Thumbnail Mel Bellar (1)There are times when I sit down to write my Garden Therapy column (probably the day before the editors are putting it together!) that there is a topic lurking in my mind I have been thinking about or dealing with in my daily life. This makes the writing easy, fun and fast, like the watering column from last month. Yay!

Then there are the times when the well is dry and I am grasping at straws to come up with an idea, something new, fun and interesting for the readers. At these times I painfully sympathize with real writers who do this for a living. I often turn to my dear wife (editor and part-time muse) for an idea. While I generally reject it, this often sparks a completely different idea. Today I confessed my “blank page problem” to the muse and she said that just yesterday our own Phyllis Galowitz had told her that she wished I would write about “how to get rid of the damn (my word, not Phyllis’s) groundhogs.”

If you read my column religiously, as you ought, you know that I don’t generally have a problem with critters except for the evil deer and ghastly Japanese beetles. As much as I hate it, I accept the inevitability and spray with Plantskydd on a fairly regular basis with good success. As for the Japanese beetles, I let them have their way! None of the remedies that I have half-heartedly tried seem to work, and I don’t have the time to diligently send them to a soapy or gassy death in a can. This year my grapes made a really nice thick cover over an arbor and the beetles seem to like to hang out in the higher areas and munch. This leaves much less evidence of their abuse at eye level. Are there possibly not as many around this year?

However, there is a new garden enemy this year! I had my first battle with the groundhog (woodchuck, whistle-pig, or land-beaver) also known as They probably ran out of food at my neighbor, Phyllis’s. They can drive you MAD the way they chop off the potato vines, hollyhocks, zinnias and whatever. In many ways I am essentially lazy when it comes to fixing plant problems. I pretty much ignore powdery mildew, insect damage and leaf discoloration. If it really bothers me, I just cut off the bad parts or yank the plant, rather than trying to figure it out and using sprays, powders or casting elaborate spells. However…when a mammal is wreaking havoc on my garden week after week I finally, reluctantly, spring into action.

During one of the numerous gardpicture15en tours at Mel & Peg’s Rustic Cabin Cottage Garden this summer there was much talk of our current critter epidemic. There were many elaborate suggestions for eradication or control and most folks seem to do the Havahart trap routine. We have some dear friends in Roxbury who “relocated” 27 whistle-pigs this year which involved taking them at least 10 miles away. One of my Tremperskill friends used a “bomb” of some sort to gas them out. Then one sweet soul said she put used kitty litter down their holes, then jammed some rocks in the holes, and it worked. Now that I could do! I did it once, having no faith but it didn’t require too much effort so I tried it. It worked! At least for a few weeks I saw no damage and then, arrrrggghh, the container next to the steps with one of their burrows was chomped again. I repeated the process, and we seem to be good again.

The problem is not unique to our area. Many of my landscape design colleagues have been buzzing about it on one of my online forums where I posted a rant about the little bastards. Here are a few of their comments:

Eustacia: I’ve used ammonia (a gallon poured down the hole), mothballs, and relocation via Havahart traps, but lead seems to be the most effective.

Laurel: The best answer I’ve seen for the woodchuck/rabbit problem is a lawn with white clover. They will graze the garden until the clover blossoms, and then leave the garden flowers alone, which regroup and blossom a bit later in the season.

Arnie: Mel, the best solution for ground hogs is lead propelled at them at subsonic speed. It’s hard to do that down here in the crowded suburbs but up by you who is around to stop you?

Susan: I have never seen one of them. They are very stealthy or only come out a night. I would be willing to beat one to death with a rock if I had the opportunity. Not shy here.

My recommendation is to try the kitty litter approach. If you don’t have a cat, I think the best thing to do is to get yourself a Havahart trap, use cantaloupe as bait and then taken them up Bussey Hollow and drop them off at Jack’s He likes critters. Now, that is therapy!~

Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener