Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are common in Nova Scotia and are one of the few species that enjoy both urban and agricultural landscapes. Unfortunately, they are also a prevalent nuisance species in the province. Despite their cute and non-menacing appearance, these small rodents are known to devour fruits and vegetables from gardens and croplands. Their efficient tunneling abilities can damage septic fields and even driveways causing parts of the pavement to collapse. Over time, groundhogs have adapted well to the presence of humans, in fact, they have likely thrived by taking advantage of the things we inadvertently provide through our daily habits, including outdoor gardens (i.e. food source) and backyard sheds (i.e. shelter). Taking appropriate measures to deter these small mammals is the key to managing individuals so they don’t become a nuisance on your property.
Groundhogs are strictly herbivores, feeding on a variety of vegetables including soy, peas, beans, broccoli tops, alfalfa, grasses and more. Many land owners find that they pick at pretty much anything you might have growing on the property.
Like larger mammals including bears, Groundhogs hibernate over winter. Typically, they enter this hibernation period in the last week or so of October, and will remain in this period of hibernation until late February.
Following their hibernation, Groundhogs mate in the spring, and give birth to young in May. A litter consist of anywhere between 1-8 hairless, blind “kits” (babies), and they will remain in the burrow until they are about 6 weeks old before beginning to forage above ground with their mother. Groundhogs have a life span of about 3-4 years, and their primary predators include hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, weasels, dogs and humans.
Groundhogs can cause extensive damage to gardens, orchards, field crops and even barns, homesteads and houses by undermining foundations and drainage systems due to burrowing and intense and invasive feeding. Their mischievous tendencies can help them gain access to certain areas that landowners would prefer they did not access, including crawlspaces under a house, by creeping in through broken vent covers or holes in the foundation. Due to their stubborn disposition, groundhogs can be an extremely difficult nuisance species to manage. However, a few techniques can be used to potentially prevent groundhogs from becoming a nuisance in the first place, as well as some methods that may help land owners cope with nuisance groundhogs if they are already on the property.
For Landowners in the City
Several techniques can be used around your home and gardens to try to discourage or remove groundhogs from the property. The effectiveness of these techniques is questionable because of the stubborn nature of these mammals, but they have nevertheless shown to work in many cases.
- Fruit or vegetable gardens are hotspots for groundhogs. Harvesting crops as early as possible may limit the groundhog damage to the “fruits of your labor”.
- Investing in a perimeter fence around small gardens can be an effective technique to minimize Groundhog damage. Fences should be at least 3 feet high, made of wire, and have openings no greater than 3 inches. Installing fences with 2 feet of the fence below ground level discourages Groundhogs from attempting to burrow under the fencing wire.
- Adding Epsom Salts to your garden will make the vegetables taste bad to groundhogs. However, salts are washed away in rain, and will therefore need to be re-applied on a regular basis.
- Groundhogs rarely frequent areas if they know natural predators are present. If you have a cat, sprinkling small piles of used cat litter around the garden may cause the groundhogs to think the area is no longer safe. Alternatively, soaking a rag in ammonia can provide a similar effect (Note: Ammonia can damage the lawn, so rags should be placed on top of stones or a piece of wood).
For Farmland Owners
Unfortunately, excluding Groundhogs from farmland can be significantly more costly than small gardens and homes. However, there are still several techniques that can be used to deter groundhogs from causing damage.
- In small plots where Groundhog activity is a significant problem a perimeter fence may be warranted. A wire fence with openings no greater than 3 inches should be suitable, being no shorter than 3 feet above ground level, with another 2 feet of the fence below ground level. If desired, an electric wire could be placed along the outer edge of the fenceline about 4-5 inches of the ground, and 4-5 inches outside the fence, which should help prevent climbing and burrowing, and this will also ensure other animals won’t be able to get in to eat the crops, including raccoons. The top of the fence could also be bent outward along the top edge at a 45-degree angle.
- Scarecrows and other figures can temporarily deter groundhogs as well as other nuisance animals from causing damage to crops. However, groundhogs and other animals will catch on to the ruse quickly if they see the figure in the same spot with very little activity. To make the scarecrow more effective, move it regularly and try maintain a high level of human activity in the susceptible area.
Live Trapping of Groundhogs
Trapping groundhogs can be one of the most effective methods for getting rid of the species if they become a nuisance on the property. However, all other deterrence methods should be tried before resorting to trapping. Groundhogs are easier to trap in either the spring or the fall, when their food supply is less abundant. When handling the traps, be sure to wear gloves in order to minimize your scent. Place the trap directly in front of a burrow entrance that you know is being used. Traps can be baited with fruits or vegetables (groundhogs particularly like cantaloupe), and be sure to secure the trap to prevent roll-over once the animal is inside. Monitor the trap daily so the groundhog doesn’t dehydrate while it’s stressed in the trap. Once caught, bring the groundhog at least 5 miles away from the property; This should be a sufficient distance to ensure the groundhog won’t return. Note. A permit is required from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Nova Scotia to trap groundhogs.
For more information about nuisance groundhogs, contact your local DNR office. If all other preventative measures have been taken and the problems caused by nuisance groundhogs persist, DNR can help you get in touch with a local licensed nuisance wildlife trapper. You can get in touch with your local DNR office by visiting the DNR website