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Groundhogs in the Garden

Groundhogs (a.k.a. woodchucks, marmots, and whistle pigs) are the largest member of the squirrel family. They carry the whimsical alternate name “whistle pigs” because when alarmed, they give a loud, shrill whistle.

During the winter, they are one of the few animals that truly hibernate. During the warm months, a groundhog’s incisors grow about a sixteenth of an inch (1.6 millimeters) each week to keep up with their frenzied eating schedule.

Groundhogs also have sharp claws that they use to dig impressive burrows in the ground with multiple escape entrances. They are not fast critters, however, and stay close to their burrows to escape predators.

You can find these animals all over North America, especially in the garden! For gardeners, the groundhog can be very damaging to both vegetable gardens and ornamentals.  The most successful way to limit groundhogs in a vegetable garden is a well-constructed fence.  The fence should be about four feet tall and have a portion buried into the ground 10-12 inches or the lower foot bent in a L shape along the ground on the outside of the fence to deter woodchucks from digging under.  In ornamental gardens fencing is less practical.  Reducing suitable habitat for woodchucks by blocking access to areas preferred for creating burrows such as under sheds, decks, and woodpiles can be useful.  Tactics such as repellants and scare tactics are seldom effective at reducing damage in a garden. For more info on controlling these critters click here for a guide provided by MA Wildlife.