How to Get Rid of Groundhogs, Woodchucks, and Voles
Groundhog and Woodchuck Control
Groundhogs and woodchucks may look cuddly and cute...until one moves into your yard and starts eating all of your prized garden plants. They can wipe out a veggie garden in an afternoon and devour a planting bed of perennials in no time.
Groundhog and woodchuck are common names for the same animal, and they have voracious appetites for garden plants. They are very destructive, excavating large quantities of soil with their burrows and feasting on tender (and expensive) annuals and perennials with their insatiable appetites for anything green.
Groundhogs can devastate a garden very quickly. In the wild, they eat grasses, clover, and dandelions. In your garden, they eat freshly planted annuals and returning perennials, hostas, and just about every leafy herb and vegetable in the veggie patch. Groundhog burrows are large and deep and dug with at least two exits. They move a lot of dirt in the excavation process, making it easy to find and identify the entrance to a groundhog burrow.
How to Get Rid of Groundhogs
1. Prevent the Groundhogs From Moving in
Every spring, woodchucks emerge from their burrows and begin the search for fresh green plants. And every spring brings new unwelcome visitors from the surrounding fields and woodlands into our gardens. Though we encourage wildlife to visit and take up residence on our property, groundhogs are very destructive and quickly wear out their welcome.
Fences are an effective barrier, but hungry groundhogs can climb over or burrow under the average garden fence to reach the plants on the other side. Individual or small groupings of plants can be protected effectively with chicken wire or garden fencing, rolled into a cylinder to surround the plants and pressed at least 12 inches deep into the ground.
Use chicken wire or garden fencing to surround vegetable gardens. Fencing needs to be at least 4 feet high, with the bottom edges of the fence buried at least a foot below ground level and flared out and away to prevent the groundhogs from digging under the fence. Even so, a determined groundhog can easily climb a 6 foot high garden fence.
Woodchucks look cuddly and cute—until one starts eating all of your prized plants!
2. Keep the Yard Open and Clean
Groundhogs are timid creatures, and they do not like open spaces—probably because they are on the menu of just about every predator including hawks, coyotes, fox and the neighborhood dogs—and they seldom stray far from the safety of their burrows. In backyards and gardens, groundhogs tend to dig their burrows under the shelter of a deck, shed or porch.
Eliminating the areas where they can hide safely from predators or dig their burrow can significantly reduce the chances of a groundhog from moving in. Use lattice or other physical barriers to block off access and stop groundhogs from getting underneath sheds and porches, and move brush piles away from your garden and planting areas.
3. Frighten Them Away
There are several commercial products, home remedies and mechanical devices to discourage groundhogs from feasting on your plants. Bottled predator urine and ammonia soaked rags offer some protection, as can spreading Epsom salts and moth balls around planting bed, though each solution must be reapplied often to remain effective (especially after rain storms, which wash away the scents that deter the groundhogs from the area).
Motion detecting devices used for repelling deer are also effective against groundhogs. Motion-activated sprinklers can be especially effective, harmlessly spraying water at any groundhog that wanders into their path. Anything that produces motion can help to frighten away skittish animals, such old CD's hanging and flashing in a sunlight breeze, as well as wind chimes or the action of a whirly-gig put in motion by a gentle breeze.
Ultrasonic devices use sound technology to clear the area of rodents and other uninvited animal guests, without using chemicals and without harming the little critters. Many of these commercial products use motion sensors to detect the presence of pests, and then blasting the intruder with a burst of ultrasonic sound.
Groundhogs are clever (and persistent), and they will get used to the consistent motion deterrents or they may learn to avoid the reach of the sprayer. To maintain the effectiveness, try moving the devices around to different locations within the garden areas.
4. Evict Them
Live trapping is the most effective method of groundhog control. Groundhogs are easily captured in live traps, which are essentially wire cages with a moving door that is triggered by a trip tray. Live traps can be purchased or rented; Havahart is a popular brand that makes several types and sizes of live traps.
Set the live trap near a groundhog burrow and then bait it with fresh broccoli or apple slices. The animal is captured when it enters the trap for the bait, steps on the trigger plate and releases the door. Relocate the captured critter at least five miles away to discourage it from returning.
Professional Wildlife Control companies offer trapping and removal services, and are familiar with local regulations for removing and relocating groundhogs. In most states, the Department of Environmental Protection web site offers a listing of licensed wildlife control specialists.
5. The Last Resort
When all other means of controlling groundhogs fail, cartridges of a poisonous gas mixture especially formulated for groundhog control are available online or at feed and seed stores.This measure of lethal control must be used with extreme caution, and is best reserved for use by commercial farmers with large fields of crops to protect.
