Banish groundhogs, rabbits from your garden
I hear from many gardeners each season who face animal issues in their garden. While deer seem to be the most common leaf-munching culprit, two other mammals cause gardeners a great number of headaches: groundhogs and rabbits.
Today, I’d like to take a closer look at some ways gardeners can manage these two ravenous backyard interlopers without having to resort to weaponized means.
Groundhogs are probably the biggest struggle a gardener can face. They are proficient diggers and agile climbers; we’ve even seen them sitting in our apple trees munching on our apples! Here are three ways to manage groundhogs in the garden.
Use fencing. Excluding groundhogs from your garden does require a bit of finesse, but it’s doable. Fully enclosing your garden with plastic netting won’t work because a groundhog can chew right through it. If you decide to fence in your garden, use metal fencing, such as chicken wire or galvanized cattle fencing. Bury the bottom edge of the fence a foot below the ground and do not secure the top 18 inches of the fence to the post. When the groundhog tries to dig under the fence, the buried wire will stop them, and when they try to climb, the unattached top edge of the fencing will flop down under their weight and knock them to the ground.
Employ spray deterrents. Some spray repellents are labeled for use against groundhogs, too. Check the shelves of your local nursery to see if they have any on-hand. As with deer repellents, be religious about using them.
Live-trapping. A better bet is using a live trap to capture the groundhog. These traps are metal and have a trip plate that closes the trap’s end(s) when the animal steps on it. Make sure to select the appropriate-sized trap and bait it properly. I’ve found the best bait for groundhogs to be marshmallows (who knew?), very ripe cantaloupe or peanut butter-covered apple slices. Set the trap somewhere where you’ve seen the groundhog, and leave a Hansel-and-Gretel-style trail of small pieces of bait outside the trap to lead them into it. Then, put bigger chunks of bait inside the trap, right on the trip plate.
Groundhogs are only active during the day, so always close the trap at night. If you don’t, you’ll have an angry skunk, opossum, or raccoon on your hands first thing the next morning. Check the trap several times throughout the day and call your state’s Department of Fish and Game office before you set the trap to find out what to do with the animal after you’ve trapped it. In many states, it’s illegal to release an animal that’s a rabies vector (as groundhogs are) into a different area, so do your homework before you try to trap any animal. Every state has different regulations and laws in place, and you’d do well to heed them, otherwise you could face a hefty fine. For information from the Pennsylvania Game Commission on what to do with a trapped nuisance animal in Pennsylvania: pgc.pa.gov. If you do not want to trap the groundhog yourself, there are critter control companies that will come to your home and do it for you.
Rabbits are frequent visitors to gardens, and occasionally, you may find one munching on your prized plants. Though selecting rabbit-resistant plants should always be your first battle tactic, there are other non-lethal measures to try.
Employ a repellent. There are many commercial animal repellents labeled for use against rabbits. Granular repellents are sprinkled around the perimeter of the garden, forming a scent barrier of sorts. These repellents are not supposed to come in contact with the plants themselves, so keep them on the ground, not on plants. Spray repellents are another option for ornamental plants. Often based on hot peppers, egg solids, and other odorous and distasteful ingredients, they work much like the deer repellents.
Fence your garden in. The easiest way to keep rabbits out of a garden is to install a fence around the perimeter. It only has to be two feet high because rabbits can’t jump very high, but you’ll want to bury the base of the fence by a few inches to keep the rabbits from burrowing beneath it. To keep out small baby bunnies, be sure the holes in the fence are no bigger than 2 inches square. Chicken wire or box wire work quite well for this task.
Block off individual plants. You can also beat the bunnies by installing small blockades around each of their favorite plants. I use a foot-tall collar of galvanized hardware cloth, placed around the base of each individual plant, to keep them away from their favorites. Cut the sheet of hardware cloth and bend it into a ring that’s about 3 or 4 inches wider than the width of the plant. Fasten it closed with a couple of plastic zip ties.
Trouble-shooting these animal pests can be a challenge, but you’re now armed to handle any that should happen to take up residence in your garden this coming growing season.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.