The woodchucks are back — cuter than ever.

My nemesis

The woodchucks in our neighborhood have broken the perimeter in our backyard. Since late spring, they have found ways to penetrate the forcefield that protects our phlox, asters, echinacea and balloonflowers. As soon as one breach is sealed, they find another weak point. They’ve even threatened to chew a very special New Zealand delphinium that my friend Kathy grew from seed.

I never thought I’d say it, but here goes: This means war.

Here’s the most recent breach. They dug under the new poultry fence I’d put in just a week ago.

Many summers ago, I spent hour after sweaty hour digging a trench to bury chicken wire that I attached to the bottom of the fence. The system was worth the effort because it worked — until this year. In some places, the chicken wire has rusted and the woodchucks have been able to push through. In areas where the woodchucks have penetrated, I’ve re-dug the trench and replaced the chicken wire with poultry fence, which is made with wire that’s heavier gauge. It’s stiff and hard to work with. On top of that, there’s very little space to work in at this time of year. The perennials are growing and looking beautiful. I don’t want to ruin the flower border with major excavations. So, I compromised and dug a 12″ trench instead of 18-24″. And those persistent beasts dug deep enough to get under the wire, coming up right behind my new black hollyhocks.

Phlox, eaten by woodchucks

This is how phlox looks when it’s been mauled by woodchucks.

Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’, the so-called black hollyhock, is protected by a wire harvest basket, anchored with Earth Staples.

When I look over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, I often see the evil beasts, nibbling on the lawn. They see me and scurry under the neighbor’s back porch, where they live. We’ve seen as many as five. My partner thought it might be good to make peace with the animals, and he bought a large bag of broccoli florets. We threw some over the fence, and the critters fought with one another over the treasures. This did not appease them. They still want in.

Until we can really get in there and dig a proper trench, we’ve been repairing the breaches as they come up, usually by filling the holes with large rocks.This seems to work OK, but we’re running out of rocks.

My friend Sarah has offered to loan us her dog, who has already shown and ability to control woodchucks. Earlier this spring, she brought the dog to a friend’s backyard party. At one point, the dog returned with a woodchuck it had hunted and killed. “I thought they’d be psyched,” Sarah said. But, not so much.

I try to think of this as a lesson to me as a gardener. It teaches me that persistence is my most essential tool. Despite my best efforts, weeds, pests, diseases and bad weather will always give me trouble. But if I keep trying — if I persist — I am a pretty good gardener.

So, I’ll keep repairing the breaches, occassionally flipping the bird to those cute critters in the neighbor’s yard. I will keep bringing in more rocks. I will persist. Might even have to release the dogs of war.

-David Grist, Online Content Coordinator, Gardener’s Supply