Chuck Attack!

The woodchucks are back — cuter than ever.

My nemesis

The woodchucks in our neighborhood have broken the perimeter in our backyard. Since late spring, they have found ways to penetrate the forcefield that protects our phlox, asters, echinacea and balloonflowers. As soon as one breach is sealed, they find another weak point. They’ve even threatened to chew a very special New Zealand delphinium that my friend Kathy grew from seed.

I never thought I’d say it, but here goes: This means war.

Here’s the most recent breach. They dug under the new poultry fence I’d put in just a week ago.

Many summers ago, I spent hour after sweaty hour digging a trench to bury chicken wire that I attached to the bottom of the fence. The system was worth the effort because it worked — until this year. In some places, the chicken wire has rusted and the woodchucks have been able to push through. In areas where the woodchucks have penetrated, I’ve re-dug the trench and replaced the chicken wire with poultry fence, which is made with wire that’s heavier gauge. It’s stiff and hard to work with. On top of that, there’s very little space to work in at this time of year. The perennials are growing and looking beautiful. I don’t want to ruin the flower border with major excavations. So, I compromised and dug a 12″ trench instead of 18-24″. And those persistent beasts dug deep enough to get under the wire, coming up right behind my new black hollyhocks.

This is how phlox looks when it’s been mauled by woodchucks.

Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’, the so-called black hollyhock, is protected by a wire harvest basket, anchored with Earth Staples.

When I look over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, I often see the evil beasts, nibbling on the lawn. They see me and scurry under the neighbor’s back porch, where they live. We’ve seen as many as five. My partner thought it might be good to make peace with the animals, and he bought a large bag of broccoli florets. We threw some over the fence, and the critters fought with one another over the treasures. This did not appease them. They still want in.

Until we can really get in there and dig a proper trench, we’ve been repairing the breaches as they come up, usually by filling the holes with large rocks.This seems to work OK, but we’re running out of rocks.

My friend Sarah has offered to loan us her dog, who has already shown and ability to control woodchucks. Earlier this spring, she brought the dog to a friend’s backyard party. At one point, the dog returned with a woodchuck it had hunted and killed. “I thought they’d be psyched,” Sarah said. But, not so much.

I try to think of this as a lesson to me as a gardener. It teaches me that persistence is my most essential tool. Despite my best efforts, weeds, pests, diseases and bad weather will always give me trouble. But if I keep trying — if I persist — I am a pretty good gardener.

So, I’ll keep repairing the breaches, occassionally flipping the bird to those cute critters in the neighbor’s yard. I will keep bringing in more rocks. I will persist. Might even have to release the dogs of war.

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10 Responses to Chuck Attack!

  1. Anonymous says:

    I've learned not plant certain things where they like to go (echinacea & rudbeckia are its favorites).

    Is it possible to move some of these plants to the other side of the yard, or do the groundhogs go all over? (for me it is just backyard)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I feel your pain. We have removed 6 groundhogs from our yard this year. If traps are allowed in your area, cantaloupe rinds seem to do the trick for us. I get to eat melon, we put the rinds in the trap, and one day later, the groundhog is in there too. We stick the entire cage in the back of the truck and drive FAR, FAR away before releasing it. Unfortunately, our yard is just too tempting and new ones are continually moving in, so it's not a perfect system. Maybe while you are waiting to dig the trench you could try trapping the vermin who are currently destroying your plants.

  3. I bought a trap today. Now the trick is, where do I release it when I catch it? Oh, how I wish they would just LEAVE US ALONE. -David, Gardener's Supply

  4. Anne Corey says:

    We now have a 6 ft.metal fence to keep out the deer, sunk 12″ down to keep out the woodchucks. BUT, we got confused and planted hollyhocks and prarie mallow on the outer perimeter because they were deer proof. SO when the woodchucks ate them, we installed a farmer McGregor's electric fence outside the other fence. Not sure what would come next but that seems to be working so far.

