Or woodchucks, or whistle pigs. Call them what you will, one of the biggest issues we get contacted about is groundhogs “sharing” residents’ vegetable plots with them. When you’ve invested time, effort and resources in a vegetable plot, this can be extremely frustrating, especially for large community gardens.
There are several ways of discouraging unwanted encounters of a vegetable kind with Groundhog Nation. They all involve “exclusion” techniques, i.e. different variations on fencing and barriers.
First thing to know: hardware cloth: it’s your best friend. Hardware cloth is low-gage (strong) wire fencing that raccoons and groundhogs can’t bite through. This is not the case for chicken wire, which they can bite through and some animals will. While chicken wire may sometimes do the job for garden fences (NEVER for chicken coops!), hardware cloth is what you should be using for your vegetable gardens and coops to give yourself the very best chances of keeping wild neighbors out of your plot. Some of the videos we link to in this article use the right designs, but with chicken wire. Thick plastic garden fencing can also be effective and is very cheap to buy by the roll. Fence height should be at least 3 feet and preferably 5 feet above ground.
Second thing to know: not all groundhogs are born equal. So that wobbly plastic fencing put up in 10 minutes with a few silver pie cases flapping in the wind may be all it takes to deter “Nervous-Nancy”, people-shy groundhogs. On the other end of the spectrum however, there are a undoubtedly a few “Mad Max” woodchucks out there. Those determined critters who will expend every ounce of energy attempting to dig their way into your plot. It’s easy to get mad with the Mad Maxes of the Steel City. But just remember, they don’t know you don’t want them in there.
Building your anti-groundhog fortress
Two principles: stop them climbing and stop them digging.
Stop the climbing: this is achieved by creating a “wobbly” effect. Just like people, groundhogs (and raccoons too) don’t like the feeling of climbing something that feels unstable. So your mission is to leave the top 12-15” or so of your fencing material unsecured to the post and bending outward, so that it wobbles.
Stop the digging: some avid gardeners actually line the base of their raised beds with hardware cloth. This process takes some work, but will guarantee that no one will be tunneling their way to your tomatoes. Alternatively, a trench can be dug around the edge before installing fencing so that the fence starts one foot below ground level and blocks tunneling. Another way to prevent digging is to extend the fence material out to approx. 15” in an “L-footer” around the perimeter. Lastly, and often more easily, a separate layer of hardware cloth can be buried (lightly) around the edge, without leaving gaps with the base of the fence.
Don’t forget to use scare tactics: groundhogs are easily frightened by sudden movement (well, most are). Silver pie plates, well-secured mylar balloons, windmills, wind chimes... Use your creativity and change things around frequently.
In very rare cases where fences cannot be built efficiently, running a single low-voltage electric wire around the perimeter of the plot about 4” above ground has proven to be very effective. A second wire can be added 5 or 6” higher in extreme cases. Or as some might say: when all else fails, it’s better to shock than to kill.
Just one last tactic used by some: provide your groundhog with his own “patch.” They actually don’t like tomatoes that much and far prefer peas, dark leafy greens, clover, dandelion. So while it doesn’t really fit with the “reduce carrying capacity” approach that we like to promote at Scrap the Trap, some fence-averse residents wishing to live and let live swear by creating a small bed of groundhog-specific treats. Hmm... we say go for the fence.
We’ve searched the web for a few good examples of fence designs and there are many variations on the theme out there. You will need to adapt to your specific situation and to where your groundhogs fit on the Nervous-Nancy to Mad-Max scale, but these links should give you some ideas.
This video clearly explains why hardware cloth is your best choice.
For the meticulous-minded: how to line your raised bed with hardware cloth. Groundhog Kevlar, baby. Helpful video here.
This is a really nice fence design, except that it’s made with chicken wire again. This gardener is lucky his groundhogs apparently aren’t the biting kind. Read it!
Chicken wire is used in this video again, but you can clearly see the “C-fence” design (floppy top and L-footer at bottom). Watch the video to learn more!
And lastly, in the “Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it works” section. This is why you make it wobbly; Momma groundhog goes for garden gold at around 1’ 10”, climbing the rigid fence while Junior decides to sit this one out. Watch it here!