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Groundhog Evidence of Intrusion

Evidence of Intrusion of groundhogs in your yard or gardens wont be too difficult to obtain. Visual sites are not uncommon for this diurnal (daytime active) mammal. But if you've not witnessed this medium sized mammal with your own eyes there are several other ways to ascertain if the woodchuck is the culprit and with that ravenous appetite pushing him along there should be several signs of intrusion that are quite unmistakable.

Groundhog Evidence of Intrusion-Burrow Holes

Groundhogs are shy, although there are always exceptions, and don’t stray too far from their burrows to eat. Look for burrow holes in or near your gardens as evidence of intrusion. Burrow holes are normally about 10" to 12" in diameter. Mounds of dirt and rocks should be visible around the entrance. Because of their distinctive odor you may see flies around an the burrow holes.

Groundhog Evidence of Intrusion-Vegetables are Eating in Straight Row

That’s right! Groundhogs are one of the tidiest creatures of North America. If you find that your bush beans have been nibbled one after the other then the culprit may be your friendly, neighborhood whistle pig.

Groundhog Evidence of Intrusion-Scat

Groundhog store their excrement in their burrows making scat evidence a rare occurrence.

Groundhog Evidence of Intrusion-Tracks

If you have soft, uncovered soil in your garden beds it should be pretty easy to find tracks of the woodchuck. The rear feet have five (5) toes with one set lower than the rest. The front feet have only four (4) toes. Both the front and back prints will present with sharp claws on the ends of each toe. You should see the front paw track immediately followed by the rear track.

Groundhog Interesting Facts

  • One of the Groundhog's defense mechanisms is the spraying of a musky odor from its anal glands-look out!
  • Groundhogs have the ability to manipulate objects with their paws because of they have fifth "finger" sometimes referred to as a thumb stump.
  • Groundhogs mate once per year in March and April.
  • The gestational period lasts 30 days.
  • Groundhog's give birth to up to seven (7) babies at one time.
  • Groundhog young are born pink, hairless, blind and helpless.
  • Groundhog Day is February 2 each year with the most famous ceremony taking place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, home of the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Legend says that if Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his burrow for the first time after his long winter's nap and sees his shadow, we are in for another six (6) weeks of winter!
  • According to historians the legendary Groundhog Day began as an early Christian practice called Candlemas Day. The tradition was to have candles blessed and distributed to the people by the church. The people, creative as we are, created a short saying about the day:

    If Candlemas be fair and bright,
    Come, Winter, have another flight;
    If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
    Go Winter, and come not again.

    When the tradition was introduced to Germany they took it one step further including the European Hedgehog in the mix. They believed that if the hedgehog seen his shadow on that day it would return back to his burrow, and we would see a second winter. The legend was brought to the US by German immigrants who where the earliest settlers in Pennsylvania. They decided that because the groundhog was strikingly similar to the European Hedgehog and the legend continues!
  • American farmers during the 19th Century coined their own phrase around Groundhog Day: "Groundhog Day, Half your Hay". This was meant as a reminder that if they didn't have half of their hay remaining it could be hard to stretch out the remainder until the new grasses began to grow.
  • Groundhogs have been found with all black or all white fur in the wild. Black furred animals are called melanistic and White furred animals albino. Groundhogs have other unique skills. They are able to manipulate objects with their paws because they have thumb stumps with claws.
  • Groundhogs communicate with one another using a variety of sounds, including a shrill alarm whistle (hence the moniker whistle-pig) to warn one another of approaching predators.
  • Groundhogs have one annual moult where they shed their fur for a new coat during the summer months.
  • Why Whistle Pig? Groundhogs have very distinct defense mechanism-whistling. When cornered or other wised threatened the animal lets out

Groundhog Diet

Groundhogs diets are grounding in the fact that they are herbivores; eating a variety of green plants and flowers. But as you may well know as an animal that relishes after only plant matter and never partaking in meat groundhogs can make quite a dent in your gardens and landscaping.

Groundhog Diet-Food

Groundhogs like almost most any type of green plant imaginable! They eat leaves, flowers green stems, grasses and herbs and farm crops including clover, soybeans and alfalfa. Their do have particular favorites including backyard garden staples such as beans, corn, peas and carrots, cucumbers and melons are often targeted as an afternoon snake as well. Many flower garden beauties are included in the groundhog diet. They have also been known to climb into trees for apples nuts and pears, too! These often include perennial daises, lilies, asters, phlox and sunflowers and annual flowers such as pansies, marigold and snapdragons.

