A gardener’s work is never done, and some of the most urgent and persistent annoyances you’ll have to deal with in your garden are mammalian pests.
From rabbits and deer to raccoons and even the occasional possum, there’s nothing most mammals love more than scarfing up the produce you’ve worked so hard to grow.
But there’s one garden pest that tends to be more persistent, and more destructive, than the others, especially in a suburban setting: groundhogs!
These huge rodents can tunnel under anything and will hang out all day eating and eating and eating when you aren’t around, and despite being barely bigger than a small dog, they seem to have bottomless stomachs.
You can watch your carrots, strawberries, tomatoes and everything else disappear into their gullet in a shockingly short period of time.
This just will not do, so today I’m bringing you 12 ways to reliably keep groundhogs out of your garden before you go crazy. Grab your gloves and let’s get going…
Fence Off Your Garden
If you don’t have your garden fenced off, you’re literally setting a table for any groundhogs that might be in the area.
Even if they aren’t nearby, groundhogs, despite being pudgy and short stature, can travel a surprising distance from their burrow for a reliable source of food. This means you got to fence off your garden if at all possible, if only because it will slow them down.
The major trick is that groundhogs are quite impressive diggers, and they have powerful four limbs and large, well-developed claws that let them excavate a ton of dirt very quickly.
Because of this, a typical surface fence is not going to do the job. You’ll need to bury the fence at least 6 in into the ground and preferably a foot or more in order to give them a worthwhile impediment.
Even better, whatever kind of fence you use bury large gravel or stones immediately under it; when they run into these it will tear up their feet and hopefully deter them. And don’t think you’re safe if you have raised beds, either: they can climb!
Keep Lawns Clear of Clover and Weeds
You can keep groundhogs out of the area generally by stopping them from wandering on your land in the first place. Groundhogs, like all rodents, are extremely motivated by food.
Much of the time they just wander around eating choice buds and blooms off of flowers, weeds and other plants. That’s probably what brought them to your place in the first place.
Accordingly, you can make it far more likely that a groundhog will skip your place and go on its merry way if you keep your lawn clear of these invasive and annoying plants.
Your lawn will look better, sure, but you’ll be denying groundhogs that initial snack that will get them to stick around for the main course.
Eliminate Old Animal Burrows
If you have any animals that have nested or created burrows on your property, be they foxes, rabbits or anything else, you’ve got to get rid of them.
You can either totally block them off if they are under a deck or building, or else you need to fill them in with a combination of soil and large gravel.
That’s because groundhogs will happily take over unused burrows and make them their home. When that happens, you know the groundhog is going to be sticking around and then it won’t be but a matter of days, if that, before your garden is getting torn up.
While you’re taking care of this, make it a point to reinforce and block off access to any likely groundhog hiding places.
Covered approaches next to your house in your landscaping, beneath sheds, under decks and any other obstruction that will provide them concealment is highly attractive to them.
Use Epsom Salt at the Burrow and Garden Perimeter
One of the most surprising, and surprisingly effective, methods for groundhog control on our list is nothing more than simple, common Epsom salt. Sounds too good to be true, but it really works!
Although it doesn’t smell like anything to people, Epsom salt is clearly highly offensive to the delicate noses of many mammals, including pest mammals like groundhogs.
Assuming you can do so safely without unduly harming your lawn or pets, you can sprinkle a dense perimeter of Epsom salt around your garden and, if you know where the groundhog burrow is, immediately around the burrow.
It won’t take long before they can’t stand the odor and they will likely depart to take their chances elsewhere.
Keep in mind that this will contaminate soil over time and can harm plants, so apply it judiciously and be aware of it being carried away by surface water when it rains!
Try Groundhog Repellent Sprays
As with most things, if you’re willing to pay for it, there is a dedicated over-the-counter solution for the groundhog problem. This is in the form of commercial groundhog repellent sprays.
These sprays run the gamut when it comes to ingredients, efficacy, persistence and application but they all have one thing in common: they will irritate or disgust groundhogs.
Caveat: Some of these sprays are hit and miss, though, with some owners reporting the occasional groundhog still paying them a visit… but they might still be worth a try.
You might be able to find this stuff at your local hardware store or big box home improvement center if groundhogs are common in your area, but if not, you can always order it online.
All you need to do then is follow the instructions that come with your repellent when it comes to mixing, if applicable, and then application.
With a little bit of time your groundhog problem should soon be a thing of the past. Just to keep in mind it could theoretically affect other animals, also!
Soaked Kitty Litter Will Drive Them Off
If you don’t mind getting a little gross and if you have a cat you can turn a quirk of the groundhog’s biology against it: it seems that used kitty litter, the nastier the better, is especially effective at scaring off groundhogs.
