Encouraging woodchucks to dine elsewhere

Q. Woodchucks decimated my vegetable garden and devoured my petunias last summer. I bought a trap but all I caught was a possum and a gray squirrel. What can I do to keep the woodchucks out of the garden?

- H.M.,

Ithaca, N.Y.

A. Call them what you want - woodchucks, whistle pigs or groundhogs - they all mean the same thing: your garden could be their next brunch.

Noisemakers, expensive electronic beeping systems, and fox urine might temporarily dissuade them, but most gardeners have found that these methods don't work for long.

One solution is to make your yard less hospitable to woodchucks. If a burrow system does exist near your garden, says Stephanie Hagopian, Living With Wildlife program coordinator at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, stuffing strong smelling ammonia-soaked rags in all burrow entrances might encourage woodchucks to relocate.

One-way doors that let them out of their burrows but not back in, is another method. Still, some experts are dubious about this since they may dig around the door.

To ensure that your resident chuck has moved, pack some hay, or a similar material around the entrance. If not disturbed, it will mean the woodchuck has left and the burrow is unoccupied. You can seal the entrance using heavy-gauge welded wire (3-inch squares) available at most hardware stores. The wire should be cut into 3-square foot sections and buried at least one foot deep at the burrow entrance.

Woodchucks are sensitive to changes in habitat says Ms. Hagopian. The presence of a dog near the garden might discourage woodchucks from moving in, she says.

If the woodchucks won't move, you can prevent them from ravaging your greens and flowers by burying a fence at least 1 foot into the ground. Woodchucks can climb, therefore, the fence should be three to four feet tall. The top of the fence should bent outward at the top to make climbing more difficult. A single strand of electrical wire on top of the fence will also make the fence more effective.

Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com

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