Groundhog Diet-Physical Attributes

Groundhog dietary needs are met through the assistance of several physical characteristics. These include their "thumb stubs" and evergrowing incisors.

The groundhog has what some call "thumb stubs" on their front feet. These little wonders, while not as mechanical as an opposable thumb, give the animal a firm grip, so to speak, on her food. They are able to manipulate small items with their front paws in ways that other animals cannot which gives them the ability to pick to inflict more damage to your garden plants!

Groundhogs have evergrowing incisors, as do all members of the rodent family, which make it almost a necessity to continue chewing. In fact, there have been many documented cases of groundhogs who for whatever reason cannot keep up with the growth of their front teeth by gnawing, and have consequently perished because the teeth eventually cross making it near impossible for the to feed at all.

Groundhog Diet-Seasonal Variances

Seasonal variances in the groundhog diet are based on two (2) factors, availability of certain foods and the fact that groundhogs are hibernating animals.

Unlike humans who have the ability to import goods and services from across the globe which allows us to indulge in fruits and vegetables that may be growing only in New Zealand in March, groundhogs are slaves to their environmental conditions. That said, it isn't a far jump to guess that much of their diet is based on season harvests of fruits and vegetables. The animals will enjoy apples and pears in the late summer, daises and tender hosta leaves in the spring and just about everything in between!

As an hibernating animal the dietary needs of the groundhogs ramps up in late summer because of their need to store fat for their long winter's nap. When they wake from their hibernation they may eat some protein until the green plants begin to grow again.

Groundhog Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Groundhogs are one of the few animals that have prospered as we settled North America. They have become very well accustomed to the manicured yards and gardens that have followed and with a need to fatten up for their long winter's sleep. Unfortunately,this has led to some conflict between humans and the whistle pig. For farmers the somewhat voracious appetite of the groundhog as he prepares for the hibernation is extremely damaging to crops. For homeowners the groundhog appetite can be just as devastating.

The animals often cause more than just loss of green plants. They can also damage farm equipment by way of their burrow hole entrance piles. Groundhog holes can harm farm animals walking or running in pastures where they step into a burrow hole an injure their legs. Lest we forget the damage done to trees by their instinctive territory marking habit of stripping the bark from the base of trees near their burrows.

Groundhogs are one of nature's most efficient eating machines! They continuously indulge in some our favorite foods and flowers which sometimes causes conflicts between humans and the animals. While they may be quite enjoyable to watch, their tends to be some animosity between us when it comes to the eating habits that are an innate part of the groundhog diet.

Groundhog Habitat

Groundhog habitat includes woodlot edges and close proximity to creeks and streams in the wild. They have a preference for open areas over dense forests which is why they have been so successful since North America was first visited by the European nations. When they settle around human habitation the generally will make their homes in farmers fields, next to gardens and along roadways. Sometimes they will make their burrow entrances near buildings and under decks, but they rarely cause any damage to structures because of this.

Groundhog Habitat-Range

The Groundhog is found throughout eastern Us and Canada extended into central and Northwest Canada reaching as far north as Alaska. Their expansion westward has been attributed to the creation of desirable habitat through the westward march of the early settlers. Closer to home the animals do not stray much further than 50 yards from their underground homes.

Groundhog Habitat-Climate

Woodchuck habitat includes a very wide climate range, however, it does have its limitations. Woodchucks are not currently found much further south than northern Alabama and Oklahoma and are not found in the western half the US at all. They do not like to be too hot!

Groundhog Habitat-Soils

Actual groundhog habitat varies depending on specific location, but specific soils are preferred or others. For example, in Alaska the marmots make their homes in wind deposited soils that are located near river valleys and dry lowlands. Yet, for the most part this ground dweller is partial to loam or sandy loam soils.

Groundhog Habitat-Burrows

Groundhogs are burrowing animals sleeping and hiding safe and warm under the natural blanket of mother earth. The will general prefer fields and clearings for their burrow locations but are sometime opportunistic and locate them nearby a guaranteed food source such of your well maintained vegetable plots! Burrows serve many purposes including raising young, sleeping and hibernating, mating and protection.

Burrows can be fairly complex. There will be a main tunnel entrance and several "spy" holes in which to look for food and/or dive into when they are above ground foraging. In some occurrences there will be a least one hole that goes straight down as a means of escape from their many predators. They are very sanitary animals and their burrows reflect this with separate sleeping and excrement chambers. They change their nesting materials quite often, too!