  5. Just caught two 'chucks in as many days. Broccoli florets seem to be irresistible. I hope they're happy in their new neighborhood — and that they don't come back. -David, Gardener's Supply

  6. Anonymous says:

    What you need is a pack of dogs with high prey drive! There is a chubby little Chuck living under the neighbors shed. I have seen him many time, but he does not dare come in my yard. He saw Peter Cottontail turned into Mr. Strechy Ears when the dogs caught him and started using him as a fluffy toy!

  7. Nature Lover says:

    Chuck Attack

    We too, dealt with woodchuck (groundhog) attacks to our garden years ago. I observed one traveling down the row of tomato plants, raising up on its hind legs and taking a single chomp out of one or more ripe tomatoes and then waddling to the next plant and doing the same. I often caught him and was able to approach close enough for him to get the message that he was unwelcome. We blocked gaps under the fence with chicken wire and rocks, which didn't help at all. Then what I eventually observed through the kitchen window, no one believed until they were present during the act. I was able to point out a woodchuck in action, working the tomato plants in a garden two houses away and then literally climbing the chain link fence and walking along the top like a cat until it reached the point of our garden where the tomato plants grew. Then it climbed down and feasted in broad daylight. The nerve! My husband and father-in-law are both skilled with bow and arrow, and for several days they tried crawling along on the neighbor's side of the fence (behind flower beds) to get close enough, but the animal was always wary enough to detect when they rose up on their knees to take aim, and that was when it quickly climbed back up and over the fence which it could no longer go under. We resorted to humane cages to trap them, but the woodchuck(s) didn't take the bait. It/they cleaned out the garden–green beans, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce–I can't remember what all, but I do remember that all they left us were the potatoes and radishes(with prickly leaves), one inch stems from the green beans and small unripe tomatoes or plump, ripe tomatoes with bites out of them. Inside the city limits, we couldn't resort to a gun (I was against killing it anyway), so we finally gave up on the garden for several years.
    I sure do wish you better luck! I think dogs sound like the best idea I have heard (if you don't mind having to clean up your yard). Maybe you could protect your garden and make an area for your dog to run by putting double fences around the perimeter of your garden with the second fence out far enough to allow room for a dog run between them. With a gate through each fence, you could access the garden and protect it from rabbits and woodchucks (limiting the clean-up of your backyard as well). Or you could just put up a double fence around the perimeter of your yard, and add a dog to the dog run. Maybe that would be perfect on all counts! My husband nixed the dog idea, but we finally have neighbors with dogs. Now we only have to put up with the barking! Good luck to you! I look forward to hearing what works.
    Nature Lover

  8. Anonymous says:

    I have had a similar problem with moles. For the last 4 years they have been unearthing my veggies. This year my husband and I trenched around the 22×22 garden and went 20 inches down and installed 1/2 inch wire mess all around. Until this morning they have been staying out. When I went out to pick lettuce, I was horrified at the raised tunnels in the interperimiter of my veggie garden. I wanted to cry. I used the mole max, and the worms in my grass and perennial garden for the last 3 years. And that worked okay. I don't want to get that stuff near my veggies though. Anyone have any ideas?

  9. Reader4life says:

    We live on the edge of a Pacific NW county park that is a rather steep series of gulches. Once we landscaped our yard and added a delightful array of plants, the mountain beavers have become our most consistent pruning detailers. They seem to stick to the flower beds adjacent to the park, so we are trying to just live with it. Still…their eye for symmetry in pruning is a tad bit different that mine.

    Good luck with your chucks!

  10. Jean Fox says:

    I have struggled for years with these little devils and this year, quite by accident, I finally found something that worked. I had some netting that I used to cover my cherry tree to keep the birds away from my ripe fruit. When I took that off I just dropped it in my garden over my broccoli thinking I would pick it up later. Surprisingly the woodchucks don't like getting tangled in the stuff and they left it alone. I since expanded to wrap around my tomatoes, beans, etc. It doesn't look pretty and is a little bit of a pain to harvest but it actually works and we are enjoying veggies this year!

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