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Southeast Gardening: Dealing with Chipmunks

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Chipmunks may be cute, but they can cause headaches with their digging and grazing. Lowe’s Southeast garden contributor explains how to deal with them.

Cute, little chipmunks cause major damage.
Peanut butter can lure critters to Havahart traps, like this one.

By Glenn DiNella

As a landscaper, one problem I get frequent questions about is chipmunk damage. One client claims chipmunk tunnels near his home’s foundation led to thousands of dollars in water damage in his finished basement.

I’ve experienced these cute, destructive critters firsthand in my own yard this year. I’d noticed a few holes last year, but as I began mowing my front yard this spring, I saw how busy Alvin, Theodore, and Simon had been over the winter and how much damage they were doing to my nice zoysia lawn.

After talking with some clients and doing a little research on my own, I found several options that seem to work reliably.

The client with the basement damage found the most reliable cure was to catch them in small, metal Havahart traps baited with peanut butter. The problem was just where to take them for relocation. Legally you can’t simply drop them in a neighbor’s yard, or even at a public park without permission. So I have no answer there.

A chipmunk hole gets a decent sprinkling of red pepper …

Another client swears placing blood meal in the tunnel openings drives chipmunks away. This natural byproduct from the meat industry is loaded with nitrogen and sold in garden centers as an organic fertilizer. So at least you know you’re feeding your turf or plants when you use it.

My go-to solution is powdered red pepper. (Cayenne pepper also is good.) I sprinkle a teaspoon or so down the tunnel openings and then pack it with topsoil, which fills the unsightly holes and prevents people from twisting an ankle. I figure if a chipmunk has to spend a little time in that pepper digging his way out, he’s going to get the full experience.

If you have dogs who like to dig for chipmunks, you might want to use one of the previous options or cut back on the amount of pepper.

… followed by a cover of soil.

I’m hoping this pepper method drives the critters to a neighbor’s yard. I’d even settle for driving them to my own backyard, which is an all-natural area surrounded by a lawn of fescue, clover and chickweed. Just don’t mess with my zoysia.