Dimensions of the burrows are generally about 8-60 feet long. Groundhogs have winter and summer burrows. Winter burrows are normally in more forested areas and as much five (5) feet deep. It is important that the winter burrows are far below the frost line so they don’t freeze during their winter sleep period.

Entrance holes of each burrow is normally about 10” to 12” in diameter with many older or abandoned burrows becoming home for young groundhogs or other mammals such as rabbits, weasels, etc.

In general, the whistle pigs success has grown with ours as we settled the North American continent. While you wont find the animals too common west of the Mississippi, they very prevalent in the eastern US which provides excellent groundhog habitat.

Groundhog Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Groundhogs offer several benefits to humans and the ecosystem. Because of their burrowing habit they provide shelter for more many other animals including skunks, and foxes. The soil is greatly benefited by aeration and mixing But, alas, as with most animals and humans there does lie conflict of our lifestyles. Groundhogs have been known to chew through underground cables and waterlines. Some people have even reported that that they have chewed through vacuum and fuel lines in cars and farm equipment! The burrows themselves have caused problems by weakening dikes and foundations and the entrances to the burrows can damage farm equipment and horses as they ride.

Groundhog Behavior

Groundhogs will on occasion share their home with other groundhogs, however, there are very much loners and considered by experts to be the most solitary of their relatives. They do most of their outdoor activity during the daylight hours and are very active. Those short legs make them a little slow, but that doesn’t keep them going places. In fact they have been seen climbing trees and swimming!

They seem to prefer the warmer daytime hours over any other time, although you may occasionally see the animals out during the nighttime. They like the sun so much, they are often seen basking in the sun on fence posts and rocks-close to burrow entrances, of course.

Groundhogs are true hibernators and spend three (3) to four (4) months of the winter months asleep in their dens. Their sleep is so deep that even when the animal is warmed up it takes several hours for the animal to actually awaken. To help prepare for this long winter’s nap the animals gain an extremely large amount of fat by the summer’s end. The adults will enter hibernation sooner than the younger animals. Experts believe this could be attributed to the fact that is more difficult to put on weight when you are younger. Adults may start to hibernate as early as late December with all animals asleep by the end of October. Most animals will be awake by the end of February with males waking up first.

Groundhogs mate once per year in March and April. The gestational period lasts a mere 30 days at which time they give birth to up to seven (7) babies. Woodchuck young are born pink, hairless, blind and helpless.

Groundhogs are also known as Whistle Pigs. This is because when threatened they will let out a ear piercing squeal that works quite well as a defense against predators. The predators of the whistle pig include foxes, hawks, coyotes, owls, dogs, humans and the automobile.


Groundhog Physical Appearance

Groundhogs are much larger than their squirrel and chipmunk cousins. Their body lengths range from 16 to 20 inches, not including their tail and they can weigh anywhere from five (5) to fifteen (15) pounds. Let’s not forget those short, bushy tails that can reach lengths of four (4) to seven (7) inches.

Their fur is a coarse textured brownish gray, normally. However, there have been both albino, all white fur, and melanistic, all black fur animals found in the wild.

Groundhogs are burrowing animals and because of this their physical appearance and characteristics reflect this activity; they are made for digging! Their front legs are strong and sturdy and as with all rodents their front teeth are large and continuously growing. In fact, these continuously growing teeth, while quite beneficial for digging through your yard, have caused some problems for the animals. When they are not used enough and they grow too long, these incisors can cross making them wholly ineffective and rendering the animal at a loss for creating their burrow homes and even eating.

Their eyes, ears and nose are positioned near the very top the animals head. This allows for the animal to remain almost totally concealed in their burrows while scouting for above ground food sources.

have long, curved claws on their forefeet that act as excellent little shovels.

Groundhog Natural History

The woodchuck is a relative of the squirrel, chipmunk and prairie dog and is considered a “marmot”. A marmot is defined as…are native to North America. Our population growth and theirs has gone hand in hand. Many experts believe that the success of the groundhog can be linked to the growth of our farms and neighborhoods that, as a consequence of their creation, have created more of the habitat conditions that are very much enjoyed by the woodchuck, lest we forget your garden plants are quite attractive to woodchucks, too! In fact, when North America was first settled woodchucks were considered a rare sight!


Common Name: Groundhog
Scientific Name: Marmota monax
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Scuridae
Subfamily: Zerinae
Genus: Marmota
Species: monax

Groundhogs and whistle pigs are different names for the same animal. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason as to why different parts of the continent use different names but no matter which name you choose to use this rodent, welcomed or not, has become an very common resident in yards and gardens across North America.