Vegetable Gardening Despite Groundhogs

The resident groundhog spared us some spinach, green onions and basil

The resident groundhog spared us some spinach, green onions and basil

 

Today’s post was pre-written. I am on a short internet-free weekend retreat but will be available June 25.

So far our resident groundhog has only snacked selectively. The apocalypse I feared has not yet arrived. Barring severe drought or a plague of locusts, the vegetable garden will yield a harvest this summer. In fact, it already has: look at these luscious vegies that went into an omelette this week. Here are a few tips from present and past experience that might help gardeners bothered by any of these shy, baleful rodents, also known as woodchucks.

Avoid Brassicas

The best strategy is not to encourage them. In my experience, groundhogs are especially fond of anything in the cabbage family. That means no broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes or mustards. Too bad they are so tasty and healthy. However, with a past garden I discovered omitting them from the plan meant groundhogs would not bother crossing a large open area for otherwise tasty vegetables like carrots (which we will get to).

Fences

If you can, build a fence. It will spare unquestionable annoyance, labour, waste and heartache. An effective fence must be angled outward, reaching 90 cm (3 ft.) high and 30 cm (1 ft.) underground, otherwise groundhogs will easily dig under it. Electric fence will also serve the purpose. This is the only solution that is anywhere near foolproof. Unfortunately a fence did not fit my budget this spring, plus I was unwilling to make the investment in a garden we might use for only one season.

Natural Deterrents

Various substances sprinkled on or around the garden are supposed to deter groundhogs: blood meal, epsom salts, hot pepper and household ammonia to name a few. The only one I tried was ammonia-soaked rags forming a smelly barrier around the entire garden. It did not work. The problem is, all these cures are temporary. They break down, wash away, evaporate or lose their stench. You are supposed to continually renew them. What happens when you go away for a weekend (which happens invariably every summer) and it rains on Saturday morning? Whoops! The groundhog has free run of the garden for 48 hours. That is all it takes. I cannot afford the expense or vigilance.

Marigolds

Someone suggested marigolds may deter groundhogs, so I planted Tagetes all around the garden. This seems to help. Oddly enough, one or two marigolds have themselves been munched. I hypothesize the effective factor is smell. Marigolds have a peppery stink I find obnoxious. Presumably it has a more profound effect on groundhogs with their keener nostrils. It does not discourage them from wandering into the garden and munching randomly, however it seems to give the invaders a hard time finding their preferred foods. This is the only explanation why any mild greens like lettuce and spinach have survived so far. I never dreamed of recommending smelly marigolds, but this deterrent is the least labour-intensive. Besides, they are drought-resistant.

Food They Won’t Eat

Presumably the nightshade family is as toxic to groundhogs as to humans, and they know it. You can safely grow potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Rodents also avoid Mediterranean herbs in the mint family such as rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, basil and lemon balm. The onion family is usually safe, except for leeks. The vermin have not touched my two vigorous borage plants. Likewise, I have never known them to consume squashes, cucumbers or melons. I have successfully grown sweet corn in hog-infested ground.

Expect to Share the Rest

While other vegetables may not be attractive as the cabbage family, uninvited guests will eat practically everything else: lettuce and spinach, for example. The pests are fond of carrot tops. I have seen entire rows of beans disappear overnight. Most of the fennel I transplanted recently has already been consumed, so I expect closely-related dill would be as vulnerable (my dill seedlings did not survive the May drought). Parsley doesn’t stand a chance. Neither do peas, and if you have ever nibbled a young pea plant you will understand why. I can only admire groundhogs for having good taste.

Do you have any wisdom to share about inexpensive deterrents and wise crop choices?


Comments

Vegetable Gardening Despite Groundhogs — 12 Comments

  1. Pingback: Our top secret groundhog repellent | Speed River Journal

  2. A 25 cent 22 round does the trick then you can eat him for a meal and enjoy your veggies in a nice groundhog stew

  3. Pingback: In praise of potatoes | Speed River Journal

    • Last year my groundhog did that to all my tomatoes and ate everyone of my Brussel sprouts and my gr beans and even some peppers.

  4. So far it hasn’t touched anything but cucumber leaves. It has been working on them for few days now. I assume it will move to my other veges next, tomato, eggplant and pepper.

  5. Maybe it’s the branches and leaves of nighshade plants they can’t eat, because my groundhog’s really been going to town on the tomatoes. I scattered some blood meal and hopefully that will work — I doubt rain will have much effect on the odor, and it’s extremely cheap and non-labor-intensive to scatter broadcast over a large bed.k

  6. I read somewhere that groundhogs do not like the taste of Epsom salts, plus it is a great for the veggies. I also find out that using a bug not drink protector on my mug when I’m in the garden keeps the flies out of my drink. So that takes care of two bad things, bunnies and deer’s are something ells.
    For deer I lay old bird tree netting on the ground and spike it down, this seams to work for a while then the things just jump or walk around it, I try. Bunnies a 22 works best however neighbors might not like it, then again you must be ready when you see them, nothing is easy.

  7. I have two baby woodchucks this year, and a proud mother. I also have one volunteer potato plant that sprouted from a missed potato last fall. Just yesterday I noticed that the lower leaves are shredded, chopped off, and generally savaged, and since this is next to the shed that Mrs. Woodchuck lives under, I suspect she and her brood have been experimenting.

    They also like baby’s breath, which has a lovely succulent set of stems.This year it has a lovely succulent set of stumps. lol
    and yes they do eat marigolds.

    All that said, I seriously don’t mind seeing the woodchucks, and no, Im not taking them out with a .22 just because they’re there. =)

    • Thank you , I’ve had a family for 20 years – love watching moms and her babies ! Mine love cucumber leaves and zucchini square leaves

      My new neighbor decided to trap them just because ! He has no garden – just didn’t like seeing them ! I was heartbroken – finally after he removed some – I sprung the trap and told him he fought my cat – he removed the traps !

  8. Ground hogs, Woodchucks and tomato plants.

    For years I have used a self made round cage for my tomatoes plants, I have had no problems with any animal eating the fruits.

    What I did some 20 years ago was to roll up heavy gauge wire with 4in squares into a 20 in round circle ( I used a cement reinforced type wire ) After I put the plant in the ground I place the round cage around it (standing up) so now I have a round cage about 4 feet high, with the new plant in the middle.

    I pound two 2 X 2’s 5 feet long, along the outsides of the cage, one on either side, into the ground, deep enough to stay the total growing season, then I tie (plastic tie) the cage to the 2 by’s, this way the metal is not sunk into the ground and will last longer, plus this is the easiest way for me to handle it.

    This year the above was done the end of April and now mid July the plants are over the top, I’m now pinching the ends to keep getting higher and breaking off, plus I’m forcing the small growths to produce before the season ends.

    Also found out the bug not drink protectors are great to use while in my garden.

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