What is Groundhog Day and what is a groundhog? Some people call a groundhog a woodchuck or a whistle pig, all of which belong to the squirrel family. They are brownish-gray in color with compact, furry bodies, four legs, long teeth, long claws and about 16 to 20 inches in size. 

Yes, these little critters look so cute peeking out of the soil, but can be a huge problem to farmers and gardeners like us. They dig burrows, or holes, under the soil, and they love to eat vegetables and grasses.

So if your vegetables are disappearing from your garden, how do you know that a groundhog has been there? Look for chewed wood pieces or stem pieces with tooth markings. They also hibernate, or sleep, from late fall until late February. So if these clues are happening during these times of year, it is NOT a groundhog!

The good news for gardeners in California is that groundhogs mostly live in the central and eastern United States. However, some species do live in the Northwest, so Northern California is not “out of the woods!”

What is Groundhog Day? Every year on Feb. 2, people around the country celebrate. This tradition started in Pennsylvania a long time ago to predict the spring weather. If a groundhog peeks out of its burrow from hibernation, sees its shadow and returns to the burrow, this means that there will be six weeks more of winter. If the groundhog does NOT see its shadow, this means that spring is right around the corner. Long ago, farmers and gardeners used this tradition to tell them when they could start planting spring crops. Of course, now we have weather forecasters to tell us when spring will actually arrive. But this tradition is fun to see and celebrate!

How do farmers and gardeners get rid of groundhogs? They wrap fruit trees with wire so they cannot climb or gnaw, and they put up wire fencing around gardens so groundhogs cannot climb over or burrow under. Here in California, we do not have groundhogs but moles and gophers instead, which can be just as problematic for gardeners. 

Fun Facts:

  • Although Groundhog Day is not a holiday in the U.S., the University of Texas has an official holiday with big celebrations each year.
  • In 1993, a funny movie was made called “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray.
  • Some farmers believe that the groundhog’s prediction is correct, while others say it is just luck.
  • Alaska has a Marmot Day, which is named after a similar critter to the groundhog.
  • In Pennsylvania, where this tradition began, the groundhog is named Punxsutawney Phil. He was named after King Phillip of England.This poem can be sung to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot”:
    “I see a little groundhog, furry and brown,
    He’s popping up to look around.
    If he sees his shadow, down he’ll go.
    Six more weeks of winter – oh, no!”

On Feb. 2, Master Gardeners of Tulare-Kings Counties will be celebrating Groundhog Day at the Demo Garden at Hurley Elementary School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. This winter garden festival will inform you about our pesty gophers (we may even see one, who knows?), what vegetables can actually grow in winter, a hands-on demonstration on how to prune your backyard fruit trees (bring your loppers if you have a pair), and how to set up an irrigation system in your yard (hands-on demo). And for the children, we will have a groundhog activity. You won’t want to miss this!