The easiest way to avoid the heartache caused by the sight of a groundhog-devoured garden is to grow plants that groundhogs (Marmota monax) don't eat. These pests, also known as "woodchucks," are large rodents (about 20 inches long and weighing 13 pounds) that must eat great quantities of food to sustain such an impressive frame. This appetite makes them one of our most feared garden pests, capable of devastating a garden overnight.
Do note, however, that all such pest-resistant lists deal in probability, not certainty. Whether we're discussing groundhog-resistant plants or deer-resistant plants, the fact is the pest in question will eat just about anything if starving. But you put the odds in your favor if you grow plants that pests are less likely to eat. There are many plants that groundhogs generally avoid; learn about some of the prettiest and most useful ones.
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Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum) is an annual beloved by admirers of blue flowers. But it offers more than just good looks. It is valued by Americans as the blue element in red-white-and-blue planting combinations for patriotic holidays (blue being the most challenging color to furnish in creating this combination).
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Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is one of the prettiest perennial flowers you can grow. Its arching stems are lined with the whimsically-shaped flowers that give it its name. Related plants are fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) and Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). Plants commonly bloom in red, pink, and white. The fact that these must-have specimens are also plants that groundhogs don't eat is simply a bonus.
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Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is another plant that's useful as well as attractive. It's a key ingredient in butterfly gardens. A type of milkweed plant, this perennial flower can serve as a host to the caterpillars of monarch butterflies. In addition, swallowtails are drawn to the nectar produced by its gorgeous orange flowers. Another plant with orange flowers that woodchucks won't damage is avens (Geum).
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As if its colorful, bell-shaped flowers weren't enough reason to grow foxglove (Digitalis), this plant will attract hummingbirds to the garden, too. Its major drawback is that it's too poisonous to grow if kids, pets, or animals will be around it, though. Flowers come in a number of colors, including yellow.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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A stately perennial that most commonly bears purple, white, or blue flowers (with the occasional pink), larkspur (Delphinium) is another useful plant for drawing butterflies to the yard. It's also the ideal plant to grow at the back of a flower border, given its impressive height (some can reach 7 feet tall). Groundhogs may nibble here and there in a bed of larkspurs, but larkspur is toxic to animals, so they will learn to stay away.
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Pests often won't bother plant parts that have strong smells. Many herbs have vegetation and/or leaves that smell wonderful to humans but that pests find repellent. Lavender (Lavandula) is such an herb. Harvest those fragrant stems and lavender-colored flowers that the groundhogs conveniently avoided all summer and use them in potpourris for your home in winter.
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Lily-of-the-valley has fragrant, white blooms and is so cold-hardy that even gardeners in USDA zone 2 can grow it as a perennial. But it is also invasive and toxic to animals. Its toxic nature is why groundhogs—and even deer and rabbit pests—leave it alone. If you can tolerate its drawbacks (and don't have pets), this is the kind of flowering ground cover that you can just plant somewhere and leave alone, as it is not fussy at all.
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Like flossflower, sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is an annual flower and a popular bedding plant. It stays short, so it's useful as a ground cover for the summer months. It's also aromatic, long-blooming, and low-maintenance. Types with pink or purple flowers are available, but most gardeners grow the white-flowering kind.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has fragrant, feathery foliage. The smell is what keeps it off the list of groundhogs' favorite foods, although they do occasionally eat them. Pink, red, white, and yellow are the most common flower colors.
Yarrow is a tough enough plant to naturalize in some areas. This quality, along with its showy, flattened clusters of flowers and delicate leaves, makes yarrow a popular edging plant.
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Whether it is Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) or Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose), the common names reveal one reason why we love hellebores so much: They bloom at times when there may be little else flowering in the garden. Adding to their value is how resistant to pests they are.
There are probably two reasons why groundhogs avoid hellebores:
- They are toxic.
- Both their sepals and leaves are tough rather than tender, making them unpalatable.
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Flowers and Vegetables That Groundhogs Commonly Eat
A basic tenet of integrated pest management is to take the path of least resistance wherever possible. In this case, that means growing plants that groundhogs don't eat. Unfortunately, sometimes we're determined to grow something that pests are just as determined to devour.
People gardening in groundhog territory who refuse to restrict their plant selection to what groundhogs don’t eat must compensate by being vigilant. Whenever they detect signs of groundhog damage, they must take measures to control these pests immediately, or else they'll soon find their gardens in shambles.
If you grow only flowers in your landscape, you'll probably have less trouble with groundhogs than do people who grow vegetables. Still, there are some perennial flowers that groundhogs are known to eat. These include, in addition to black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta):
- New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
- Bellflower (Campanula)
But vegetable gardeners usually bear the brunt of woodchuck attacks. The pests commonly eat the following vegetables:
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
Advanced Groundhog Control
If you select not to take the path of least resistance and grow plants that groundhogs won't eat, then you'll have to study proven measures to control groundhogs. These measures include fencing them out, repelling them with strong smells, and trapping them. All of these measures mean extra work on your part, and some of them can be problematic.
The smartest way to beat woodchuck pests is to grow flowers they usually avoid, especially when there are so many such choices that are both beautiful and highly useful in the landscape.
Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove). Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Lily of the Valley. ASPCA.