Groundhog burrows are often home to other animals including box turtles, snakes and toads. Used indiscriminately, this form of control is lethal to all of the inhabitants in the burrow.
Readers Poll: Groundhog Controls
Which Methods Do You Use For Controlling Groundhogs?
Groundhog Facts: Did You Know?
- Groundhogs are large rodents that can grow up to 30 inches long and weigh over pounds. They can live up to six years in the wild.
- Expert excavators, groundhogs remove large amounts of soil as they dig into the ground. Their burrows have multiple entrances and exits to help escape predators.
- They are hibernators, and enter their burrows in late fall.
- Mating season for groundhogs begins as soon as they emerge from hibernation in late March or early April.
- The average litter produces two to six pups. Born blind and hairless, the pups grow quickly and are ready to leave the burrow in about six weeks.
- Groundhogs primarily eat grasses and other vegetation. Their fondness for vegetables and their voracious appetites put them in conflict with gardeners.
- Groundhogs and woodchucks are the same animal. In some areas, they are also called whistle pigs and land beavers.
Groundhog Range Map
Voles are tiny mice-like creatures with short tails and a voracious appetites for plants—especially the roots and tender leaves of perennials such as hostas. They will also gnaw on the bark and roots of small fruit trees. Also known as meadow mice, voles can be found in gardens all across the US. These destructive pests are active year round.
Voles live in small underground burrows, dug near the base of overhanging plants, under shrubs and bushes, and around roots of trees. Their burrows are small, about the size of a quarter, and they can be hard to find under the foliage and camouflaged by garden mulch. They dig the entrances to their burrows at the base of the plants that they like to eat and unlike a mole, voles do not leave a mound of excavated soil around the entrance.
There are several different methods, home remedies and commercial products for controlling voles, and deterring them from ravishing your garden. Though none are 100% effective, the following tips will help reduce the damage to your prized plants.
Combining several of the strategies will further increase the effectiveness of keeping voles from eating their way through your garden.
These Little Rodents Terrorize Garden Plants
Voles dig little burrows right at the base of tender plants, such as this recently devoured hosta plant. With their voracious appetites, they can consume a full-sized hosta in just a few days before moving on to the next tasty plant.
They attack the plant from their underground burrow, chewing on the roots, and I have watched in horror as a vole attacked a hosta frond from below, detaching the leaf from the base of the plant and pulling it down into their hole.
Voles reproduce quickly and in gardens without an abundance of natural predators, their numbers can increase quickly and dramatically. Repellents and other non-lethal deterrents can be effective, though in some cases, a higher level of control is needed to keep a large population of voles in check.
How To Get Rid Of Voles
1. Turn Up the Heat!
Try a natural deterrent: hot pepper flakes.
Locate the entrance to a vole's burrow near the base of a damaged plant, and sprinkle red pepper flakes in and around the entrance hole. Spreading a tablespoon or two of the hot pepper flake powder in and around the entrance to the burrow, then pressing the pepper flakes down into the soil with your boot, is usually enough to deter any further damage—at least for a while.
Repeat the application of red pepper flakes every few days, especially after a soaking rain shower.
This cup of pepper flakes are the leftovers from last year's harvest of cayenne, chili and cherry peppers. After allowing the peppers to dry out thoroughly, the peppers are gently crushed and stored in an airtight container.
2. Install Barriers to Protect Plants
To protect individual and small groups of plants, burying a wire mesh around the plants can deter a hungry vole. Wire mesh with small openings works best; bury the wire mesh at least six inches below ground level, with the bottom flared out and away from the plants.
A layer of gravel spread around the base of plants can also help prevent a vole from digging down into the garden.
Individual plants can also be planted inside of a plastic nursery pot. The pots used for transporting nursery plants are sturdy, inexpensive and readily available. Simply cut the bottom out of a plastic pot and bury it into the garden, leaving about an inch exposed above ground level. Fill the pot with soil and then place the plant inside. Use a pot that is large enough to allow at least a year of potential growth, and then disguise the edges of the pot with covering of mulch.
3. The Last Lines of Defense
The traditional wooden snap traps commonly used to catch mice are also very effective for trapping and killing voles. While obviously lethal, snap traps are inexpensive and arguably as humane a method for controlling voles as using poisonous baits or glue traps.
Position a baited snap trap near the entrance of burrows. Use a mixture of peanut butter and oatmeal for bait, pressing the mixture firmly into the trip plate, and then place the trigger end of the trap at the entrance to the burrow.
Cover the snap trap with an inverted flowerpot to keep pets and other animals away from the baited trap. Check the traps daily, always wear gloves when handling the traps, and dispose of the remains properly.
Have You Ever Seen A Vole?
A Short Vole Poll:
Vole Control: An Organic Solution
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2011 Anthony Altorenna