Garden Lifestyle

Some thoughts on Groundhog Day

You say groundhogs, I say woodchucks. Either way, February 2 is their special day.

Photo by windygig under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are wide-eyed furry creatures who can scarf down tender lettuces and beets faster than you can blurt out (or spell) “Punxsutawney”? When they are delicately nibbling grass on the lawn OUTSIDE the garden, they lend a serene, nature-in-balance feeling to the scene. But when they break through, or tunnel under, your fences, it’s a garden emergency, for sure.

Once, while walking my dog past my garden, I noticed that the edges of my ‘Bright Lights’ chard were looking a big ragged. Alarmed, I checked the fence perimeter, and sure enough, it had been breached by a little tunnel. I didn’t have a lot of time and wanted to make the repair as fast as possible, so I took a scrap of fencing, trenched near the opening, and spliced it in. Later that day, I checked, and the chard was looking worse than before. Uh-oh. I opened the gate, and sure enough, I had fenced the critter IN. There it was, looking pathetically up at me. Just for a second, I eyed a nearby shovel, but mercy prevailed. I pointed to the open gate and told it sternly to leave, which it did.

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Protect Your Garden from Woodchucks


The groundhog (Marmota monax) is a burrowing, herbivorous rodent with a wide geographical range. Groundhogs are common in the eastern U.S., where they typically makes their home in fields adjoining woodlands. In fall, they fatten up, then retreat to their burrows to hibernate during the cold months. 

An early spring?
Exactly how groundhogs got their reputation as weather forecasters is unclear. Legend has it that on February 2, if a groundhog aroused from hibernation sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, spring will come early. Last year, snowdrifts nearly covered my 5-ft. garden fences for several weeks, and this year, winter has barely begun. We had a devastating snowstorm Halloween weekend, but hardly any snow since then, and it’s still possible to dig in the garden without much effort. So good luck to the groundhogs sorting all this out.

The best-known groundhog prognosticator is Punxsutawney Phil, from a town about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but there are several others, including Wiarton Willie (Wiarton is about 110 miles northwest of Toronto) and General Beauregard Lee from Lilburn, Georgia. If you’ve had it with the Weather Channel, check out any of these sites for this year’s forecast, and plan your gardening activities accordingly.

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