This is because cats, even house cats, are apex predators and most prey mammals have a natural fear of felines.
Leaving some used kitty litter along the path that the groundhog typically takes to and from or near its burrow is going to severely unsettle it and might scare it off.
This isn’t a sure thing, and suburban groundhogs are used to smelling cats and lots of other animals, but it’s definitely worth a try as lots of gardeners report great success with this method.
As always, be careful when you leave this stuff so it doesn’t get tracked around where you don’t want it, and I recommend against leaving it near your garden to prevent contamination unless you have no other choice.
Hose Them Down
Groundhogs are surprisingly sensitive animals, and when things don’t go their way often enough they tend to leave an area to take their chances somewhere else. One fun, hilarious and ultimately harmless method for getting rid of groundhogs is to squirt them with water.
The shock of getting blasted with water will send them flying back to their burrow at first, and if this happens more than a couple of times it is highly likely they run for the hills.
You can use a water gun for this purpose or just pull out your water hose if it will reach. When the groundhog starts closing in on your garden, blast him!
If you don’t want to spend all day waiting to ambush the poor critter, you can even invest in automatic sprinklers that turn on and aim when they detect movement. Talk about a high-tech solution to a low-tech problem!
Use Bittering Agents on Likely Groundhog Foods
A clever way to drive groundhogs away is to spread bittering agents on their likely food sources. If you have any of those aforementioned dandelions or other weeds growing nearby, especially near their burrow, hose them down with this stuff.
But there’s a catch: you don’t want to use it directly on your own produce because it will make your fruits and veggies taste awful in turn!
Now, if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit in order to gain advantage you might spray the groundhog’s favorite foods in your garden with it, or just plants on the perimeter that it is likely to encounter first.
And you’ve got to be persistent with this stuff, because once they get a taste they will move on to something else, something that is hopefully less gross. They need to figure out quickly and with certainty that all the food in this area is no longer good so that they will leave.
Get a Dog or Large Cat
Like I said above, groundhogs are prey animals and so they are perennially and naturally afraid of predators. In fact, they tend to be afraid of everything that is bigger than they are whether or not it will actually try to eat them.
If you have a dog or cat, letting them out to roam the area if you can do so safely is going to put the groundhog severely on edge and it is highly likely that they will retreat after a few close encounters.
Large dogs are especially good at scaring the wits out of groundhogs, but do take care if your pet is likely to chase because even though groundhogs are cowardly they have very large and sharp teeth and powerful jaws which can inflict significant injury if they are cornered.
Fill in the Burrow
A devious method for groundhog control, but one that is undeniably effective. If you know the groundhog is out and about, you can act quickly if you have your supplies prepped and fill in the entrance to its burrow.
Note that it might have more than one entrance to the borough so you’ll need to scout around looking for that emergency exit.
Once you find the entrances, shovel in a mixture of soil with large, rough gravel and other stones. Using dirt alone is not going to cut it, because the groundhog will cheerfully and quickly just dig it right back out again to set up shop.
But when you put stones in with the soil, this will hurt the groundhog’s paws and damage its nails which means it will give up digging in all likelihood.
I know it sounds cruel, but you don’t need to worry because the groundhog will just move away, hopefully, and then dig a burrow somewhere else. They are resourceful; you don’t have to worry about making them homeless!
Relocate the Groundhog
If you are willing to stage a direct intervention, setting up a cage trap will let you to safely, easily and quickly catch a groundhog for relocation far away from your home.
A piece of carrot is great bait, but be sure to keep a close eye out so a trapped groundhog does not die of thirst or exposure.
Also make sure that trapping is legal in your state and county, as sometimes you aren’t allowed to even catch nuisance animals without a license, or aren’t allowed to relocate them.
And watch your fingers: remember those sharp teeth and claws, so wear gloves and pick up the cage carefully when it is caught.
Sometimes, enough is enough. If the groundhog just won’t leave or you don’t have the time or the willpower to implement any other methods of deterrence, it is pretty easy to permanently dispatch the creature.
There are specialized groundhog traps that can get them as they enter or leave their burrow, and worth using if you don’t have pets or kids. Rodenticide fuming devices can be used, too, against them when you know they are inside their borough.
And lastly, a variety of rodenticide baits will make short work of them. Be especially cautious if you’re using any kind of gas or bait because they are indiscriminately effective and can hurt you and pets alike.
And think twice before you kill the groundhog if it is near your home or underneath the building: it is definitely possible that the stench of its decaying corpse will be intolerable for a time.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.