes or scatter it around the edge of the garden.

An easy-to-make L-shaped fence blocks both woodchucks and rabbits. Use chicken wire. You can keep woodchucks from burrowing under the fence by “planting” the chicken wire at least 4 inches deep. Bend the bottom edge 90 degrees (into an L shape) and point the bottom of the L away from the garden when you bury it. When the woodchuck starts digging, he’ll hit the mesh. Above ground, make the fence about 3 feet tall. You can drive posts into the ground to nail it to, but keep these only about 2 feet tall, so that the top of the chicken wire stays loose and wobbly. This discourages woodchucks from climbing over it.

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9 thoughts on “Keeping Woodchucks Out

  1. One thing that has been fairly successful for me is a hot pepper spray. Any animal with lips (woodchuck, squirrel, etc.) can be dissuaded from eating plants treated with pepper spray that will irritate their mouth. I add a teaspoon of hot sauce (I buy ones with the least amount of vinegar and salt) to 1-2 gallons of water. (You can also simmer pepper flakes in water and strain off the liquid to use) Add a few drops dishwashing liquid to help make the spray stick to the leaves. Some recipes call to add garlic and even egg. I bypass the last 2 options. Don’t spray plants in heat of the day or in the sun. You’ll need to re-apply after it rains. And of course, don’t spray plants whose leaves you intend to eat yourself! There are many similar recipes online.

  2. I found that installing an electric fence 3″ above the chicken wire fence has solved the problem completely. I have three 4′ x 8′ raised bed gardens now that are surrounded by a 2″ chicken wire fence and topped by the electric fence. I used a Have-a-heart pet fence. It was easy to install and deters the groundhogs and squirrels.

    Robert

  3. Hi Amanda,
    We had, and probably still have, a momma groundhog and her 3 kits. They wiped out our summer garden, mowing through the crookneck and zucchini squash plants in a couple of days, turning an overgrown 4 x 8 raised garden with a 3 ft fence into a wasteland. I have tried the kitty litter as I have 4 cats. I found that it did cause the critters to vacate the area for a while but they would always come back. Because one of the burrows was close to the garden, I could always catch a whiff of the litter while around the garden.

    • Hi Amanda,

      I haven’t personally tried kitty litter to ward off woodchucks. However we published a letter in a recent print issue of Horticulture from a man who wondered if there was a way to reuse kitty litter, and we received many responses from other readers touting its effectiveness against woodchucks and rabbits. If I had a problem with woodchucks, and I had a cat, I would give it a shot.

      —Meghan Shinn, editor

      • I guess it depends on your groundhog!
        mine dug right through the kitty litter!!
        I have tried EVERY possible option!
        you need to be on guard for 24 hours to use the .22!!

        • We’ve tried kitty litter, spreading cat hair around, fox urine scent, bobcat scent, and the only thing that has worked is the have-a heart trap. That has been only partially successful, as the biggest woodchuck is still elusive – I don’t think he’d fit into this trap even as big as it is. Next option is hire Stephen!

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