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Woodchuck wars

08/29/02 12:00AM By Charlie Nardozzi
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(Host) Commentator Charlie Nardozzi has some advice for dealing with woodchucks.

(Nardozzi) Animals are a main source of excitement and interest in my house. My daughter Elena loves her two cats, Tasha and Toby, and she and my wife Barbara can spend hours watching birds, chipmunks, and squirrels in my yard. Being a gardener I can appreciate each animal's niche in the world, but have to draw the line with some; such as the woodchuck.

The woodchuck, AKA groundhog or whistling pig (yes, they do whistle when alarmed), is a familiar, furry rodent. They dig their burrows in fields, forest edges, and abandoned lots and yards. They're mostly harmless to home-owners. They feed on lawn grass, clover, alfalfa, and other vegetation close to their holes. However, where man and animal meet is where the problems can begin. That meeting place often is the garden.

When a woodchuck family moves in and discovers that your garden is equivalent to a 5-star restaurant, there's bound to be trouble. Woodchucks are low to the ground, so the newly emerging seedlings and low-growing plants are most susceptible to nibbling. But let's be frank, they don't nibble. Woodchucks mow down favored plants such a beans, broccoli, hollyhocks, and zinnias with a passion. They feed mostly in the morning and evening and are quick to find their burrow when alarmed. So what's a gardener to do if Woody decides to move in next door? Here are a few options to consider.

For the compassionate gardener, the Hav-a-Hart live trap is often recommended. Place the trap near the hole and bait it with fresh broccoli. You'll usually catch ol' Woody, but the problem is where to move him. You don't want to create a problem for someone else by releasing him near their yard, and wildlife research has shown that relocated woodchucks often starve to death because they become disoriented and have to compete with other animals in their new territory. So this "compassionate" removal, really isn't.

However, if you can coax Woody to move and find new digs on his own, that's better. Here are a few repellents that may work for you. Predator urines, such as fox and coyote urine, will work when sprayed around a new hole. The smell suggests the predator is nearby so Woody moves to new digs. They're most effective when you first notice that Woody has moved into your neighborhood. You can also soak tennis balls in ammonia, throw them into the hole, and backfill the hole with soil. Try to block both holes (Woody usually has an escape hole nearby), so the smell really irritates him.

Of course, the best protection for your plants is a fence. Place it around the garden before Woody finds your plants, or he'll be more motivated to break through to the goodies. A four-foot tall fence, left unattached to the stake at the top and buried 18 inches underground, is best. It prevents our nimble rodent from climbing over or digging under it.

With a little work, Woody and your garden can coexist. This is Charlie Nardozzi from Hinesburg.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.
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