If you’ve ever had a groundhog eat a swath across the lettuce patch in your veggie garden, you probably won’t be appreciating all the attention that will be given to Phil and Willy on Groundhog day. Regardless of what they predict about spring — which any gardener will tell you doesn’t arrive until at least a month after the first garden tent goes up at a shopping plaza — I don’t think we’ll be out in the garden anytime soon.
No, gardeners are not groundhog groupies. As far as we’re concerned, a groundhog (Marmota monax) is nothing more than an overweight vegetarian rat with a bushy tail that will clean out a garden faster than a wheat combine. They’ll eat tender green plants, alfalfa, clover, roots, bulbs, tubers, and even seeds as they gorge their way through summer and fall in preparation for their long winter sleep.
I still haven’t forgotten the pair of young groundhogs that showed up in my backyard one June. They piled on the pounds so fast that within a day they couldn’t squeeze out through the hole in the fence they’d arrived through (not that they’d any intention of doing so).
Since the last thing I wanted was word getting about that my garden was a summer resort for groundhogs, I tried to be less than hospitable by forcing them to participate in a daily exercise program. Every evening I chased them around the yard, hoping they’d climb the fence (as they are well able to), but it soon became a game of catch as catch can and I was losing.
Even though groundhogs can’t match the speed and evasive tactics of a rabbit, they can run at a loping gallop of about ten miles an hour. That doesn’t sound very fast, but when I had to leap shrubs at a single bound while they were darting below, there was no way I could keep up, and besides, I’m not sure what I would have done if I had caught up with them.
I finally gave up and borrowed a live trap. I baited it with lettuce because it was obvious they were hooked on the stuff, and as there was no longer a single leaf left in the garden to satisfy their addiction, they couldn’t resist the crisp head of iceberg I bought for them and they were collared.
A quick trip to a groundhog sanctuary and that was that. I’m sure that wherever they are at this moment, unlike Phil and Willy, they’re fast asleep, no doubt dreaming of my lettuce patch.