If you’re an animal lover, groundhogs are cute, harmless little critters that lent their name to the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. However, if you’re an avid gardener, then groundhogs are your worst nightmare. These burrowing marmots pop up in backyards, seeking to claim your garden as their home — and in the process, wreck all your beautiful plants.
For this reason, many gardeners treat them as pests. But are groundhogs dangerous? Given that they’re so small, you may assume they’re not as bad as some may say. But don’t let their cute appeal fool you. These little rascals are quite a threat not just to your carefully maintained flowers but to your own health as well.
Are Groundhogs Dangerous?
When looking at other common house pests like roaches, rats, and spiders, groundhogs seem completely harmless. Also called woodchucks, these animals belong to the same family as squirrels. They’re medium-sized rodents that are 18‒20 inches long and can weigh around 13lbs. They have a light coat of brown fur and a set of sharp claws they use for digging burrows.
The burrows they dig are quite impressive. On average, they’re about 66 feet long and feature multiple tunnels and chambers the hogs use for different activities like sleeping, feeding, and mating. They even have a separate space where they go to the bathroom! But though their construction skills are impressive, it’s less amusing when it’s your backyard they end up redecorating.
Overall, groundhogs aren’t aggressive to humans. They’re actually quite shy and will retreat into the ground when they feel threatened. However, during mating season, they will attack to defend their nest. Their bites are nasty and can result in serious infections. Plus, groundhogs are frequent hosts to fleas and ticks — parasites that carry various illnesses like Lyme disease and Powassan.
However, the most dangerous illness groundhogs can carry includes rabies. This aggressive retrovirus spreads through bites and is 100% fatal to both pets and humans if left untreated.
Therefore, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if a groundhog bites you.
Is It Bad to Have Groundhogs in Your Yard?
While groundhogs can be dangerous to you, they’re even worse for your yard. As mentioned, they’re burrowing animals. Consequently, they will dig through your backyard and cause pretty extensive structural damage.
Their burrows are especially harmful to farm equipment since tractors can break their axles if they run over a particularly deep mound. Likewise, their tunnels can weaken your soil and thus knock down recently installed fences.
Worse still, they’re very difficult to get rid of, especially if they’ve set up multiple burrows in your backyard. So, as cute as that little mound looks, you best get rid of it quickly, so it doesn’t end up costing you your garden.
What Problems Do Groundhogs Cause?
Groundhogs don’t just damage your fences. They can also wreak other havoc in other areas of your yard, which can end up costing you thousands.
1. They Can Chew Through Your Electrical Wire
Another thing you should worry about if you have a groundhog infestation is your electrical wiring. Groundhogs will often confuse the wires for tree roots and munch through them while digging their tunnel.
At best, this will result in a lot of broken appliances. At worst, you could end up without power, and you’ll have to fork over a thick wad of cash to reinstall everything again.
2. They Can Decimate Your Garden Crops
As herbivores, groundhogs are eating machines that can decimate garden crops and fruits alike. They’re especially fond of greens like lettuce, alfalfa, dandelions, and clover. In terms of produce, they’re partial to peas, corn, celery, and bean sprouts.
However, their true passion is fruit. These pests go wild for melons and berries, and they’re even known for climbing up apple trees to pick them clean. Their appetites are voracious since they have to gain as much weight as possible to survive their winter hibernation.
Consequently, if you get one in your yard, expect it to plow through all your produce before you can even blink.
3. They Can Destroy Wooden Structures
The trees you’ve planted in your backyard aren’t the only piece of wood you should worry about if you have a groundhog infestation. Their burrows can damage the structural integrity of the soil beneath your shed or front porch. Over time, this will weaken the foundation and cause your porch to collapse.
Worse still, since they frequently chew through wood to make their tunnels, they could end up chomping a hole right through your shed. The average cost of repairing a small to medium shed is anywhere between $465 to a staggering $1,456. That is a lot of damage for such a small animal.
How to Get Rid of Them
One thing is certain — having a groundhog in your backyard is bad news. Thus, you should do everything you can to get rid of them. Fortunately, there is no shortage of humane and safe ways to drive these pests from your home for good.
1. Use Epsom Salts
The easiest way to deter groundhogs is with Epsom salts. These rodents find the strong and bitter flavor of the salt offensive and will avoid areas that contain high concentrations of it.
Therefore, be sure to spray your crops with some water you mixed with Epsom salt to keep them out of your garden. You can also pack a ring of Epsom salt around their burrow to prevent them from coming out.
2. Build a Chicken Fence
The simplest way to keep out any pest is to build a fence around your garden. Since groundhogs are expert diggers, any fence you put up will have to be deep and tall to scare them off. A chicken wire fence that is at minimum 3.5 feet tall and buried 1 foot beneath the ground will do the trick.
3. Hang Windchimes
Groundhogs have a very keen sense of hearing. Therefore, they’re very sensitive to any loud unfamiliar noises. This means you can scare them off using a piece of scrap metal that will rattle and clunk when it moves. Tin cans or pellets will work for this. However, if you want something more aesthetic, you can always line your garden with wind chimes.
4. Invest in Rodent Repellent
Sometimes, natural methods aren’t enough to eliminate these pests. In that case, you can always rely on good ol’ rodent repellent. Most well stocked-stores carry non-toxic versions of this chemical solution that you can use to repel these rodents without outright killing them.
As a plus, none of them are harmful to plants or humans, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally destroying your crops.