GREEN THOUGHTS: Chipmunks drive me nuts

This chipmunk photo was taken by Pat Thorne, a Rensselaer County master gardener.

IT’S EASY TO DISLIKE MOST GARDEN PESTS, including spittlebugs (ick!), slime mold (yuck!) and jumping worms (ew!). The rub comes when the pest is cute, and not much is cuter than a chipmunk. A chipmunk or two can add animal color to a garden—they screech, I jump, and I swear they laugh—but my tolerance decreases as their population increases. Yet who but a real jerk could hate a chipmunk?

So that’s the rub. But I do have some facts on my side. Chipmunks invaded my large planters and uprooted the transplants repeatedly, killing a couple of coleus at $6.95 each. After my sweet corn germinated, the chipmunks pulled up each seedling and ate the withering seed and expanding roots. I blamed the deer for sampling the tomatoes, but that turned out to be the chipmunks. I wouldn’t mind sharing, but why do they have to take a bite out of each ripe tomato, then leave the remains to rot, and sample the green ones, too? They’re taking their cheeky behavior a bit too far.

2020 first gave us a lot of nuts (I’m referring to the type from trees) and then an abundance of chipmunks. Wildlife biologists tell us that two to four chipmunks normally inhabit each acre, but the number can sometimes climb as high as ten. Each has a home range of about half an acre, and defends a perimeter around its burrow of about 50 feet. The burrows can extend through the earth for up to 30 feet, and are not marked by piles of soil, since chipmunks cleverly carry the dirt away in their cheek pouches, concealing the construction. A chipmunk mom can give birth to two batches of babies per year, each containing two to five baby ’munks.

If you’ve endured their damage, you might dream of a chipmunk-free garden, but that is probably unrealistic. Authorities recommend against having a continuous planting of trees, shrubs and groundcovers from wooded areas around homes, and say to remove rock walls, deep mulch and wood piles, since these are great hiding places. A plant-free, gravel area should surround the house. While all this sounds great in theory, it isn’t easy to put into practice, and I don’t want to live in a parking lot. So, I’m learning (and re-learning) to tolerate chipmunks, and I’ll even chuckle at their antics when they aren’t eating the irrigation lines or landscape lighting.

Repellents do a so-so job with chipmunks, so that leaves exclusion and traps. Hardware cloth enclosures can protect special plants and chicken wire cages are useful for bulbs. Snap rat traps baited with peanut butter, nutmeats, raisins or corn are a lethal option; set them in a box with open ends to protect pets and children. Box, bucket and multiple catch traps, which leave the chipmunks alive, are also effective. But be aware that it is not legal in New York State to release chipmunks in a park, forest or other area without the landowner’s permission and proper permits.

To contact David Chinery, horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, email

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