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You can't ‘peacefully co-exist' with a groundhog

Wednesday - 6/15/2011, 2:02pm  ET

Claire in La Plata writes: "I love my backyard, and I've always been able to peacefully co-exist with the wildlife that wanders through. Last year, I hoped this would include the groundhog we discovered living under a shed. But he has emerged from hibernation with a mad, crazy hunger, chowing down on every plant in my backyard. I don't necessarily want to ban him from the backyard but he has completely eaten all of my annuals and perennials, despite store-bought sprays designed to deter him."

Sorry, Claire—but you need to think less Disney and a lot more Darwin. Groundhogs undermine structures and endanger our legs (think compound fracture) with their intricate burrows. They are large animals with powerful claws and very dangerous when cornered -- they tear family dogs apart, ask any vet. And they have insatiable appetites for our plants. Your woodchuck must be dealt with the sooner, the better.

One way to try and get them to relocate is by repeatedly pouring used kitty litter down their holes. Remove and safely dispose of the solid waste and just use the ‘aromatic' clay— the more aromatic the better. Groundhogs try and keep very clean burrows and this grosses them out. But if this trick doesn't work, the hog will have to be trapped and removed before somebody gets hurt. You'll need to buy, rent or borrow a large live trap like a Havahart or Tomahawk. Local wildlife control officials often have them available to homeowners with problems like yours.

Groundhogs are not easy to trap. You'll have to disguise the trap with burlap, but no blankets or anything else that may have a human scent on it. Try different baits -- lettuce leaves, chopped up apples and peanut butter are said to work well -- and be patient. Experts will sometimes fill the traps with bait, but not set them right away so that the animal gets used to eating safely. Then the trap can be set with capture a likely result.

Once it's trapped, do not release the groundhog somewhere else. Relocated animals tend to do poorly in the wild and it would be unfair to release it near someone else's home. Turn it over to your local wildlife control officer, a vet or a wild animal sanctuary.

Got Mulch? You'll Get Voles

Pam in Manassas writes: "How do we get rid of voles in our flower garden? They eat our plant's roots and pull entire plants into the ground. We've tried mole solution spray, mouse traps, and vibrating bars, but nothing seems to work."

I emailed Pam back to ask one simple question: "Is the area covered with wood mulch?" "Yes," she replied.

Well then, you'll never be rid of them Pam. This ridiculous trend of so-called decorative mulching provides perfect protection from predators and leads to population explosions of vermin like mice and voles.

Lose the mulch and then spray the area heavily with a castor-oil based mole and vole repellant and set out mouse traps baited with peanut butter; that combination should work very well.

Vibrating and ultrasonic devices don't work -- period.

Moles? Or Voles?

Brian in Bowie writes: "I've lived with moles in the yard for a while, understanding that they eat Japanese beetle grubs. But now they're hiding in my garden, coming out to steal the leaves from my hostas and other plants. They've destroyed several hostas, and damaged many more. How can I control the moles?"

Moles aren't harming your hostas, Brain. As you note, moles eat meat: grubs, earthworms and other underground creatures. Like teenage boys, they won't touch a green plant. Moles also make visible raised tunnels. Voles just leave little holes in the ground.

Your plant loss indicates that you have voles. Mouse-sized, shrew-like creatures that eat enormous amounts of plant material. If you have wood mulch, it must be removed. Then spray the soil with a mole and vole repellant containing castor oil and put out mouse traps baited with peanut butter.

Oh Deer!

David in Woodbridge writes: "Every day we arrive home to find more of our rose buds chomped off, and evidence of deer as the culprits. What do you recommend to keep deer away from a fairly small area? The internet has many conflicting ideas, ranging from pepper sprays and soap on a rope to ultra-sonic devices and electric fences."

Electric fences work great, Dave, but they're not for small areas close to a home.

Ultrasonic devices have never been shown to work.

And you're better off using the soap on a rope in the shower.

Repellant sprays can work, but to battle deer you need a repellant whose main active ingredient is putrescent egg solid, the ingredient research has shown to be the most effective.

Spray the plants beginning about 3 feet off the ground all the way up to the tips and reapply after heavy rain. Do not bring any sprayed roses inside.

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