Earlier this month, Phil has made his prediction for six more weeks of winter, but for all our sakes, we are still hoping for an early spring.

In the midst of winter, Groundhog Day is a fun diversion and reminds us spring is on the way sooner or later. Some 40,000 make the trek to Punxsutawney to witness this yearly event dating back to the 1800s. Punxsutawney Phil has met Oprah Winfrey, President Ronald Reagan and Governors Dick Thornburgh and Ed Rendell. In 2001, his prediction was broadcast live to New York City’s Times Square. Fun as Phil is, Groundhog Day is folklore.

Here are some facts about the groundhog, and how to manage the furry creature once he makes an appearance in your yard.

Marmota monax, the groundhog, also known as the woodchuck, is a chunky creature weighing up to 10 pounds. Its length ranges 16 to 20 inches plus the tail, four to seven inches.

While open farmland is their first choice, the groundhog has made a comfortable home in the suburban landscape where plenty of food and shelter make life easy for them. Often, a groundhog will construct its burrow along stone walls, at the base of trees and even along a foundation.

Groundhog burrows can be identified by the large mound of excavated earth at the main entrance. On this mound, which is constantly renewed by debris from within, the groundhog frequently sits to look for danger. The entranceway is 10 to 12 inches in diameter, and they also have secondary entrances. These tend to be hidden and dug from below, so mounds are not seen.

The groundhog can be the bane of most homeowners. The animal’s feeding and burrowing habits conflict with human interests. Damage often occurs on farms, in home gardens, orchards, nurseries and around buildings.

Damage to crops such as alfalfa, soybeans, beans, squash, tomatoes and peas can be costly and extensive. A homeowner may lose his or her entire tomato patch. Fruit trees and ornamental shrubs may be damaged by a groundhog as they gnaw on woody vegetation. Mounds of earth from the excavated burrow systems and holes formed at burrow entrances present a hazard to farm equipment, animals and humans. On occasion, burrowing can weaken building foundations.

In Pennsylvania, groundhogs are classified as game animals. Game protection is removed when they damage personal property. In that case, groundhogs can be controlled by the property owner using lawful means. If a homeowner does not feel comfortable with any means of control, there are many wildlife pest control companies who can do this for you.

If the area is small, poultry wire or two-inch woven mesh fencing can be installed. With three-foot minimum above ground, the fence should have 12 inches buried in the ground, with six inches bent in an L shape pointing away.

Scarecrows can provide temporary relief from groundhog damage. Move them regularly and incorporate a high level of human activity in the susceptible area.

There are no repellents or toxicants that are for use on groundhogs. There are other products, including fumigants and gas cartridges, available at home and garden centers which are labeled for use on groundhogs. Please carefully follow the directions as these are dangerous products.

There are live traps the homeowners can use as well. Place the trap near fresh damage or at the main entrance of the burrow. Use fresh bait such as apple slices, carrots and lettuce. Be careful once the animal is trapped. Give some thought to a relocation area at least 10 miles away and where the groundhog will not be the pest he was to you.

Steve Ward is a master gardener in Lackawanna County. Penn State Extension is dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses and communities. They partner with and are funded by federal, state and county governments. For more information on what they’re doing in Lackawanna County, visit extension.psu.edu/lackawanna-county. Contact master gardeners in Lackawanna County at 570-963-6842 or LackawannaMG@psu.edu.