Grrrrr – while merrily tending my roses, I’ve come across another victim of the dreaded beast – the gopher.  If this is not one of the gardening challenges you face, you can stop reading now.  Since I live in gopher heaven, each season I have to deal with the damage from this voracious pest.  And while they love roses, they have a very broad range of things they like to eat (in fact there isn’t a lot they DON’T like), and I’ve lost everything from bulbous plants to mature camellias, and early this year a beautiful specimen tree.  So, who is this varmint and how do you tame him?  Read on………..

The pocket gopher is named for the external, fur-lined check pouches the pests use to carry food to their storage area.  These thick-bodied rodents range from 6 to 12 long, with small eyes and ears set back far on the head.  Their exposed chisel-like teeth (that grow continuously nine to fourteen inches a year) are used for digging. Their powerful forelegs with long claws are used to dig out a network of tunnels that usually run 6 – 18 inches below the soil surface.

Gophers use their keen sense of smell to locate foods such as bulbs, tubers, roots, grasses, seeds, and occasionally, tree bark. They can consume entire plants by pulling them down into their burrows, and will quickly plug off openings in their dark, subterranean tunnels to avoid light, water, gopher snakes and poisonous gasses of all types.

These pesky critters don’t hibernate and come up to the surface only to push soil out of their burrows, forage, disperse to a new area or seek mates. With a lifespan of up to a dozen years, the generally solitary animals will protect their tunnels fiercely from other gophers. Mating time is usually January – April, and a female produces one litter a year. 

The first sign of a gopher may be a plant that is mysteriously wilting or a fan-shaped mound of finely pulverized soil in the lawn or planting bed – the result of their excavating tunnels. The mound has a plug off to one side to close up the hole.  If you do see a wilting plant – give it a tug.  A damaged plant will often pull right out of the ground with all its roots gone.

There are a few ways to control these pests, none of them foolproof.  Consider:

Protect plants with underground fencing.

  • Lay hardware cloth or 3⁄4-inch-mesh poultry wire under raised beds before planting.
  • Wire baskets can be installed at planting to protect individual shrubs or trees, leaving enough room for roots to grow.

Use traps to reduce the gopher population.

  • Traps are placed underground inside the gopher burrow so you must use a gopher probe to locate the burrow.
  • Be sure to place traps in active burrows as indicated by fresh mounds.
  • Set traps in tunnels in pairs facing each other.
  • Cover the hole so light doesn’t get in.
  • Check traps often and reset as necessary.
  • Keep trapping until no new mounds are formed.
  • Gopher traps don’t require food baits.

Avoid products and methods that aren’t proven.

  • No repellents currently sold successfully protect plants from gophers.
  • Plants such as gopher purge, castor bean, and garlic haven’t been shown to repel gophers from an area.
  • Frightening devices such as vibrating stakes, ultrasonic devices, and wind-powered pinwheels haven’t been effective in research trials.
  • Fumigation with smoke or gas cartridges isn’t effective because gophers can seal off their burrows rapidly.

For more information check out these videos – How to Trap Pocket Gophers  and How to Set a Cinch-Trap

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