Tips on dealing with gophers


signs of gophers

Gophers tend to tunnel about six inches to twelve inches under the surface of the soil. So if you have gophers in your area, the best thing is to protect roots of vulnerable plants, bulbs and vegetables with chicken wire or metal hardware cloth. There are a number of controls and deterrents you can try like corn cobs dipped in tar or other pungent materials, chewing gum, smoke bombs and various stinky products like predator urine. Some people say they have had success with these deterrents and they are certainly worth a try since they are usually safe for the environment. But most controlled tests have shown them to be ineffective. So what do you do if you’ve got gophers?

There are traps and poisons that can be used to control gophers. These are usually much more effective, though they can leave you with dead bodies to dispose of or introduce toxic substances in the ground that can sometimes be a danger to pets, children or other wildlife. Make sure you use these gopher-removers carefully and follow all instructions to avoid any dangers. To use them successfully you need to locate the main tunnel. The main tunnel is usually eight to twelve inches from the mound. The mound is only a side tunnel where the soil has been evacuated and these side tunnels are not used as a primary passageway. Use a pointed stick or a tool made for the purpose to push into the soil where you suspect the main tunnel will be. You will know you’ve found it when you feel your probe slip, unresisting, a couple of inches through the empty passageway. This is where tunnels should be baited with traps or poison. After baiting the tunnel, make sure you seal all holes or cracks from light. Traps will need regular checking. If baiting, be very careful not to drop any pellets on the ground where other wildlife, pets or children can accidentally become poisoned.

I have yet to find a way to definitively get rid of gophers. Even if I am successful at first, gophers are opportunistic critters and after a tunnel has been vacated, it is likely another family will move in. It is best to wage war on gophers before breeding season to help with population control.

But in the end, I’ve found that the gophers are resistant foes. I no longer hope to eliminate them from my property, but I do make the effort of lining garden beds with wire mesh and I plant bulbs in wire baskets. Most larger plants will grow strong enough roots after time to survive gnawing, but the smaller and more tender plants simply do best with physical protection.

Some plants that I’ve found particularly vulnerable in Southern California are roses — even old, established plants, fig trees, agaves, and almost anything in the vegetable garden. Some plants that seem to escape the gopher’s radar are onions and garlic, Daffodil and Montbretia (or Crocosmia) bulbs, many herbs like salvia, rosemary and lavender and most California natives.

Agave eaten by gopher

Remains of a large, healthy agave after gopher damage